Ever since the first Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, hit American stores in 1985, the Japanese gaming company behind Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Donkey Kong and so many other classic titles has been known for its innovative approach to gaming.
In 2006, the release of the Wii once again revolutionized the industry Nintendo helped create by introducing an entirely new way of interacting with games through the use of motion controls. Now, just six years later, Nintendo hopes to shake things up again with its latest console, the Wii U, set for release this holiday season.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the new system.
The main feature of Nintendo’s new console is the GamePad. A cross between a regular controller and a touchscreen tablet, the GamePad provides a second, integrated screen that can work in tandem with the TV or be used independently. While perhaps not as instantly revolutionary as the Wiimote, the GamePad promises an array of new experiences made possible by its second screen, including what Nintendo has referred to as “asymmetric disruption." It's a fancy way of saying that, in a multiplayer setting, up to four people can play with Wiimotes while one person, using the GamePad, plays in a completely different way — sometimes helping, sometimes working against the other players.
In general, comments on the Wii U’s technical capabilities have been pretty vague. What is known is that the Wii U will be able to support up to two GamePads, and unlike its predecessor, it will be capable of HD resolution. Likewise, Nintendo has stated that the Wii U will have graphics at least on par with competitors Microsoft and Sony’s entertainment consoles.
Shortly before the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in June, news surfaced that some third-party developers were claiming the Wii U’s hardware might actually outperform either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation3.
During an interview with gamespot.com, however, Nintendo marketing executive Scott Moffitt remained cagey on this issue, saying, “Our focus is to talk about what (the Wii U) can do for game play and how it can revolutionize entertainment, rather than focus on tech specs.”
Over the last few years, Nintendo has often been criticized for its failure to rally support from third-party software developers. With the Wii U, Nintendo hopes to change that. A big part of Nintendo’s presentation at this year’s E3 focused on some of the third-party titles that will be coming to the new console at launch, including major franchises like “Assassin’s Creed,” “Mass Effect,” “Scribblenauts,” “Rayman” and “Ninja Gaiden,” as well as the Wii U exclusive “ZombiU,” a survival horror game that makes use of the GamePad’s unique functionality.
As parents might want to note, some of these games skew toward more mature content, a deviation from Nintendo's emphasis on family-friendly experiences and casual gaming.
That isn’t to say that Nintendo’s classic, all-ages franchises won’t also appear on the new console in some form or another. Two of Wii U’s biggest launch titles are updates to popular series: “New Super Mario Bros. U” and the long-awaited garden-themed strategy game “Pikmin 3.”
One of the biggest draws for Nintendo fans, though, will probably be the newly announced “Nintendo Land,” a game that imagines a virtual theme park featuring areas based on 12 of the company’s most beloved creations. Inside these areas, players get to enjoy a variety of addictive mini-games like “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” and “The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest.” Even if it’s not the same as a full-fledged Donkey Kong or Zelda game, “Nintendo Land” should help keep gamers busy until the inevitable next installments in those and other franchises hit later in the Wii U’s lifespan.
The Wii U will also be backwards compatible, meaning all previous Wii games will be playable on it.
For a lot of people thinking about purchasing the Wii U this holiday season, one of the deciding factors will undoubtedly be its cost. Early estimates suggested a consumer-friendly $250 (like the Wii six years ago). Recent rumors, though, have been claiming the Wii U will likely be more in the $400 to $450 price range — still cheaper than the PlayStation 3 when it launched, but considerably more than some buyers might be willing to pay.
Of course, the steeper price tag makes sense given the additional costs associated with the touchscreen-equipped GamePad — itself a standalone device capable of HD graphics. In an interview with London’s Telegraph newspaper earlier this month, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed that plans for the GamePad were nearly scrapped during Wii U development because of how much the company feared it might end up costing consumers.
Unfortunately, along with a specific launch date, the new console’s price tag is being kept a secret for now. With release sometime in the next six months, more information should become available in the very near future.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.