The crowd laughed at the silly name when Nintendo announced the Wii U at its E3 press conference, but their derision quickly turned to amazement when Nintendo showed what its upcoming home gaming system can theoretically do. The trick is in a controller with a 6.2-inch touch screen that streams video from the console itself.
We’re still a long way from the Wii U’s 2012 release, and Nintendo left a lot of questions unanswered, even as it injected a much-needed dose of buzz into the E3 atmosphere. So I’m going to take a page from Harry and tackle the Wii U announcement as a series of open questions.
How much of that sizzle reel is real?
We’ve seen concept video trickery at E3 before. At E3 2009, Microsoft showed its vision for Kinect that included real-life karate sessions with a teacher that recognized the player, a skateboard scanned into the game and Milo, a boy that seemed to interact naturally with the player. None of those experiences are actually available on Kinect today.
In Nintendo’s Wii U concept video, the controller’s screen mirrored what was happening on a television. The controller was placed on the ground to act like a golf tee and attached to a Wii rifle as a sniper scope. The small screen displayed photos that could be flicked onto the big screen, and acted as a mini Web browser that reflected its content on the television. It even made video calls. Impressive stuff, sure, but it a little skepticism is always healthy when you’re talking about a console that’s in its early stages.
Do ergonomics matter?
I haven’t seen the Wii U’s controller up close, but with a 6.2-inch screen and a big bezel for thumbsticks and buttons, it’ll certainly be larger than the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers. There’s also no sign of any contours to fit the hands. This may not be a dealbreaker — I’ve grown accustomed to holding tablets, after all — but it’s something to consider.
How will online work?
Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata said in 2010 that the company isn’t satisfied with its online efforts so far, but Nintendo’s Wii U reveal contained no details on whether an overhauled online system is in the works. I’ll wager that Nintendo wants to get away from the cumbersome friend code system of the Wii and Nintendo DS, but whether it’ll be a clone of Xbox Live and the Playstation Network or something entirely different remains to be seen.
Is a mass conversion at hand?
The Wii U has the hardware and the controller layout to play the same kinds of games that appear on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Already, several publishers have pledged their support for upcoming titles, such as Batman: Arkham City from Warner Bros. and Darksiders 2 from THQ. But what about the huge back catalog of games that have already been released for the Xbox 360 and PS3? If publishers start converting or repackaging their biggest hits for the Wii U, I won’t be surprised.
Where Was Activision?
Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello strode onto Nintendo’s stage and announced an “unprecedented partnership” to produce games for the Wii U, hinting that the company’s Battlefield series could eventually come to the platform. Other game developers showed their excitement in a testimonial video. Activision, however, was notably absent, so don’t expect Call of Duty Wii U out of the gate. What gives?
Was the Wii Remote a fad?
Continuing a trend that seemed to be percolating last year, Nintendo didn’t put much emphasis on motion controls, neither with the Wii nor the new console. The Wii U will be backwards compatible, and Nintendo showed support for existing Wii Remotes, but it seems like Nintendo is bringing back an emphasis on the D-pad and buttons of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, along with the touch screens that have made smartphone gaming so popular.
Could the Wii U someday be portable?
Iwata emphasized that the Wii U is not a portable gaming device. Anything that appears on the controller’s screen will be streamed wirelessly from the home gaming system — without latency issues, he said. But that doesn’t mean the Wii U concept could never be portable. Mobile processors are getting faster all the time, and it won’t be long before the fancy graphics of current-generation gaming devices are possible on smaller screens. I wouldn’t rule out a Wii U portable in the future, even if Nintendo isnt’ talking about it now.
How much will the Wii U cost?
Nintendo didn’t reveal a price or release date for the Wii U. I’m willing to throw out $300 as a wild guess, but the bigger question is how much the controller will cost. It is, after all, quite different from anything we’ve seen before.