The Brave New World of Wii U

As a result of living the sexy, action-filled, glamorous life that is being a poor graduate student, I haven’t had much time to spend going over E3 with a respectable amount of depth, so if you came into this entry thinking you’d get an elaborate look at the best and worst of this year’s week-long pageantry to the year ahead I’m afraid you’re going to come away disappointed.  However, I did manage to watch Nintendo’s announcement of the Wii U.  For those who didn’t see the video, Nintendo has unveiled a system with a tablet-based controller (picture a DS XL with only one screen and you’ll get a picture of what Nintendo is up to); the new system also has HD capabilities, placing it on an equal footing with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.  While this system bears the name of its motion-controlled, nunchuk-based predecessor, this system appears to be something completely different from the Wii.

The Wii U as it stands seems to me like a dramatically sharp departure from Nintendo’s marketing of the Wii on two distinct fronts.  For one thing, with the built-in screen they encouraging a more solo-oriented experience.  When the Wii debuted at E3 in 2006, Reggie Fils-Aime announced, “What we’re unveiling is the next leap in gaming; to a place where playing is no longer just about looks, it’s about the feel.  Where it’s no longer confined to just a few—it’s about everyone.”  The new emphasis for Nintendo was on group oriented gameplay, and their marketing presented video gameplay as a shared experience that anyone could enjoy, from little Billy and Susie, to Mom and Dad, to Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Frank.  This message was so powerful that eventually Microsoft and Sony started making commercials featuring families playing games together.

However, while the Wii U has group games, there was a distinct emphasis at the unveiling of the single-player experience.  “The game will probably be all right for all of us,” Reggie said on Tuesday, “”but could it also be a perfect fit just for you?”  One of the big selling points Reggie focused on was the ability to continue playing using the small screen on the tablet controller while other people watch TV.  The tablet based controller, with its small built-in screen emphasizes a greater solo experience at the expense of the group play encouraged on the Wii.  On top of this Nintendo is supposedly floating the idea of making only one tablet controller usable on each system.

Moreover, there are some real questions regarding cost that are left to be answered.  Don’t get me wrong, the Wii U has some novel features and it is definitely something I’m going to pay attention to, but while the gamer part of my brain thought about the kinds of things designers for Wii U games will come up with, the poor graduate student part of my brain was screaming, “Good God, how much is this thing gonna cost?”  One of the biggest advantages the Wii had going for it was its low cost relative to the Xbox 360 and PS3 (for example, while the Wii cost $250 at launch, the PS3 cost $600).  With the introduction of the tablet controller I’d be curious to see if Nintendo could still maintain a low cost or will they price it similar to its competitors.  In a tight economy, will families be as willing to pay $600 for a game system as they would be for a $250 one?

In any case, all we have to go on right now is mostly wild speculation and some coy demo videos, so we’ll have to see how this all shakes out.  If Nintendo was looking to grab people’s attention, they’ve definitely succeeded.  I’m eager to see how this all shakes out.

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About kevinimpellizeri

I'm a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Delaware where I am studying the social and cultural impact of video games in America. When I'm not studying history or playing video games I offer my voice on 91.3 WVUD Newark and review bad horror movies at www.horrorsofhorror.com. You can follow me on Twitter at @KDImpellizeri
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