Wii U Hardware Previewed

Nintendo fired the opening salvo between the big three this afternoon, courtesy of the Wii U.   Showing off their new controller, the Wii U Gamepad, as well as the soon-to-be-much-talked-about Wii U Pro Controller.  Before they kicked things off, they talked about the Japanese characters ‘Doku-so’.  In English, this means “creating something unique,” and that is exactly what they are aiming for with this new console.

The biggest change to the Wii U Gamepad is a move away from the low-profile circle pads that you’d normally see on a portable device, to a more traditional multi-directional pressible analog stick similar to other consoles.  The bottom of the Gamepad has also been redesigned for comfortable gripping.  The D-Pad has been moved slightly to the right, and the face buttons have been slid down and to the left, as well as enlarged.

The Wii U Gamepad also sports a Near Field Communication system, but we don’t have a clear idea yet what it’ll be used for.  If Skylanders is any indication, we’ll see it used in a variety of ways.  The interesting thing is that it is not only a reader, but a writer – something unique.  Poke’mon fans should raise an eyebrow right about now.

The TV button on the Gamepad will allow you to control your TV via infrared – not exactly unique.  On the other hand, Nintendo is focusing on “Asymmetric Diversity in Gameplay” – something that is unique.  What that means is that what is being seen or done on the small screen is different from what is happening on the big screen.  We’ll see more on this Tuesday, but even based on last year’s video presentation of a Zelda concept (sporting the ever-present inventory system on the small screen) while amazing graphics come to life on the big screen.  The gamepad touchscreen capabilities make that possible, as do the built-in Gyro Sensor and Motion Sensor.

For those worried about backwards compatibility, Nintendo has announced that the Wii U supports the Wii Remote, Wii Nunchuck controller, and the Wii Balance Board.   The Wii U Pro Controller gives more hardcore gamers an option if they want to play longer sessions.   This controller also enables gameplay on par with other consoles, delivered in a way that that is familiar to them.  It plays both sides of the fence – a smart move from Nintendo.

The Wii didn’t really embrace the Internet or social interaction, courtesy of a very clunky friend code system and other limitations.  Nintendo looks to remedy that with the Miiverse.   Fully embracing social media with an included message board, players can reach out to other people to ask questions, share doodles, post screenshot captures, and even use video chat in a seamless fashion.

The Miiverse looks to create a fabric that will be used by the 3DS, the Wii U, and future console and handheld platforms. If it delivers on its initial promise, it could put Nintendo on the multiplayer map.  Another concept that Nintendo is pushing is something called “Mii Wara Wara.”  This is where the Miis can gather around their favorite game and chat along with others that own it.  Your friends, others who live nearby, or those who just speak your language can all participate in the conversation.  With a built in Internet browser and the ability to ‘swipe’ content like pictures from the small screen to the big screen, there is no doubt that Nintendo is looking to take its place as the ubiquitous living room device of the future.   We won’t get to see many of the games in action until Tuesday, but if Iwata’s 30 minute presentation is any indication, Nintendo is ready to take E3 2012 by storm!

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