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Our hands-on demo with the Wii U

The Wii U handheld game pad is used to display a game during a presentation by developers Ubisoft.
The Wii U handheld game pad is used to display a game during a presentation by developers Ubisoft.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Wii U will bring a fresh new element to Nintendo gaming
  • Nintendo still hasn't announced a specific launch date or a price for the system
  • CNN demoed the device after Nintendo's E3 event Tuesday

(CNN) -- Will Nintendo's forthcoming Wii U breathe new life into its aging Wii concept?

Hard to say at this point, but it will bring a fresh element to Nintendo gaming.

I got my hands on the redesigned system, which was first previewed a year ago, after Nintendo's Electronic Entertainment Expo event in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Here are my first impressions:

First, the Wii U Game Pad. It is smaller than a tablet, but larger than your mobile phone. It doesn't feel heavy in the hands, and you will really have to try hard to snap it in two (not recommended). The Wii U Game Pad is part controller and part handheld console, and new games are expected to take advantage of both abilities.

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I tried out the Wii U on two games, each featuring a different use for the device. "Luigi's Haunted Mansion" takes advantage of what Nintendo calls asymmetric gameplay. This allows the Wii U to have unique goals and abilities in the game when played simultaneously with other people holding regular Wii controllers.

In this game, the player with the Wii U is a ghost trying to track down and capture the four players using Wii controllers. The ghost player uses the Wii U built-in screen to see everything on the map while the four other players must watch the TV screen to capture a ghost they can't usually see.

The Wii U screen is large enough to make small shapes easy enough to distinguish. The two joystick controllers feel natural and sturdy, and comparable to other console joysticks. There are also two sets of shoulder buttons which are appropriately placed and don't feel uncomfortable to use.

In the second game, "Donkey Kong's Crash Course," those buttons are used to manipulate a course you navigate by tilting the Wii U in the appropriate directions. The shoulder buttons raise and lower bridges and elevators while the joysticks are used to turn cranks.

It was a little difficult to rotate joysticks while also trying to tilt the Wii U. But with practice, I was able to get the right amount of touch without dying.

Players can watch the overall action on their TVs or get an up-close view through the Wii U screen. I can't envision players using the big screen for games when the small one is in their hands.

Nintendo plans to release a wide range of games, from kid titles like "Pikmin 3" to offerings for hardcore gamers like "ZombiU" and "Mass Effect 3." The promise of additional gameplay features for the Wii U make it an intriguing option.

Overall, the Wii U is a solid hybrid of a souped-up Wii system and a handheld gaming device. It's larger than a traditional console controller, but not so heavy that it would cause fatigue problems.

Despite no announcement of a specific launch date or a price, the Wii U will only be as good as the games made for it. Nintendo's focus on games during Tuesday's event is a sign the gaming company may have its eye on the right target.

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