Is the Wii U an innovation too far?

by Andrew Moir

Nintendo is preparing to release the first eighth generation console in 2012, but can the Wii U really live up to expectations?

Released in 2006, The Wii was a console revolution. While the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 appealed to the core gaming audiences, the Wii took a more user friendly and innovative approach. Using motion contol in a significant way for the first time, the Wii allowed users to mimic real world actions, making gaming simpler than ever before. It proved to be a profitable move with worldwide sales of the Wii have totalled 86 million units while both the main rivals haven’t got beyond 60million.

Those who had never touched a cosnole before were able to mimic a bowling swing, or hit a tennis ball – it was truly a universal gaming machine. This strength was also its weakness. While a casual audience would happily stick with banner titles like Wii Sports and Wii Fit, a gaming audience would buy far more games.

In addition the Wii just couldn’t match its rivals in terms of processing power meaning many cross platform games wouldn’t necessarily gain a Wii release.

Nintendo have annouced that they will release the Wii U in 2012. The name suggests that they are keen to establish this is a direct sucessor rather than a complete departure. To that end Wii games and peripherals will be compatable with the new console. There are also some significant enhancements.

The most notable difference is the controller. This combines traditional buttons, a touch screen and motion control. This complex device is almost the antipathy of the simple white cuboid of the original Wii controller. However the motion control is not intended to be used in the same wya. For most gaming purposes the traditional Wii Remote will be the default. The Wii U controller will be used to add an extra dimension to the gaming experience.

As the controller is essentially a handheld console in itself in multiplayer games one user can have a gaming experience significantly different from the one taking place on the screen. In Nintendo’s demo at the E3 expo they showed proposed-game Battle with users fighting on different terrain. The ground fighers used basic remotes and the main screen while one user piloted a ship across the sky using the new remote. So far it’s a more effective split-screen allowing one user a private view.

Shield mode allows the user to have a 3 dimensional view of the virtual world. Holding the remote in front of the screen it can the be used to look upwards or to the sides giving the user more data and more control. Simply turning your character around in older games had pretty much the same effect.

Perhaps the simplist but most effective part of this innovation is the lack of need for a main television. For single player games the user can simply play using the controller with no need to interrupt any viewing on the big screen.

Arguably the Wii U controller is simply doing for touchscreen devices what the Wii did for consoles – simplifying them and making them accessable to everyone. With speakers, rumble and a camera on board it does seem there is scope for development but whether third party developers take to it is a different matter.

While the controller is the unique selling point, the Wii U has made significant leaps forward in terms of power and graphics to help them compete with the main competitors just as they have adapted to compete with the Wii. These consoles have innovated with XBox’s camera based motion control system Kinect proving both effective and popular.

Wii’s 2012 release comes out ahead of the pack with both Sony and Microsoft expected to release their next consoles in 2015. If Wii U can prove that it is different enough, has enough power as well as effective gameplay it could be as big a hit as its progenitor. If not then the other big manufacturers will have time to make their own innovations.

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