Today, Nintendo unveiled their brand new console, the Wii U. They also made a few other announcements about new 3DS games and The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary events. You can check out tweets and pics I posted live at my Twitter account @gamer_olanmills.


Nintendo spent the largest amount of time during their presentation discussing the Wii U. Let’s get the basic facts out of the way. The new console’s main feature is it’s controller that includes pretty much every kind of input method seen on any game device today. It’s main feature is a 6″, full color touch screen. The controller also features stereo speakers, mics, and accelerometers for motion controller. There is also a user-facing camera and a “sensor strip” (we’re not quite sure what that is yet). Traditional control methods are available as well. There are two analog pads (like the one on the 3DS), four shoulder buttons, four face buttons, a D-Pad, and Start, Select, and Home buttons. The controller also features rumble functionality and a rechargeble battery (thank goodness). Truly this is the most versatile controller I’ve seen. Nintendo has not yet given a name to the new controller. The console will be launched some time next year.


The controller must be tethered to the console, which streams content to the controllers’ screens and a TV simultaneously. The new games are on proprietary high-density optical discs, similar to Blu-ray. The Wii U is also fully backwards compatible with all Wii games and accessories. In fact, it is likely that even new Wii U games will utilize a combination of the new controller and existing controllers such as the Wii Remote or Balance Board.


Nintendo showed off a graphical demo which certainly looked as good or better than anyy Xbox 360 game. However, I also got the impression that whenever Microsoft and Sony do unveil new consoles, the Wii U will be behind them in graphical/performance terms. One thing the Wii U has going for it though is that this innovation cannot easily be copied. The idea is not really that new. Nintendo itself has been expirementing with connected handheld screen and home console game experiences for a long time, and we have of course seen games on the iPad that support using the iPhone for control and additional screen space per player. However, the fact that Nintendo has all of this ready to go, the console design, manufacturing, developer support, means that if Sony and Microsoft have not already been thinking about such a device, then they will be well behind Nintendo if they attempt to create a console with similar features.


Like the unveiling of the DS and 3DS in E3’s past, the Wii U presentation was almost completely focused on the console features and the types of game experiences that could be delivered, but not necessarily any concrete game announcements. Demos, which I will get in my hands shortly, will be about demonstrating the potential of the Wii U, not announcing retail games in development.


However, Nintendo did promise that a new Smash Bros. game will be developed for both Wii U and the 3DS, and that they will feature some sort of connectivity features. There was also a reel highlighting 3rd party support, showing that several popular franchises will make it to Wii U including Resident Evil, Darksiders, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Ninja Gaiden, and more.


Nintendo also announced Luigi’s Mansion 2 and showed off a trailer for  the game, and trailers for Super Mario 3D, Mario Kart, StarFox 3D, and Kid Icurus Uprising for the 3DS. All of these games look very promising, and will really help to build a solid, must-have library of games for the 3DS. However, none of them really showed off any completely new or exciting game features, save for perhaps Mario Kart. The newest entry features customizable add on parts that add new capabilities to your race kart. A rear propeller allows you to drive under water, and a glider attachment allows you to soar across different sections of the track. There are likely more parts in the full game.


On the Zelda front, Nintendo announced that they will be holding live orchestra concerts around the world to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the series. They us a live taste of what we would be experiencing in the fall. It sounded fantastic. They will also be releasing two compilation CDs of Zelda music later this year. Another very nice surprise is that Four Swords will be available for from from the Nintendo DSi eShop later this year, and Link’s Awakening will be available for purchase on the 3DS’s new Virtual Console eShop.


Save for an acknowledgement of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Wii was absent from this morning’s presentation. This signals that Nintendo is winding down Wii support and ready to throw their full weight behind the Wii U. There are still plenty of details that Nintendo is holding close to their chest and probably other details that they haven’t even decided yet. We don’t know the price or package details of the Wii U. Will we be able to buy the new controllers seperately? How expensive are they going to be? We don’t know what sort of online capabilities the console has. Wii U features internal flash memory, but we don’t know how much. There are likely to be other new, fun built-in applications that will ship with the console as well.


Overall Nintendo’s show was pretty exciting. I was a little bit dissappointed that there were not really any surprising game announcements. However, what really struck me is how sastisfied I am with the Wii U, at least from initial impressions. There is no area that seems lacking to me. I’m so glad that the controller features two analog pads and a full complement of buttons. The touch screen seems like a fairly high quality screen (and once I finish writing this, I’m going to be able to confirm that in person). The controller includes a rechargeable battery. This controller is going to work for all kinds of games. I can’t think of any obvious lack of feature with the new console. I’m really excited to go feel this thing in my hands, see the screen, feel the weight. I think I’ll go do that right now!

By Andrew Thivyanathan – 06/07/11