It looks like the product of a fevered fanboy wetdream. A 6.2-inch touchscreen, surrounded by dual analog sticks and oodles of buttons. Like the portable hardcore gamers wish Nintendo made. But it's the most incredible controller ever.
I'm completely immersed in my own tiny world with the Wii U controller, staring into the screen, moving my arms and entire body to track two tiny people, scurrying around below my hovercraft. They're a Nintendo rep and Kotaku's Stephen Totilo, whose eyes are glued to the TV next to us, trying to shoot down the enemy ship in the sky (me). My entire game takes place on the Wii U's controller, almost as if I'm playing not just an entirely different game, but an entirely different console. I move the aircraft with the twin analog sticks, forward, back, left, right. But to aim, I have to move the entire controller and my body with it, as if I'm surrounded by an entire world that can only be peeked at through the Wii U controller's screen. It's both profoundly connected and weirdly alienating. I'm not just the enemy for these players united on one screen, I'm in an entirely different space.
The controller is light. Not in a way that's like, "Oh, I'm glad it's not too heavy," but more "this feels like a plastic mockup." It's almost unbelievable there's a working touchscreen and full wireless powers inside. The lightness is what makes it work though, what makes this massive controller feel incredibly comfortable and totally natural. The ergonomics are nigh perfect.
Super Mario Brothers Mii is up on the TV. And it's on my controller. Mario jumps, on the controller and on the TV, simultaneously. It's the same game, in two different places. Watching the game on the controller, it feels like I'm playing a very large DS. Up on the TV, it's like I'm playing Nintendo's latest console release. It sounds useless, until I realized I could watch whatever really important thing is on TV while continuing to play my game on the controller. Or even turn the TV off. Gaming can come back to the bedroom.
The quality of the touchscreen, compared to nearly any reasonably high-end current-generation smartphone, is mediocre. The viewing angle's pretty narrow, for one. You need to be almost dead center to see what's happening (but maybe that's a feature, for versus mode?). It's not especially bright, either. And it's sort of glare-y. Nintendo's not talking specific screen specs like resolution, because this is technically a prototype—so a lot of things could change and get better—but the pixel density is just okay. It's standard Nintendo hardware quality, in other words. Just good enough. Like, I totally didn't mind playing Super Mario Bros. Mii using the controller as my sole display. But iPad or PS Vita, it is not. It was just like playing it on a much bigger DS screen, instead of my TV. There's a stylus, which I didn't get to use. But it's a standard piece of plastic, so there's no multitouch. Which is sort of heartbreaking, insofar as it imposes at least some limits on what this controller is capable of.