The Wii U: Nintendo Brings the A Game to E3

Even though rumors were abound concerning Nintendo’s presence at E3 this year and their revelation of a new console system, Project Cafe, the industry was left in the dark as to what the new console might actually be. Some suggested something similar to the Kinect, others thought Nintendo would finally cave in and move away from motion gaming, choosing instead to concentrate on the world of 3D. With the revelation of the Wii U, while Nintendo didn’t prove anybody exactly right, it did show shades of all these things.

What Is It?
The Wii U has been called a mash-up of the Nintendo DS and the Wii gaming platforms, with both motion controls and the option to use a touch screen. Nintendo President Satoru Iwata called the system an attempt to make a console that is “equally satisfying” for both hardcore and casual gamers.

The Wii U controller is sort of a cross between the touchscreen on a DS, and an iPad. A large 6.2” touchscreen is the most obvious difference between the previous incarnations of Wii controllers, and placed around this screen are all the buttons one would find on a regular console, similar to the Xbox in button placement. The controller comes equipped with a front-facing camera, microphone, accelerometer and gyroscope system, meaning the controller ships with a wider range of motion controls than just about anything released yet. The system is also compatible with almost all previous Wii peripherals, including the balance board and Wii Motion Plus, and will likely retail for about $250 US.

What Can It Do?
While Nintendo didn’t show any of their first party games in development for the system as of this year, they were willing to discuss the functionality of the controller by way of demonstrating several “prototypes”. These included a “shield dodge” game that required players to block knives thrown at them by raising the Wii U controller, a shooter where two players attempted to shoot a third who was firing from above in a ship controlled by the Wii U, and a simple game of tag, where whoever was it had a birds eye view thanks to the Wii U.

Videos of the Wii U showed a myriad of other uses for the system. By aiming the Wii U at the screen, we saw players in a baseball game pitching and catching. Attaching the Wii U to a Wii Zapper, the player was able to use the Wii U as a sniper scope on a TV screen full of windowed buildings. Perhaps most innovatively, another showed players “throwing” ninja stars at the screen, presumably able to control the force and direction of those throws. Perhaps the biggest announcement was the fact that the Wii U would allow players to play some console games without using their TVs, by playing the console similar to a handheld system.

What Games Will It Have?
Nintendo was notably quiet on first party titles. They were willing to announce a Smash Brothers Game, which Iwata promised would have functionality with the same title on the 3DS, as well as a new Pikmin title. Nintendo also announced they’d be developing and releasing Lego City Stories, an open world sandbox game that will likely heavily feature an online component.

Third party developers were notably more willing to share their titles for the Wii U. Though regular Nintendo fare was shown, such as the rally racer Dirt, it was noted that the Wii U seemed to be trying to expand into a more mature audience. Aliens: Colonial Marines, Darksiders II, and Metro: Last Light were all titles announced for the Wii U, as well as a port of Tekken made especially for the console. Though Nintendo has made efforts to keep their systems family friendly in the past by regulating what titles are released very closely, it seems that this era has come to an end.

What Does It Mean?
We won’t really know what the Wii U can do in practice until we start playing it, but for the time being it seems like Nintendo has gotten an early start in the next big battle of the console wars. Although developers for the system are being tight-lipped about the functionality of the controller in their games, a video montage showed a series of excited publishers expressing their joy at being able to develop for such a system. The system, expected to be released by the winter of 2012, has definitely set the Internet abuzz with it’s innovative controls and upgraded specs. If anything, Nintendo has proved that they are still the masters of the console release, and it shouldn’t be surprising if this next iteration of their popular Wii system easily outsells its Sony and Microsoft counterparts.