Preview of the Wii-U

Nintendo is to video games as Disney is to animation; both holding the most historically iconic names of their respective genres, and both being leaders of innovation within their industries.

Nintendo is in particular known for literally shaping console gaming as we know it today, developing everything from the “standard model” of controllers, to new perspectives and ideas on how games should be played (think “Mario 64” and the Wii).

So when the high wizards at Nintendo announce that they are releasing a new game console, all but the most cynical of the gamers will pause and listen, for what may be presented could be the next leap forward for video games.

The Wii-U will be Nintendo’s first HD console, a “better-late-than-never” move in a world where HD is the standard. Many gamers scowled at the muddy graphics and gimmicky controls of Nintendo’s last-generation console, the Wii, and felt that Nintendo had abandoned its core audience.

With the Wii-U, Nintendo seems to be attempting to regain a loyal following by delivering a viable gaming-machine that can stand among the CPU gladiators of Microsoft and Sony. The Wii-U will run games at 1080p, hold up to 32 GB of storage, and be able to run the standard fare of applications such as Netflix, Hulu, and browsing features.

Like the previous generations of Nintendo’s consoles, Blu-Ray and DVD’s can not be played on the Wii-U; however, it will feature backward-compatibility with games from the Wii, as well as function with the Wiis’ remotes.

The most talked about feature of the Wii-U is about its touch-screen, dual-analog controller, dubbed the GamePad. About the size of a small computer tablet, the GamePad has two thumb-sticks and buttons along  side of the 6.2 inch touch screen. The GamePad will be the main access hub to access all of the features of the Wii-U.

The touch screen will facilitate in-game maps, inventories, and mini-games, and will help with reducing information “clutter” on the television. What sets it apart  from being just a simple touch screen is that entire console-based games can be played on it.     Say you were playing Super Mario Bros., and your spouse came in and wanted to watch the TV you were hogging. Simply switch the game over to the GamePad, and you save yourself hours of glares and resentment (while still being able to finish that last level).

Speaking of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo will be releasing a game with its iconic plumber for the Wii-U’s release. “New Super Mario Bros. U” (creative and original name, I know) will be the first time the Super Mario universe will be in HD.

For those of you who have drifted away from video games because they became too complicated and immersive, or still have a nostalgic place in their hearts for the first Koopa they stomped years ago, “New Super Mario Bros. U” is holding true to the series side-scrolling, 2D roots. All of the familiar cast of the series will be in the game, as well as incorporating features that were developed on the Nintendo DS versions of Mario Bros.  It’s a smart bet on Nintendo’s part to invoke Mario at this time, as Nintendo’s most successful console releases coincided with a game featuring him.

A plethora of other games have been announced for the Wii-U at or close to the 2012 holiday season (see sidebar), from casual games to more “hardcore” games. Nintendo also seems to be taking online gaming and features a bit more seriously this time, something that has also become a standard for console gaming. Despite this, many titles are focused on the “family game night” ideal that Nintendo dominated in the last console generation.

For example, the game “Nintendo Land” (an amusement park, mini-game world), will have one person on the Game Pad and up to four people on Wii remotes playing various games; the GamePad player is a ghost, who can see the players on the touch screen and sneak up on them, while the others use the remotes like flashlights on the TV searching out the ghost.

With no competition this holiday season, Nintendo is poised to gain a head start over the other console giants. Nintendo has announced that it will release the Wii-U in the US on November 18, and in following with the current (and often annoying) trend, will offer two versions: Basic and Premium.

Wii-U Basic will come with the console, a GamePad, sensor bar, HDMI cables, and 8GB of memory. Wii-U Premium adds on 32GB of memory, charging cradle and stands for both the console and GamePad, and the game Nintendo Land.

Basic will retail for $299, and Premium for $349. The price doesn’t seem to me to be outrageous (remember, Playstation 3 released at $699), and coughing up an extra $50, even if for just the added memory would be worth it, especially if you are going to get it anyway.

To me, this seems like a valiant effort on Nintendo’s part to restore some of its former glory as the video game champion of the world. Integrating modern technology, applications, and games while still remaining the forerunner of innovation and mainstream accessibility is no easy feat. And releasing the Wii-U a week before Black Friday doesn’t hurt either.

Now I’m not sure if I will be waiting outside of Best Buy for three days prior to Nov 18. Most likely, I will politely beg someone to get it for me for Christmas. But so far, the Wii-U seems like a far-reaching, solid platform for Nintendo to work from for the coming years, and I look forward to seeing what lies in store for its future.


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Preview of the Wii-U