E3 06: Nintendo Wii Controller Hands-On

We try out the latest iteration of Nintendo's unique controller.

LOS ANGELES--With Nintendo's Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference and the show itself looming, we had the opportunity to pop by the company's booth and try out the Wii. During our brief time, we tried out a variety of first-party titles to get a practical feel for just how the unique controller is going to work. Though you'll find our impressions of the five titles we played, Wii Sports: Tennis, Excite Truck, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess elsewhere, we wanted to offer a quick run through of just how the controller feels and how it's changed since we last saw it.

Before we start, we should note that during our play session Nintendo reps noted that the controller we were playing was still considered a prototype, as the possibility for some fine-tuning still existed. That said, the controller we got our hands on wasn't too radically different from what we tried last year at the Tokyo Game Show, though there have been some noticeable tweaks to the design. The most radical is the addition of a speaker that rests just below the three buttons that divide the controller in half. The small speaker came into play during the Legend of Zelda fishing sequence we played and complemented its built-in rumble during the parts of the demo where we reeled in our catch, as it emitted the sound of a reel turning. This addition has resulted in the controller being a bit longer to accommodate the new feature.

The other more subtle differences revolve around the names for the buttons. The main button on the face of the unit is still named A, and the trigger button on the underside is still named B. The vertical row of buttons has seen some tweaks that differ from the official controller images Nintendo released during TGS, though. The first button, seen in photos to be named "select," now has the image of an arrow on it that's curved counterclockwise, similar to those seen in the refresh icon on a web browser. The second button, labeled "home" in official images, now has the image of a house on it, similar to one you'd see in a Web browser. The third button, originally labeled "start," now has two horizontal bars on it that look like the "pause" icon on a music or movie player. Nintendo displayed an image of the controller with different button icons during its E3 2006 press conference, with a minus sign on the left button, the same house icon on the middle button, and a plus sign on the right button. Below these three buttons and past the speaker are the two buttons that have been alternately labeled lowercase a and b or 1 and 2 on the controller variants we've seen in the past. The controller we tried at E3 had the 1 and 2 buttons.

The second part of the controller, the analog attachment that goes by the "nunchaku" moniker, had a more streamlined shape and featured a tweaked button design. The two shoulder buttons, named Z1 and Z2 respectively, have also been reshaped and renamed since we last saw them at the Game Developers Conference a few months ago. The top shoulder button, now called C, is a good deal smaller than the lower shoulder button, now called Z. The C button was oval shaped, while the Z button was a more traditional square.

Though Nintendo still considered the units we were using to be prototypes, we reckon they gave a pretty good sense of the unit's heft. The controllers we had in our hands at the Tokyo Game Show were wired and weighed almost nothing. The wireless prototypes have a decent heft to them now, though. They use AA batteries, which will further add to the weight. At the moment, the main controller feels about as heavy as a Nintendo DS. The nunchaku weighs about as much as a cell phone. Holding both units in either hand feels fine, and the buttons are easy to reach.

We expect it will take time before our fingers get used to the controller's unique landscape and feel totally comfortable sliding around hitting buttons, but so far the controller feels good. The only thing we noticed was that you may find yourself gripping the main controller a little too tightly at first while playing. We reckon this will be an unconscious thing in much the same way most people playing a racing game will lean into turns without thinking or grip their controllers in a vicelike grip when walking around the sky stage in a Mario game. We have to hand it to Nintendo: despite the Wii controller's unorthodox appearance, the thing is dead easy to pick up and play.

So there you have it. Though we'll again note that Nintendo reps stated the controllers we played were prototypes, we expect that the final units will be pretty close to what we tried. Though we expect there will be tweaking, much like the DS underwent following our first look at E3 two years ago, we have to say that Nintendo has managed to create a controller that's poised to revolutionize how games are played.

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