Wii U aims to please gamers, sports fans

Wii U characters in New York City this weekend promote the launch of the new system. Courtesy of Nintendo

Since the announcement of Wii U at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2011, there has been plenty of speculation and excitement on how it will change the way we game. The system hits retail shelves at midnight, but I’ve been lucky enough to have my hands on one for the past week.

Initially, I wasn’t sure where Nintendo was going with the whole GamePad tablet approach, but you need to get it in your hands to totally appreciate it. The GamePad is like a gaming table; you can use it with or without the console, as a remote control or to view things like YouTube, Amazon Instant Video or Netflix (at least that’s the plan; the TV options won’t be available until December at the earliest). I like using the GamePad by itself, because I can take it to my room and get in some final gaming before catching some Z's.

The size of the unit (5.25 x 9 x 1.5 inches with a 6.2-inch touch screen) feels kind of perfect. The downside is the GamePad has only a 25- to 30-foot range from the console, so there’s no taking it out of the house, which would be awesome. (For that, the Nintendo DS or 3DS is a more portable option.)

In addition to the tablet, I found myself using my old Wiimotes, since the unit is backwards compatible with most games, Wiimotes and Nunchuks.

Sports fans will be glad to know you can use the system to play “Madden 13,” “FIFA 13” and “NBA 2K13,” but with a Wii U twist. For example, you can become both an offensive and defensive coordinator in “Madden” by using the touch screen to drag players, create new routes and change coverages.

Yuri Bialoskursky, designer on “Madden 13” for the Wii U, says the GamePad offers something new for players of all levels.

“Players can simply tap on any receiver and draw them a new route, which is fun and easy to do, but for our more experienced players, they can conceivably create an entirely new play on the fly, right at the line of scrimmage,” he said.

Bialoskursky points out that you can also watch the live game on TV and play Madden at the same time using “detached” mode.

“Detached mode allows a player to ‘detach’ the game from the main TV and play the entire experience from the GamePad, allowing you to move into different areas of your house or apartment and continue playing the game in its entirety,” Bialoskursky said.

With “FIFA 13,” players can use the GamePad to send players on runs by dragging them on the screen, make substitutions and change formations without interrupting the game. However, it’s the precision control that Matt Prior, line producer for "FIFA 13," said will really impress gamers.

“On free kicks and penalties, look through the GamePad screen for the player’s on-field perspective to aim the ball, put the perfect curve on the shot and let fly,” Prior said. “With touch-screen shooting, simply shake the GamePad to activate the shooting zone, touch the screen to pick a spot precisely on goal and fire away. It is a level of precision control that we have not previously achieved in 'FIFA.'”

Time will tell if sports fans really like these features.

You can also use the GamePad as a remote control to change the channel, volume, etc. on your TV.

The Wii U comes in two versions: basic and deluxe. The basic version is white with an 8 GB hard drive. The black deluxe version has 32 GB, which, besides the extra storage, comes with a few stands for the GamePad console and "Nintendo Land" game. Nintendo loyalists will also appreciate the Mario games brought to the table, including "New Super Mario Bros. U." There is also an "ESPN Sports Connection" game.

The basic Wii U sells for $300 and the deluxe version for $350. The demand is high and supply is expected to be short, but if you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, it should be a happy holiday.

For more on the Wii U, check out our previous stories on "Madden 13," "FIFA 13" and "NBA 2K13."