Wii U: New Nintendo Video Game System a Triumph or Disaster?

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The new Nintendo game console Wii U is displayed at the Nintendo booth during the E3 on June 7, 2011 in Los Angeles.
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Nintendo’s Wii U, a.k.a. the Wii 2, recently made its debut at annual game industry gala E3 2011, but it’s questionable whether it was a coming out party for the new system, or early funeral.

Allowing simultaneous play on two displays, including one’s TV and a 6.2-inch white touchscreen controller that looks like a tablet PC but cannot function as a standalone portable gaming system, the console has prompted mixed reactions.

Some gaming insiders have praised the console’s new 1080p high-definition graphics, backwards compatibility with existing Wii titles and innovative features. Beyond sensing motion, interacting with your TV and sporting a built-in front-facing camera for making video calls, the console’s unique controller promises several new gameplay twists. As demonstrated at the confab, it can be used to display alternate views during chase sequences, held as a shield to block incoming attacks or wielded to clandestinely display playbooks in football simulations like Madden NFL. Players can also instantly switch screen views to continue play on the tablet-like gamepad if someone wants to watch a different TV channel, or pull down online photos or videos from the Internet to both their TV and the controller.

But despite a planned release somewhere between April and Christmas of 2012, and a spate of supporting titles including Smash Bros., Tekken and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, critics’ and fans’ remain torn.

Several key questions needed addressing going into the console’s announcement in the wake of declining Wii sales, and rising interest in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Chief among them: Could the system attract hardcore gamers, how would it counter rivals’ growing emphasis on digital home entertainment, and would it enjoy strong support from external software developers – all areas where the original Wii is lacking.

Rather than allay fears with major new exclusives in core gaming genres though, Nintendo chose not to trot out any big guns, e.g. a new Mario or Zelda, with its only confirmed platform-dedicated title Lego City Stories (WTF?). Despite decent support from external game developers, the range of nondescript titles readily available on other platforms used to illustrate the point, including Darksiders II, Dirt and Metro: Last Light, hardly engendered confidence either.

The Wii U controller certainly offers some interesting technical enhancements such as accelerometers, a gyroscope, microphone and camera that open new play horizons. This makes it suitable for playing board games directly on the remote itself, or employing the device as a rifle sight capable of providing zoomed-in, sniper-style views of what’s being displayed on your TV. But as with any new innovation in gaming, designing for it is a challenge, given these added dimensions. As a result, it may be months or even years before developers learn how to make compelling or complex use of the hardware.

Investors clearly made their feelings known across the board, as Nintendo stock dropped by over 10% following the announcement. If players feel similarly, it could cost the company pole position in the coming next-generation console war.