One of three Wii U experiments Shigeru Miyamoto debuted at an intimate pre-E3 event, Project Giant Robot has the simplistic, goofy appeal of Nintendo's earliest games. Customize a big, brawling automaton, from its head to its toes, then try to knock down another bot in a crowded city block. Inspired by sumo wrestling, Robot is awkward and silly when you try it out, especially if you make a top heavy automaton prone to falling over.
While it has some of that immediate charm that's characteristic of Miyamoto's best work, not to mention a vital sense of humor, it doesn't feel like anything representative of a full game. In fact, it scarcely feels on par with the amusements in Nintendoland or Wii Play.
After pressing start on the GamePad, you can slot different robot pieces into arms, legs, torso, and head positions. No specific part needs to go in a specific spot, hence how my bot ended up with a giant Transformer head for a pelvis and Russian nesting dolls for hands. Every part could be stretched and warped, dramatically changing the proportions and weight distribution of the robot. Building a fighter with an enormous, elongated head actually helped keep opponents distant, but left me vulnerable to toppling quickly. Meanwhile, a bottom-heavy bot lacked maneuverability.
Maneuverability is key too. The dual-screen set up for Robot is deeply odd. On television, you watch the match, with a clear view of any obstacles that can trip you (building debris, etc.) and your opponent. On the GamePad is a first-person view from your robot's perspective, letting you shoot lasers and specific parts of your opponent's body to distract them or shoot little flying spiked balls that can knock you off balance.
While you move the GamePad around to guide your view, you also use it to create momentum. The analog sticks correspond to each or your robot's arms, but if you push the arms out you still have to physically thrust the GamePad to create momentum. Robot is less about hitting your opponent and more about pushing them, so the awkwardness of trying to look at both screens while jostling around the GamePad doesn't disrupt potential fighting moves or anything. It is awkward, though, especially when coupled with the fact that you have to hold the GamePad's right shoulder button to move forward at all.
The demo had four rounds: The first against a stationary wooden dummy, the second against a randomly selected bot, a third against a big, blue bruiser robot, and a final around against two giant forks and a dining table that turn into robots. Silly and bizarre? Certainly. Project Giant Robot got me chuckling every time the random opponent popped out of a box and revealed some metallic freak that looked like an old wind up toy from the 1970s. Still, it didn't feel like there was any skill in actually playing the game, with victories the result of random chance and weird physics more than anything I actually did in the game.
Even if it were just a mini-game attached to a larger collection, Miyamoto's Project Giant Robot experiment would feel thin. Funny, as quickly silly as a round of Duck Hunt, but thin. The session demonstrated that Nintendo remains committed to exploring the potential of the Wii U GamePad, but it felt no more like an essential experience than any other game based around the controller has.