In 2005, Nintendo showed off the controller for its then-upcoming home console at the Tokyo Game Show. The console was still codenamed the Revolution, and the motion controller was nothing short of just that. The debut blew people's minds. You could feel it in the room.
For the first several years of this console generation, Nintendo dominated. Back in 2005, Nintendo stressed how it was going to let Sony and Microsoft duke it in the HD area. The Wii, and Nintendo, wanted to have fun.
That initial Wii Remote trailer showed all the amazing things you could do with the Wii Remote—stuff I'd never seen a home console controller do. The concept was easy to grasp, and easily copied by rivals (even if the promise of that initial trailer wasn't actually met until Nintendo finally released a more accurate Wii Remote).
Wii games were never as interactive as that initial trailer promised—we never jumped behind sofas. The console ended up with a heavy casual game focus, and there was poor third party support—both of which Nintendo hopes to rectify with the Wii U. And we still haven't gotten that lime green Wii console. The Wii has been a mixed bag: sometimes brilliant, sometimes less so, rarely consistent.
This week, Nintendo unveiled its latest controller for the forthcoming console now officially known as the Wii U. The console addresses gripes that have developed over this console generation, namely the Wii's lack of HD graphics. The concept is a little harder for the general public to grasp, and the addition of a second screen will both simplify and complicate things.
The whole concept of the Wii was that players could enjoy something with their family and friends. The Wii U continues that, but adds the idea that here's something you can do by yourself. This is the "U" part of Wii U. So while your family is watching television, you can play a console video game. Alone. Neat, sure, but it's not on message for what Nintendo's been saying for the past five or six years.
With that touch screen, the Wii U will provide new gaming experiences, and don't be surprised if rival hardware makers release similar products of their own. They've done it in the past. The PS Vita offers a somewhat similar experience, but If Sony and Microsoft release game controllers with touch screens, that will undercut Nintendo's novelty factor. But as long as Nintendo churns out Mario and Zelda games, that doesn't matter. If Sony and Microsoft do not release controllers with touch screens, that could actually encourage developers not to support the feature to its fullest. The second screen element makes Wii U game development more complicated and more expensive.
The Wii U is a hi-def game console. The trailer Nintendo showed of third party games were, more or less, target renders. Since developers are just getting to work on Wii U titles, Nintendo used footage of PS3 and Xbox 360 games.
It's a ballpark. The end product might be better than current gen titles, but without finished product, it's impossible to judge how much better. The Wii U does put Nintendo on a level playing field with Sony and Microsoft, meaning that titles released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 can also appear on the Wii U.
It also puts Nintendo in an awkward position. The Wii, released in 2006, is the first console of this generation to get a successor. Nintendo stated that the Wii isn't going away, meaning that the company will probably support both the Wii and the Wii U (at least for the immediate future). Combined with the DSi and 3DS, this means Nintendo will be supporting four different hardware platforms at once. Four!
It also means that the Wii U won't be launching against new, rival hardware. Sony and Microsoft, while no doubt working on new hardware, have given no indications that they'll be ready to launch new consoles in 2012. That's probably smart. Next year is looking to be a bad year to launch new hardware, with only this year being worse.
The U.S. economy remains sluggish. As the government attempts to tackle the national debt, the mood in the U.S. is encouraging people to save money, not spend it. And the Wii U won't be as cheap as the Wii.
"I don't think we can charge the same price as we currently do for the Wii," Nintendo president Satoru Iwata told Japan's Nikkei Newspaper. The Wii is currently priced at under ¥20,000 (US$250) in Japan.
The Wii launched at ¥25,000 in Japan, and $249.99 in the U.S. This is the same price at which Nintendo recently launched its DS successor, the 3DS. Unless the 3DS gets a price cut, it's doubtful Nintendo will launch the Wii U for $249.99. Retailing from ¥30,000 (US$299.99) is more realistic, but the Wii U, with its fancy touch-screen controller, could be even more expensive.
In 2011, ¥30,000 isn't US$299.99. It's $375. Try launching the Wii U in the U.S. for that price.
The value of the American dollar has cratered since the original Wii launched, cutting into Nintendo's profits in the U.S., the world's biggest video game market. Internally, Nintendo is attempting to negate the effects of the strong yen. The yen might dip later this year—it also might continue to remain strong.
Worried about jobs and the future, Americans are less likely to shell out for a hi-def game system—when they might already have an Xbox 360 or PS3. And when the new Xbox and new PlayStation finally do launch, the Wii U will already be a few years old, meaning it could be out of step for future improvements in video game graphics, once again putting Nintendo behind the curve in console horsepower.
Nintendo will argue that its new console is future-proof, that it can render graphics that can compete with upcoming console, or maybe even, like before, that graphics ultimately aren't everything. They aren't, but they are important, because if Sony and Microsoft begin playing at a higher level, that could mean Nintendo will once again miss out on multiplatform titles or get lower res versions of them.
The new controller is interesting, sure, but is it compelling like the original Wii Remote was back in 2005? Does it cause the same buzz? Is the excitement there? For someone who still feels slightly burned on the Wii, I'd say, no.
(Top photo: Kevork Djansezian | Getty)