Jun 9, 2011

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E3: Nintendo’s New Console is Wii U

E3: Nintendo’s New Console is Wii U

Toward the end of Nintendo’s Tuesday press conference, they revealed their new console, previously code-named Project Cafe, to be Wii U.  The name may be strange, but Nintendo want to emphasize this as a true successor to the Wii (sort of how the 3DS is a successor to the DS), and that the emphasis is not only on how “Wii” can play together, but also on how the company can create the best experience for “U.”  Nintendo realize that the Wii was much more of a gaming machine for the casual crowd, and with the Wii U, they hope to continue to attract the more casual players, while doing their best to remedy themselves with the more “hardcore” crowd.  However, this being Nintendo, they didn’t want to simply mimic the experience you can get on your PS3, 360, or even PC, but instead do something new, to create something “different from anything you played before.”

The system itself looks much like the current Wii; the real revolution is under the hood and in the unique controller, which is a hybrid of a tablet and a traditional controller.  Think almost if the Vita and the iPad had a baby, and that’s pretty much what the Wii U controller is.

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As you can see in the above video, the controller offers a lot of versatility.  For example, you can use it “alone” (you still need to be in range of the console, though) to play games like an iPad, you can use it for motion control, you can hold it up and “see through it,” you can use it like the bottom screen of a DS (i.e., for maps), and you can use it to play games even if the TV is showing something else, perfect for busy families who argue over TV time.  The possibilities are almost endless, as the controller features two analog sticks, a d-pad, four shoulder buttons, four face buttons, a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, inward facing camera, microphone, a 6.2″ multi-touch screen, a sensor strip, stylus, and built-in stereo speakers, while also supporting rumble.


The good news about the new console is that it is fully backwards compatible with the Wii: not just for games, but also for accessories.  This means all your Wiimotes, nunchucks, and even the balance board will all work with the Wii U, which is good news if you have a bunch of Wii accessories lying around.  The bad news is the Wii U will not support Gamecube discs; worse, it seems as if GCN controllers (and thus, any peripherals that use those ports) will also not be compatible with the new system (such as DDR mats).  Perhaps Nintendo will offer a USB-GCN adaptor to remedy this in terms of accessories.  In terms of games, perhaps they will adapt more of their Gamecube back catalogue, perhaps even doing remastered HD versions of select games, as Sony has done with several PS2 titles.  The good news, though, is that the balance board, for example, can be used with just the controller, expanding the possibilities of fitness games since you won’t be tied to your TV.

Wii U will not include an internal hard drive, but it will support external memory (via USB drives or external hard drives).  Most likely Nintendo made this decision to keep the slim form factor of the console (1.8 inches tall, 6.8 inches wide and 10.5 inches long), as well as to keep the price reasonable; still, it’s a bit disappointing, considering how vital storage is in today’s world of digital gaming.  It’s also a bit surprising, considering that Nintendo seem to finally have learned that friend codes are silly, and that online gaming is important, especially for the “hardcore” crowd they are hoping to woo back.  In line of this, Nintendo have promised that the Wii U will utilize an online system more like PSN or XBL, and giving flexibility to third-party developers to mold their online experiences.

The new console will support full HD, a first for Nintendo, which will finally put its visuals (at least in theory) in line with PS3 and XBox 360.  Even more exciting, Nintendo is already exploring the possibility of linking games between the Wii U and 3DS, with Smash Brothers currently in the works, with an attempt to make the game work on both platforms.  While specifics weren’t elaborated upon at this point (since everything is still in early stages), it’s hopeful that the dream of playing the game on your home console, then switching to your portable as you walk out the door (or vice versa) may finally become a reality.

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During the press conference and the two days afterward, several games have been revealed for the new device, including Lego City Stories, Darksiders II (a launch title), Tekken, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Batman Arkham City, Dirt, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Metro: Last Light, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online (although the footage of these games shown during the presentation turns out not to be from the Wii U itself).  It does look like Pikmin 3 will finally be materializing, and will most likely be a launch title for Wii U, as the game is reportedly in an advanced stage (since it was originally meant to be a Wii title).


During E3, Nintendo won’t have any games to show off, only tech demos, including: “New Super Mario Bros Mii,” which lets you insert your Mii into New Super Mario Bros; “Shield Pose,” in which you use the new controller to deflect arrows coming from all sides (not just directly out of the TV); and “Chase Me,” an example of how creative multiplayer experiences can be on the new console, as the world will look very different depending on whether you’re holding the Wii U controller or a traditional Wiimote.

I’m sure much more information about the Wii U will begin to surface over the next few months, and I have to say I’m excited with the possibilities.  I do think we’ll see this idea copied (in fact, I believe Apple has already suggested a link between the iPad and Apple TV), but it does feel as if the future may be leading us to the blurring of lines between portable and home console entertainment devices.

Right now, the Wii is tentatively scheduled for a 2012 release date; when next year of course, is impossible to say, but I would expect a launch at least a year from now, if not longer.