When I first heard some official details about the Wii U last year, I was absolutely distraught.
There seemed to be an unhealthy obsession about making everything in 3D. I am not a fan of 3D but I do what I can to avoid it. It doesn’t interact with me (other than in a strictly real life here-and-now sense of interpreting the world as I see it with two eyes capable of decoding and recoding stereoscopic objects within a wide field of vision) and I don’t interact with it (other than in a real life desperate need to survive within societal norms and overall contribute to the continuation of my life and to avoid being hit with fast thrown baseballs).
So, I was happy when it seemed that the 3D had been dropped for the main new Nintendo console and instead was taken up with the handheld 3DS (and now 3DS XL – couldn’t see that coming) and I could revel in the joy of the new system without being distracted by my own personal bugbear. It looks damn good and also with that certain inescapable Nintendo whimsical charm to it. For instance, the little joysticks are made from rhubarb, and the screen saver on the little screen shows a mockumentary of Ganondorf going about his daily life in Santa Barbara. The part in the dry cleaners is priceless! They thought it was cranberry juice but we know it wasn’t! But of course, most of that is not true. So, the Wii U is a slightly-more-powerful than-current-generation console that has a slim base drive (which takes proprietary 25GB discs and also Wii discs) that connects up to an iPad-like device (held in landscape) with a touch screen, typical Nintendo style face buttons and two analogue sticks.
There also are associated bells and whistles like a microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, support for Near Field Communications (NFC) and rumble features. A big draw of this command style device is the ability to play games directly on it like a normal handheld rather than on the main TV. So if the alpha female (or male) of the house was watching the mini-series of 50 Shades of Grey then little Toshio would be able to play in the living room but directly on the pad. When the responsible adult has a grand mal seizure at the antics of the protagonists of the mini-series, Toshio will be able to call for an ambulance and then change the input of the Wii U so that the main screen is now on the TV. In addition to this device, there is also a Wii U ‘Pro’ controller that bears a remarkable resemblance to the Xbox 360 controller. I guess there are only a limited number of ways that a human hand can hold things comfortably.
This is undoubtedly a response to the lazy Nintendo ‘casual gamer’ tag. Nintendo want this system to appeal to as many people as possible and the hardcore gang are a powerful lobby. Nintendo also went to great pains at E3 to showcase third party support with some serious games like Batman: Arkham City and Mass Effect 3. It will be fascinating to see how much extra interactivity will go in to some of these tried and tested other platform games. Other recent Nintendo peripherals (like the wiimote, nunchuk and balance board) will also be compatible. Nintendo has never been at the forefront of the online gaming scene, however they look to remedy this by extending the 3DS Nintendo Network (with an improved friend code system!) to play and chat online and also will establish an eshop similar to the Wii Virtual Console.
It also looks like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube (possibly the BBC iPlayer too, although this is unconfirmed) will also make an appearance. First party Nintendo games which have been announced are Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin (a shocking omission from Wii), Wii Fit U, and Game & Wario. I imagine there will also be other old favourites like Star Fox and Smash Bros although these haven’t been confirmed. One thing which hasn’t been announced which would be an instant “Shut up and take my money” idea and would cement billions of pre-orders would be Nintendo finally announcing an open 3D Pokemon game. The technology is now there. Pokemon Stadium with a Gameboy on the N64 was what I thought I wanted but I ended up being massively disappointed.
The linkage of a Pokedex-type device in your hands which is also your controller, with a big HD screen where you wander around a Pokemon-stylised Skyrim-type environment would be phenomenal. It would be the ultimate killer-app for a system with so much promise. In fact, a decent port of Skyrim would be pretty damn good too, actually.
Nintendo Wii U is currently due out before the end of November 2012.