Ever since it was released six years ago, the Nintendo Wii console has been seen as the video game machine for those who don’t play video games.
With its simple game play and cartoon-like graphics from well-worn franchises such as "Mario Bros." and "The Legend of Zelda," the Wii seemingly thumbed its nose at hard-core gamers in favor of regular folk who never picked up a gaming controller before.
The Wii U, at a glance
When available » Sunday
Price » Basic model, $299.99; “deluxe” model, $349
What’s new » The console uses a different gaming concept, the second screen, so gamers can interact.
The strategy paid off for the Japanese gaming giant. Nintendo has sold more than 95 million consoles since the Wii debuted in November 2006, more than the competing Sony PlayStation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360. It introduced to the world the idea of motion gaming with its wand-like Wiimote controller.
Now, Nintendo hopes to revolutionize interactive entertainment again, while also luring hard-core gamers back to its nest. On Sunday, the company will start selling its next-generation follow-up to the Wii, the not so-cleverly-named "Wii U." Although it shares a similar name, the gaming concept is very different, and the titles for it this time will be more decidely grown-up, including "Assassin’s Creed III" and "Mass Effect 3."
If you’re thinking about picking one up for the holidays, here’s a guide to understanding what it does and how it’s different from the original Wii.
GamePad • The new console uses a completely different gaming concept, the second screen. The main controller is a gamepad that is part dual-joystick controller and part computer tablet, like the iPad.
The Wii U GamePad has the requisite joysticks for each thumb, buttons on the face and trigger buttons. But it also has a 6.2-inch touchscreen so gamers can interact with what’s going on using the second screen. For example, in the new "Zombie U" shooter, the player can use the second screen to peek inside his or her backpack to see which weapons are available. In "Super Mario Bros. U," the player can manipulate the level with the GamePad, while other cooperative players navigate through it.
The GamePad also can be used to play games if the regular TV is occupied. So while one family member is watching a television show, the gamer can still play with the Wii U using the GamePad screen. That’s because the video can be beamed to the GamePad screen wirelessly.
The controller also has motion sensors, a front-facing camera and a microphone, and it rumbles during game play for force-feedback. The new Wii U also will be compatible with the older Wiimote, in which the gamer swings the controller in the air to register moves.
Technology • The Wii U is a big jump in graphical power over the original Wii, with characters that are more lifelike and fully realized, and backdrops that are more detailed.
Although the Wii U outshines the original Wii in graphics, it will be comparable to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Both Sony and Microsoft are expected to announce their follow-up consoles as early as next year, and they are expected to be much more powerful than the Wii U.
Most importantly for the Wii U, it will display full 1080p, high-definition graphics, something the original Wii did not. It also produces six-channel digital surround sound.
Games come on discs like before, so the Wii U will include an optical disc drive (although it will not play DVD or Blu-ray movie discs). The console also will have internal memory storage in either 8 gigabytes or 32 gigabytes for not only saving games but for storing downloadable games.
Finally, the Wii U will have built-in wireless connectivity so players can compete against other players around the world, as well as download new games or patches to existing games.
Price • There will be two price points for the Wii U. A basic model for $299.99 includes the console with 8 gigabytes of storage, the GamePad and all the necessary cables. The "deluxe" $349.99 model includes 32 gigabytes of storage, additional stands for the console and GamePad, and comes with the game "Nintendo Land."
Games and software • When the system launches Sunday, Nintendo promises 23 games will be available, with an emphasis on games for serious players. Those include the aforementioned "Nintendo Land," "New Super Mario Bros. U" and "Zombie U," as well as "FIFA Soccer 13," "Scribblenauts Unlimited" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops II."
The Wii U also will have a built-in feature called TVii, an interactive television service that turns the GamePad into a television remote control. With it, you can get the television grid, organize shows into favorites and see instant information on what you’re watching — from real-time statistics on a football game to descriptions of important moments during a sitcom.
The software and service was developed by the Provo-based company i.TV.
The console also will be compatible with the hundreds of original Wii games, but it will require that owners download a software system patch for the console the day it launches.
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