Wii U: Whoopie?

At E3 today, the boffo electronics bazaar in Los Angeles where companies unveil their latest and greatest to tantalize the geeks in all of us, Nintendo unveiled their (much) anticipated new system to answer PlayStation 3’s Move and X-Box 360’s Kinect.  While Nintendo’s Wii was revolutionary when it first came out, its sales have been on the decline for the past two years due to, largely, it reaching a saturation point in the marketplace, the marketplace being overrun with iPad mobile gaming (there are only so many casual gamers and Nintendo aficionados out there), and the arrival of the Kinect to offer non-controller game play on X-Box’s superior graphics console.  Nintendo is hoping that their new system — set to come out in 2012 before both X-Box and PlayStation unveil their next gen consoles — will recoup their standing in the marketplace.

Enter the big reveal at today’s E3.

Geek girls and geek boys, Nintendo presents: The Wii U.

The Wii U is a combination of new console and new controller.

The complete specs on the console have yet to be released.  What we know is that it is a step up in terms of graphics and memory than the current Wii has, which has been a constant complaint from hard core gamers who really like realistic graphics.  According to Nintendo, Link will look even more realistic than he did in Twilight Princess, which still retaining that cartoony edge that we know and love about him from Ocarina and Wind Waker.

This is all due to Nintendo finally releasing an 1080p HD HDMI system for the modern HD television, making their console more competitive with the PS3 and the 360 (which will themselves be undergoing updates shortly).

However, the most innovative aspect of the Wii U (and I really hope they change that name to something less unfortunate — that name has “I’m going to be picked on by school yard bullies” written all over it) is the new controller.

E3 2011: Hands-On with Nintendo's New 'Wii U'

As Slashfilm describes it, this controller is “half iPad, half Nintendo DS“: it has a 6.2 inch touch screen, integrated camera and microphone, built in motion control sensors, plus the standard Nintendo control buttons.  When you see it in someone’s hands, it does look like a bulky, over-sized DS that really wants to grow up to be a sleek iPad.  I’m not sure if the bulk is going to make it easy to play any motion-sensitive games using it, but then I thought the Wii remote controllers looked bulky when they first came out, and was pleasantly surprised about them.

According to the trailer that introduces with remote control, Nintendo envisions a variety of ways in which it can be integrated into game play, as well as other special features.

Nintendo envisions using the remote for video chatting, for enhanced web browsing using the Wii console’s Opera system, for stand alone game play that does not require the console, and, what I find most interesting, the ability to continue playing a console game while someone uses the same television for some other activity — hence, the 6.2 screen could become the main screen for the console if your sister, say, wanted to watch Twilight while you were playing Twilight Princess.  Such an ability for split use of the television set would be a first in video game console history.  I could also see how the remote could allow you to watch two Instant Streaming Netflix selections at once: one on the remote, one on the television.

Nintendo says the new system will be backwards compatible with other Wii games.  I want to know if that means you can only buy the remote with the next gen console, or if it will work with the standard Wii. [UPDATE: Apparently, the Wii U is a bundle only: new system, new remote.]  Because I would not mind buying another peripheral for my standard Wii: all the peripherals add to the interfacing with the Wii in a way the Kinect cannot replicate.

Yes, the X-Box announced at E3 expanded voice control for their Kinect system, which even the new Wii U does not seem to be really competing with (although the inclusion of a microphone in the new remote means they have thought of the potential for it).  But consider that the Wii Balance Board and other remote controls (i.e. the peripherals) of the Wii as providing a type of tactile-based interface the Kinect cannot offer.  Until the Kinect can tell me how much I weigh, I am not interfacing with it in the same way.

And that may be the point, and the reason, for having these two competing systems (sorry, Move, I’ll get to you soon).  They offer very different gaming experiences, and the variety available means you can do what you want when you feel like it.

Of course, once one of them offers every type of interface (motion, voice, tactile) at once, then that will be THE console to get.  And, who knows, with the Wii U remote having a camera in it, it may some day come with a stand to place it in so that the camera will track your motions just like the Kinect does.  Or perhaps it could go the way of augmented reality games that other mobile tech are doing: imagine fighting as Link where your entire house becomes Hyrule.

All I know for sure is that Nintendo has always been innovating, and leading the pack doing so.  I wouldn’t count them out just yet.  Although I may be in the minority on that one.

And I’m not just saying that because I’d love to be given the new system to test and write about.

Ok, I’m not only just saying that because…

Look for the Wii U to hit the market sometime between April and December of 2012.  My bet: closer to Christmas.

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