Wii U – Nintendo’s next best hope, or too little, too late?


E3 2011 has come and gone, and while there were plenty of highs (Bioshock: Infinite, PS Vita’s price point) and lows (Vita’s 3G provider), the biggest conversation point has inarguably been the official unveiling of Nintendo’s Wii U (the U meaning Utopia) console.

The new system was publicly shown off during Nintendo’s E3 opening-day conference, ending months of rumor and wild speculation. We’d heard for weeks that the new system would sport full HD, a GPU that could blow the 360 out of the water, backwards compatibility with existing Wii software and peripherals, and a mysterious controller outfitted with some sort of  touch screen. Most of the rumors actually panned out, and all of that did indeed come to pass, with the exception of CPU and GPU specs, which we won’t know for a while as the system is still in the late-prototype stages. Nintendo also announced nearly unanimous support from almost every major 3rd party studio, something the Wii continuously struggled to gain.

While the console itself is still somewhat of a mystery, the systems’ unique controller was completely blown out, leading many to wonder exactly what the system was, a console or a handheld (something Nintendo President Satoru Iwata later stated the company could have handled slightly better).

The controller (a Jaguar dwarfing beast) features a 16:9 touch-capacitive 6.2 inch screen, built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, stereo speakers, front-facing camera and microphone, alongside the regular dual analog pads, left and right bumpers, d-pad and face buttons.

There’s no arguing that the Wii U is a potentially revolutionary and game-changing piece of tech, but the question remains: What exactly is Nintendo trying to accomplish, what’s the endgame?

The Wii and it’s motion-dependent library might have moved millions of units and been wildly successful among the under-12/over-40 crowd, but it carries a very “anti-gamer” stigma, something Nintendo never truly tried to combat with any success. The Wii U, on the other hand, is Nintendo taking aim squarely at the “hardcore” crowd. The fact that so many 3rd party developers are throwing their weight behind it is decidedly refreshing, and a huge plus for the Big N. There’s already some massive, AAA titles confirmed for the system, with Batman: Arkham City, Tekken, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Assassin’s Creed, Ninja Gaiden 3, Ghost Recon and Darksiders 2 on the way.

Those are all huge coups for Nintendo, and will definitely go a long way to smoothing things over with the more hardcore gamers that may still feel burned by the kid-centric Wii. That’s the good.

Now the bad, or troubling, if you prefer.

The CPU & GPU specs are still tightly under wraps, and with more than a year before the system launch, they could go either way. The GPU is “supposedly” more powerful than the 360 and can rival anything the PS3 can push out. That’s yet to be proven, as Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime later confessed to GameTrailers that the demo reel shown at the conference was composed of PC, PS3 and 360 footage. It’s also undetermined how the additional functionality of the controller will be utilized in games, or if they will be straight ports of the existing PS3/360 versions. Release window is also a factor, as most of the multiplatform titles announced for the console will have been out on other systems long before the Wii U even hits stores. Are consumers willing to wait to buy a game on the Wii U they could have played 6 months ago on PS3 or 360, and will people who already own those versions be willing to buy the Wii U port for some added, controller-specific functionality? Time will tell.

The other sticking point is the price-point. Though Nintendo obviously isn’t ready to let that slip just yet, President Iwata has stated that because of the advanced components used in the system he doesn’t foresee it launching for under $250, which is where the original Wii launched. With Dual Shocks, 360 S-Types and Wii-motes coming in at around $50 a pop, how much could additional Wii U controller/tablet hybrids potentially go for? Theoretically they could be in line with the other systems, depending on the quality of components they go with, but I’m willing to bet we’ll see them rolled out somewhere near $100 mark.

In the 2 days following the Wii U’s unveiling Nintendo’s stock dropped a total of 10 points, bringing individual shares to 16,170 yen ($201 USD), a 5 year low for the company and a clear sign that investors aren’t thrilled with this new direction.

It’s still far too early to tell what Nintendo ultimately has planned for the Wii U, as they’ve shown time-and-time again that they’re the undisputed kings of making crazy ideas work like gangbusters.

One thing’s for sure, though, it’s rarely wise to bet against them.

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