Oh Nintendo, you scare me so. For months now we have been hearing rumors about Nintendo having a new console that has a giant-screened controller from space. Sure enough, those rumors turn out to be true, but that’s not before the internet melted down for a few minutes trying to figure out what this thing actually is. Why did we have so much trouble? Nintendo’s revealing sucked. That’s why. But now, after a day, the Wii U, as it’s called, could shape up to be pretty great.
Shown during this year’s E3 press conference in L.A., the Wii U (or is it just Wii U? Nintendo loved saying “Wii” without an article adjective, but I don’t know about this thing) came to stage with less fanfare that might have been expected. As you can see from the images, the big, new thing is the big, new controller that sports a 6.2″ touchscreen right in the middle of the device that can allow the player extra real estate for game information in addition to using it as a pseudo-mobile gaming device itself, but we’ll get to that; this paragraph is about how Nintendo unveiled the unit horribly. While this controller gathered some “oohs” and “aahs,” it was the only thing shown, leading to mass hysteria from nerdville. Was there actually a new console, or was this it? If this was just the console, is it a handheld I can take anywhere? What does that mean for the 3DS? The demo video for the controller showed examples of games that really did not look like anything more than what we have experienced on the Wii graphically, causing some to question if the controller was just an add-on to the existing console. It’s not, as it turns out, but we wouldn’t know that from the demonstration. Soon after the initial video reel, the audience was shown some 3rd party titles that will come out for the system looking as good as counterparts on rival consoles (as well they should; this video was made of footage coming entirely from rival consoles, as it turns out, because Wii U does not have finalized hardware), so there had to be some new guts somewhere. Nintendo’s fault was not just being clear with us what was going on. Just tell us, friends, we will listen.
I, for one, was really frustrated by the presentation, as you might have gathered. Confusing your audience is probably not the best way to “wow” them. Luckily, very soon after the show we got some answers. The image above is what the current system looks like, like a Wii that has had the edges shaved off. Who likes stats? Well here you go:
Size: Approximately 1.8 inches tall, 6.8 inches wide and 10.5 inches long.New Controller:The new controller incorporates a 6.2-inch, 16:9 touch screen and traditional button controls, including two analog Circle Pads. This combination removes the traditional barriers between games, players and the TV by creating a second window into the video game world. The rechargeable controller includes a Power button, Home button, +Control Pad, A/B/X/Y buttons, L/R buttons and ZL/ZR buttons. It includes a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, rumble feature, camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, a sensor strip and a stylus.
Other Controls: Up to four Wii Remote™ (or Wii Remote Plus) controllers can be connected at once. The new console supports all Wii™ controllers and input devices, including the Nunchuk™ controller, Classic ControllerTM, Classic Controller ProTM and Wii Balance Board™.
Media: A single self-loading media bay will play 12-centimeter proprietary high-density optical discs for the new console, as well as 12-centimeter Wii optical discs.
Video Output: Supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, component, S-video and composite.
Audio Output: Uses AV Multi Out connector. Six-channel PCM linear output through HDMI.
Storage: The console will have internal flash memory, as well as the option to expand its memory using either an SD memory card or an external USB hard disk drive.
CPU: IBM Power®-based multi-core microprocessor.
Other: Four USB 2.0 connector slots are included. The new console is backward compatible with Wii games and Wii accessories.
And that is the console itself. It will replace your Wii on the shelf, but is still backwards compatible with Wii games. No word yet regarding full backward compatibility with all previous systems like the Wii, but one can assume so for at least everything but the Gamecube at this point. The fact sheet mentions nothing about accepting six inch Gamecube discs.
Now, the controller. Look at that thing. It’s a beast. At nearly a foot wide it’s nothing to sneeze at. Hopefully Nintendo will not have to worry about any complaints of “I threw my controller through my TV!” this go around because let’s be honest, it will cost $10,000 per unit. No one will want to break it. With a giant touchscreen that accepts stylus input, you can go ahead and assume your awesome DS skills will come in to play with some games. That’s a given. But what else can it do?
Along with the touchscreen comes a gyroscope and accelerometer, which can be used to view the game world from outside of the TV itself. One example (within the demo video here at the 3:22 mark) that was shown had the TV simply showing a ocean looking out in to the horizon. On the controller’s screen, however, the player can move it up and down and around the TV to see passed the borders of the TV screen. “Looking up” with the controller allowed the player to focus on the moon in the sky, for example. There was a mini game attached to this demo where the player had to focus on these objects that were outside of the TV and quickly move between them. While just a demo, one can gather that Nintendo’s focus is to “stretch” the normal screen into a new spacial realm.
Other ways of playing with the controller include having it re-create what is happening on the TV (and vice-versa) and using the controller as a personal device that goes along with things on the TV. For the first thing, imagine using the stylus to draw an image and having that instantly show up on the TV. For the second, Nintendo showed another demo of a hide-and-seek type game where one player had the controller and four others played on the TV. The person with the controller could see a bird’s-eye view of the map as they moved around their character; the rest played split-screen on the TV to hunt them down. Or, like in this video, you could possibly use the controller’s screen as simply a map or added control for a remote vehicle:
Also, watch this Zelda tech demo. It’s the greatest thing.
An additional use of the controller is playing games sans TV, just on the controller itself. Since Wii U can stream video to the controller, some games will be able to be played on the TV or controller separately. Say your wife wants to watch Desperate Housewives for some ungodly reason. No problem, you can fire up your game and play it on the controller. Nintendo has some more examples right here.
I will not lie to you: for the first ten minutes I kind of hated this thing, and it was all because press conference did not show it off well. Now, however, after having it actually explained, I might just love it. I really enjoy the idea and the possibilities. Now all they have to do is fix their online system, and Wii U is poised to become another hit.
All Nintendo E3 info comes from their site, updated daily during the event.