The biggest announcement so far at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been the Nintendo Wii U. Earmarked for a 2012 release date, the Wii U will be the first 'next-generation' console to hit the market. So what does it bring to the table?
Despite its familar sounding name, the Wii U is set to be a very different beast to Nintendo's current console. Full HD graphics, integrated video chat and an innovative tablet controller are a few of the new highlights.
It would seem that Nintendo is keen to reinvent game controls all over again, with a little inspiration from the Apple iPad. Here's a recap of everything we know so far...
Wii U console design
At first glance, the Wii U doesn't look terribly different to the current Wii console. It sports the same minimalist design, complete with a subdued pale finish and oblong shape. According to reports, the Wii U measures approximately 45x170x270mm; not much larger than the Nintendo Wii.
While we would have liked to see a fresher design, we can understand why Nintendo chose to replicate the same aesthetic. After all, the Wii was a raging success, so why fix something that isn't broken? In any event, it appears the company has learnt its lesson from the fluro-coloured GameCube console; a design that put off many users.
Wii U specifications
Beneath the Wii U's hood is an IBM multi-core 45nm microprocessor and a 'custom designed' AMD Radeon HD GPU.
Nintendo has not yet released detailed specifications for its new console, but the new system is expected to be more than a match for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (the current Wii is graphically inferior to both its rivals). This is sure to be welcome news to the so-called 'hardcore gamer' demographic, who have oft lamented the Wii's lack of grunt.
The Wii U comes with HDMI, component, S Video and composite connectivity ports and is capable of outputting video at 1080p. It also comes with an SD memory card slot and four USB 2.0 ports, which can be used to connect external hard drives.
Apparently, the Wii U will come with a new proprietary disc format capable of storing an impressive 25GB of data - the same as a single-layer Blu-ray disc. According to a report on Kotaku, onboard storage will be limited to just 8GB of flash-based memory. (In other words, an external hard drive or SD memory card is going to be essential.)
Crucially, the Nintendo Wii U will be compatible with all games and controllers for the current Wii console - this means you will be able to use your entire Wii collection on the new machine.
Wii U controller explained
By far the Wii U's biggest drawcard is its tablet-style controller. It boasts a 6.2in touch screen that can be used in lieu of a TV. This is sure to be appreciated by parents who constantly battle for use of the television with their game-loving kids. If Nintendo is smart about the way it markets this feature, it could be one of the console's biggest selling points.
The Wii U controller is certainly a crowded gizmo: in addition to the touch screen, it crams in a d-pad, two analogue sticks, four Wii controller buttons, four shoulder triggers, a camera, a microphone, speakers, a sensor strip and an inbuilt stylus. It's essentially a weird cross between a tablet device and a traditional console gamepad.
It will be very interesting to see how developers incorporate all this extra functionality into their games. There's a real danger that some of these elements will be shoehorned into games that don't require them - does anyone remember all the Sixaxis shaking that marred the PlayStation 3's launch titles?
The Wii U controller boasts an impressive tablet-style touch screen.
The last thing we want to do is sketch a picture or take a photo in the middle of an FPS game, for example. Hopefully, the new controller will inspire innovative titles that are built around its strengths, rather than adding superfluous gimmicks to the same old genre tropes. Only time will tell.
While the various tablet-style features are certainly compelling, we're most intrigued by the controller's multiplayer capabilities. Instead of a traditional split-screen TV approach, players will be able to see the action on their own personal displays. With any luck, this could see a resurgence in offline multiplayer – AKA friends trash-talking each other on the same couch.
On a sidenote, we can't help but wonder how robust the new controller's display will be. Did Nintendo take 'gamer rage' into account when they designed this thing? Tossing your controller away in a fit of pique is an instinctual part of competitive gaming. The idea of gently placing the controller down in anger is too horrifying to contemplate.
The Wii U can also support up to four Wii Remote controllers.
Wii U games
Like any new console, the Wii U will live or die by its games library. As mentioned, the new machine is backwards compatible with the Nintendo Wii, which is a very good starting point. This means there will be well over one thousand games to choose from at launch.
This is all well and good, but what people really want to see is fresh titles developed exclusively for the Wii U console. This is an area where Nintendo has been keeping somewhat quiet. Games announced or shown at E3 included LEGO City Stories, Darksiders II, Ninja Gaiden 3, Aliens Colonial Marines, Tekken, Batman Arkham City and a new Super Smash Brothers game; all of which have been confirmed as launch titles.
A Zelda-themed tech demo shows off the capabilities of the Wii U.
While the above selection is pretty impressive, we're still waiting for a killer app in the mould of Wii Sports or Mario 64; in other words, something new and exciting that will really blow us away.
Nintendo seems keen to appeal to a more mature cliental this time around, with a brace of gritty launch titles aimed very much at adults (see above). This is further supported by Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata's E3 comment that the new console will include “something for everyone.”
You can bet your last dollar that a new Wii Sports game will be released at some point too - the tablet controller should make for some interesting new mini games.
OVER PAGE: Pricing and closing thoughts...