unveiled its second-generation Wii console today, dubbed the Wii U, but said very little about the console's specifications. The company confirmed that the new system will support HD video, but devoted its press conference to discussing the Wii U's controller.
Rumors that Nintendo would incorporate a touchscreen proved accurate, but the controller is more tablet-based than we
expected it to be. The display is 6.2" wide and features dual analog controllers, two shoulder buttons, and a standard
four-button layout to the right.
One of the intriguing features of the Wii U is that titles can be transferred from the TV to the controller's display without needing to restart the game. This frees up the television for other uses (and potentially prevents divorce -Ed)
. This range on this feature will be limited--Nintendo exec's have said that it won't allow gamers to play across a home.
Nintendo demo'd several titles in which players with the new controller were assigned certain tasks or roles, while other
gamers with standard Wiimotes handled other activities or were tasked with hunting down the player that was 'it.' To make a rough analogy: If the game in question had been Pac-Man, the players with the standard Wiimotes all played from the Ghost's point of view. In contrast, the player with the Wii U controller played from the POV of the gamer controlling Pac-Man, and was therefore able to track the movement of each of the other players.
Nintendo's refusal to reveal any of the new system's hardware specifications may be an attempt to avoid the Osborne Effect
. Alternately, the company may be dodging the sort of criticism
it received in the wake of the Wii's announcement, when certain pundits predicted the Wii's weak hardware specs would lead to further erosion of the company's market share.
Regardless, Nintendo's controller-centric presentation is proof of what the game industry titan believes is most important
and newsworthy. At this point, we only know that the system is scheduled to launch in 2012. It will be fully compatible with all Wii titles, which implies that it may be based on modern, high-performance variations
of the Wii's Broadway/Hollywood CPU/GPU.
Early reports from E3 have been quite positive--controller screens appear to be of good quality and aren't so heavy as to
cause fatigue in prolonged gaming sessions. The console's one potential Achilles heel may be its battery life. The Wiimote's battery life is generally pegged at 25-30 hours depending on the type of battery used and the presence/absence of a nunchuck. Current tablet battery life varies widely, but nothing even comes close to the Wiimote's typical lifespan. We suspect the Wii U's charge will depend on whether or not the 6.2" display is actually in use.
Even with that wrinkle, we're excited about what the Wii U offers. It took Microsoft and Sony four years to develop their own movement-based technologies in the wake of the Wii's popularity. Nintendo's new technology takes gaming in a new direction for a second time, and does so in a way that's unique when compared to what MS and Sony currently offer.