Wii U: The future starts here

Wii U: The future starts here

For Sony and Microsoft, plotting out the directions for their most recent pieces of console hardware may not have been their most difficult work to date. With worldwide console sales of over 86 million units to date, Nintendo’s Wii appeared to signal that success in the modern-day gaming landscape is all about motion control, so why shouldn’t the company’s competitors follow its lead? Despite their distinctions, Kinect and Move thus felt less like pure innovations and more like strategically deployed reactions. In contrast, Nintendo’s task of coming up with a successor to its trailblazing Wii platform was a challenge of an entirely different magnitude. 

The company’s solution, Wii U, is inventive and safe simultaneously. Inventive because it’s an attempt to marry a tablet-style experience with a traditional console environment, and safe because it is backwardly compatible with all existing Wii software and peripherals. Though the motion-control element at the heart of the original system remains in place – and indeed was fundamental to several Wii U demos during E3 – it’s what the new controller offers that Nintendo expects to move the goal posts. Chiefly, the addition of a new method of interacting with Nintendo games is about keeping your relationship with the hardware a close, and enduring, one – hopefully ensuring that millions of Wii U consoles won’t end up packed away alongside neglected Wiis in under-stairs cupboards once that initial tingle of new-hardware excitement has passed. 

“When we were creating the Wii we definitely made one of our priorities, our goals, to create a system everyone in the family could touch every day in a shared space, and have a good time enjoying each others’ company and sharing that experience,” explains Katsuya Eguchi of Nintendo’s Entertainment and Analysis Division. “After the Wii was released we kind of watched the patterns of play – how families and friends were playing with the system. We noticed that in the beginning, when it’s fresh and new, everyone’s getting involved and having a great time, but after a while people get tired of playing the same games all the time. And gradually people started moving away from actually interacting with their Wiis. We noticed that one of the obstacles to getting them to play again was actually having to turn the TV on, then turning the Wii on, and then waiting a while before actually getting in and being able to engage in the activity. When creating the Wii U we wanted to eliminate all those obstacles and also eliminate another obstacle, which was not being able to play while someone was watching TV. So that’s where the screen on the new controller came from.” 

A more rounded form distinguishes Wii U from its parent. It's more user-friendly, too, with larger buttons

One of Wii U’s most unexpected innovations is certainly the controller’s ability to perform as a self-contained display for whenever a TV set is not available. At 6.2 inches, the tablet-like peripheral’s screen is large enough, and of a high enough fidelity (Nintendo has yet to announce its precise resolution), to perform convincingly with both the super-colourful environments of E3 demo title New Super Mario Bros Mii and the more muted and significantly more geometrically complex world of Hyrule as depicted in the E3 demo entitled ‘HD experience’. Since the Wii U pad features a Remote sensor, it’s fully compatible with traditional Wii controllers too. Suddenly there’s no need to kit out a spare bedroom with a television in order to use it as a modest gaming room: everything you need to play Wii U games and the entire Wii back catalogue is provided in the box. 

Which isn’t to say that Nintendo will be encouraging users to forego traditional displays when playing with its new system. Why, after all, would Wii U be capable of HD visuals if they weren’t intended to be viewed on an expansive plasma/LCD/LED panel? In truth, the full-HD portrayal of Zelda’s Link encountering a spider boss the size of a wedding marquee doesn’t make your knees go quite as wobbly as you might expect. Gaming’s hi-definition era began nearly six years ago, after all, and in visual terms Wii U is more about Nintendo getting up to speed with its competitors than it is blasting far ahead of them.