The world’s biggest gaming event, E3, is well underway in LA – and it is Nintendo that has everyone talking. It showed off, for the first time, a working version of its new Wii U, a baffling tablet/console hybrid that promises to put a new spin on gaming.
And it needs to: the Japanese company fell to its first ever operating loss last year. It isn’t that surprising that sales of its current console, the Wii, have slowed: it is a natural part of the product’s life-cycle, with most fans either already owning one or holding off for the next generation. Likewise, game manufacturers are keen to catch the crest of the next wave, and unwilling to create titles for a soon-to-be superceded machine.
But Nintendo has been through many product cycles and it has never slipped to a loss before – this launch really is a biggie, and doubly so after the so-so reception its 3DS handheld device received.
The good news is, the Wii U looks great. It consists of two parts – a small central unit with an optical drive and a wireless tablet-style “Gamepad”, which has a 6.2 inch screen, analogue sticks, triggers and shoulder buttons.
The idea is to interact with the Gamepad screen to control the action on your TV. In Zelda: Battle Quest, part of a collection of NintendoLand mini-games, the Gamepad becomes a bow, with which you shoot at targets on the big screen. In Takemaru’s Ninja Castle you swipe your fingers over the pad to throw ninja stars.
But Nintendo is also at pains to show the Wii U is a grown-up console, with grown-up titles – something the Wii never really achieved. To do this, Nintendo demonstrated a version – albeit a heavily tweaked one – of the hugely popular Batman Arkham City: a real gamer’s game. The graphics are as slick as you’d expect from Nintendo’s first next-gen console. But the real achievement is in marrying the tablet to the console action: you can scroll through your inventory with the touch-screen while keeping one eye on the game; want to throw a remote-control batarang? Well that’s going to use the Gamepad too.
Of course, it’s one thing to bring an already-successful game to a new platform and quite another to develop new ones that will convince hardcore gamers to buy a Wii U, rather than waiting for the next Xbox or PlayStation (neither of which are expected until next year).
With a slated release date of November, and with the 3DS pricing debacle fresh in Nintendo’s memory (it had to slash the price after charging far too much first time around), everything is in place for a perfect launch. Expect the Wii U to be a roaring success this Christmas.
E3 NEWS IN BRIEF
Microsoft launched a system called SmartGlass, which will let you use your smartphone or tablet to play your Xbox. It will display extra information about the game you are playing, in a similar way to the new Nintendo Wii U Gamepad (see left).
Sony says it will launch a white version of its Vita handheld games console in October and market it with the Assassin's Creed III in a bid to lure gamers to the machine it launched last year.
Fresh from showing off its new console, Nintendo announced it will launch a social network dubbed the Miiverse for the Wii U, as it plays catch-up with rivals Microsoft and Sony with its online strategy.