After showing off bits and pieces of the Wii U out and around, then biding their time, Nintendo finally got down to brass tax and gave out all the important bits that we really needed to know about the new Wii U.
In case you missed the primer on the device, here it is: It’s essentially the Wii catching up to the PS3 and the 360. By that I mean it’s rocking an HDMI port on the back finally, can output in a nice widescreen format, and is capable of significantly higher visual fidelity than its predecessor. It will be backwards compatible with many – if not all – Wii games, and uses some of the same remotes and hardware, making it easier to understand. The biggest change, however, is the gamepad, that doohickey on the left of that picture above. Sporting two analog sticks, dual triggers and a resistive 6.2 inch LDC touch display, it’s a honking large controller, but with good reason.
The gamepad not only functions as a controller, but boasts remote control-esque features AND possesses NFC capabilities, letting it communicate with nearby devices (like some proposed cards and figures, think Skylanders) with ease. All these functions together lend themselves to what I believe is Nintendo’s primary goal with the Wii U: asymmetric multiplayer.
The resistive touchscreen means that there won’t be any fancy multi-touch anything on the Wii U, but the array of sensors in the gamepad allows for some clever usage. Examples include teeing off for golf, fielding baseballs, aiming down scopes in shooters, tricorder like scanning, inventory management, keypad usage, and any number of other cool little things in game. The biggest thing they’ve been capitalizing on is giving one player their own screen where others would use the TV. Nintendoland (the Wii U equivalent to Wii Sports) uses the gamepad this way in spades. The game features a series of minigames based on popular Nintendo series, all in a small, easily digestible asymmetric multiplayer way. For example, in the Animal Crossing game, up to four players (using Wii remotes) are tasked with running around a small town and collecting candy. A fifth player using the gamepad controls two guards individually with each analog stick to try to catch the other players. While each player on the TV can only see their own little quarter of the action, the gamepad allows the other player to get a wider view of things. Here’s another example in video form:
Essentially, the players on the TV cannot see the player using the gamepad (who is a ghost tasked with catching the other players.) The Wii remotes vibrate to alert the other players where the ghost is nearby, and its all good fun.
The system also ramps up its streaming capabilities, allowing the use of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon instant video, even allowing you too watch one show on your TV and another on the gamepad simultaneously! All this in a large controller that is surprisingly light. Nintendo is also enacting a better online infrastructure, shifting friend codes to the side for a more Xbox Live/PSN type model. And they’re cinching up the whole thing with a “Pro” controller that fairly closely resembles an Xbox 360 controller for a more standard console experience.
Now, on to the good stuff: the price. Nintendo finally announced that the Wii U is releasing on November 18th in the US, November 30th in Europe, and (quite strangely) December 8th in Japan. The basic model will include a gampad, a charging cable for said gamepad, all the other requisite cables for powering things and includes an HDMI cable, with 8GB of memory – all costing $299. Fifty more dollars nets the premium model, which has all the same business, but 32GB of memory and charging cradles for the various pieces AND a copy of Nintendoland (unless you’re in Japan) to enjoy with it. The games are listed at $60 price points, there’s a list of launch titles here, note that these include things considered within the “launch window” so not all of these will be out immediately upon console release.
Personally I played the Wii U at E3, and went in skeptical. It was good that most of my fears were fairly dashed, but we’ll have to see how Nintendo handles everything over the course of a few months first. The Wii U certainly won’t have quite the impact that the Wii did, but hopefully they handle their shovelware problem better and find some really unique ways to utilize the gamepad and really make it worth a gamer’s money. Three hundred bucks isn’t too bad for a system at launch, but early adopters have grown wary of numerous redesigns and updates, so we’ll have to let the sales numbers speak for themselves.