The last time there was parity between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo versions of FIFA, producer Matt Prior reflects, was back in the days of GameCube. The HD era has been enormously successful for EA's series, but the core game's evolution has happened at the expense of similar progress on Nintendo platforms, which have played host to more experimental takes on the beautiful game.
When Wii U launches, the first message EA wants to stress is that early adopters will get the full-fat, full-resolution football experience. Which is broadly correct, although, as a rep notes while I'm giving the Wii U version a run-out at EA Canada, this is "FIFA 12.5" - in the sense that it won't carry every new feature from this year's PS3 and 360 updates, since the team has had so much porting work to do on the new platform.
The other main message, though, is that the GamePad enhances FIFA in ways only possible on Nintendo's new hardware. A sentence you can expect to read in every Wii U press release until you go mad and stab yourself blind with a telescopic 3DS stylus. But in this case, the early signs suggest it could be good news for the hardcore as well as those suspiciously attractive, well-adjusted families you never see outside of a Nintendo TV ad.
"We're not messing [with the core FIFA experience]", insists Prior. "We didn't want to force anything new we did down users' throats, so if your mate comes over and uses PS3, he can pop down and have the same experience."
And whether you're using the Pro Controller or the Game Pad, this bears out. "The best features are ones that complement," Prior adds. "You don't want someone to have to relearn how to play FIFA on the Wii U."
The result is a tab-based system on the GamePad screen that provides a view not only to the match itself, but also access to oodles of real-time info that can be tinkered with. Those tabs in full: Gameplay is what you see on the TV, with touch-enabled controls; Manager Central is a top-down interactive radar of player positions; and then there's the self-explanatory Subs, Formations and Tactics.
This opens up a number of possibilities. Touch-screen controls are pretty basic: tap to pass and shoot, drag to move players off the ball, and a tap of L3 turns the screen into the goal so you can precision-target, similar to how it works on Vita. "It would have been nice to have a little bit more functionality on there," says Prior, discussing the limitations of the touch screen. "But I don't think it's in any way detrimental to what we do."
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Far more compelling is when you assume the role of manager. From the GamePad you can keep track of all sorts of stats, monitor the performance and fitness of players, directly control live positions via the radar, assign man-markers and so on.
It's easy to see the appeal of armchair tinkering in solo mode and co-op, where one-to-four players can be deep in the action on regular controllers, with someone else calling the strategic shots via the GamePad.
"We know there's a lot of people who were scared off FIFA because the dexterity required to control it is alien to them," says Prior, who hopes Wii U will help "wean" such people onto the full experience. But, if it all comes together as promised, there's tantalising scope here for veterans, too.
Which, for a first effort on a Nintendo console of all things, bodes rather well both for the series and the system.