E3: Everything You Want to Know About Wii U

E3 isn’t even halfway over yet, but many are saying that Nintendo has already stolen the show with the announcement of its next home console, dubbed “Wii U.” (I wouldn’t have thought it possible for Nintendo to come up with an even worse name than “Wii.”) Yes, it’s a successor to the Wii, using the same basic aesthetic and overall thematic elements, so Miis aren’t going away anytime soon. And yes, it incorporates motion control.

But the big innovation is the controller: a large device with a built-in 6-inch touchscreen right in the center. Here’s our exhaustive report, including Wii U’s graphics capabilities and how that new controller will change pretty much everything about how you game.

Nintendo’s press events always get lots of buzz, but for the life of me, I don’t know why people enjoy them so much. They’re dull, tedious affairs, where even the people on stage who speak English as their native language do so in a slow, monotone way (Reggie, I’m lookin’ at you). It’s speech after speech after speech, most of them along the lines of “we are so awesome, and here’s why,” all of them boring, with a few interesting game videos sprinkled in here and there. Maybe it’s a cultural difference between America and Japan, but Nintendo’s press events put me to sleep every time. My kindergarten graduation held more excitement.

There, my rant for this year’s E3. Now let’s look at the Wii U.

I remember when the Wii was first introduced, Nintendo explained that the inspiration for the Wii Remote came from the stylus used with the DS, and trying to translate that functionality to the television. By the same token, I believe that the inspiration for the Wii U controller came from the DS’ lower screen — the touchscreen that can do everything from provide a second view of the action to add new and different kinds of control over what’s happening in the game.

And there can be no doubt that Apple has had a humongous impact on the game industry. Both Sony, with its new PS Vita, and now Nintendo, with its Wii U, are incorporating iPhone/iPad-like functionality into their devices. Of course, many hardcore gamers will just be happy that Nintendo is finally embracing HD gaming. Let’s take a look at all the specs of the Wii U:

The controller — which was the focus of Nintendo’s coverage at its debut; the home station console wasn’t even mentioned — is 1.8″ tall x 6.8″ wide x 10.5″ long. It features a 6.2″ touchscreen, with a 16:9 ratio. The buttons are pretty much the same ones from both the Wii Remote and the Nunchuck, except with 2 analog circle pads instead of one. Under the hood, there’s a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, rumble, a front-facing camera, microphone, stereo speakers, sensor strip (for motion control), and a stylus. The Wii U will also support up to four Wii Remote controllers, connected at the same time as the Wii U controller. All other Wii controllers are supported as well, such as the Balance Board.

As for the console itself, which looks like a rounded-off Wii, it supports all the way up to full 1080p resolution (finally!), and even uses an HDMI cable, though you could also use S-video or composite cords. Saved games will be handled very much like the Wii, with internal flash memory and expansion options via SD card. Interestingly, Wii U’s specs also mention support for an optional “external USB hard disk drive.” Games will come as a higher-density version of the CDs that the Wii uses, though it’s backwards compatible with Wii CDs and games, too. The console has four USB 2.0 slots, and runs on an IBM Power-based multi-core microprocessor.

At the E3 event, Iwata-san stressed that the controller, despite appearances, will not work as a solo handheld gaming device. You can continue playing your game on the controller even after the TV has been turned off or switched to something else, but all game data comes wirelessly from the console.

In addition to games, there will be video chat capability built in (a la Apple’s FaceTime), and the stylus will (among other things) let you draw on the touchscreen (sorry uDraw Tablet — sucks to be you). You’ll also be able to surf the Net, using the touchscreen to control what you surf on your TV.

The 1080p resolution support means that Nintendo can finally get back into the hardcore games business. Developers no longer have to create separate, lower-res versions of triple-A titles. (Be gone, minigames!) At least from a graphics perspective, anyway. The touchscreen controller will no doubt have a major impact on how Wii U’s games are played.

While we know Wii U will support both one Wii U controller and up to 4 Wii Remotes at one time, it’s not entirely clear how a more traditional multiplayer or co-op will work with the Wii U controller. Can one Wii U support more than one touchscreen controller at a time? How would that work, and what would it look like?

As for games, it’s still very early in the console’s development — it’s not scheduled for release until sometime next year –the following Wii U titles have been announced:

  • Aliens: Colonial Marines
  • an Assassin’s Creed game (possibly an entirely new entry custom-made for Wii U)
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Darksiders II
  • Dirt
  • FIFA Soccer 2012
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
  • LEGO City Stories
  • Madden NFL 2012
  • Metro: Last Light
  • a Need for Speed game
  • Ninja Gaiden III: Mirror’s Edge
  • a Pikmin game
  • a Raving Rabbids game
  • Super Smash Brothers Wii U
  • a Tekken game
  • a The Sims game
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online

At E3, Nintendo is running a number of tech demos that show off what the Wii U can do, any of which could become games. The demos include “New Super Mario Bros. Mii” (a Mario title that allows your Mii to play alongside Mario & Luigi), “Chase Mii,” and a Zelda demo.

Enjoy the screens below for some looks at more Nintendo games that are on the way for both Wii and 3DS.

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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