It only happens a few times a decade: The launch of a new game console. This month, Nintendo is set to introduce the follow-up to the Wii, the best-selling console of the last generation. Wii U arrives at a time when Nintendo is being challenged in the handheld space by smartphones and iPads and amidst rumors of a new Xbox and PlayStation due in 2013. How will Wii U compare? Is it worth buying? I've spent some time with Wii U at various press events, and below are my early thoughts. GameFly will, of course, have games available for Wii U on day one, with all the confirmed launch titles available to add to your GameQ right now.
What makes Wii U different than Wii? The biggest difference is the upgrade to true HD graphics and processing power that rivals that of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The other major change is the controller. Called the Wii U GamePad, this touch-screen device allows for multi-screen gameplay. Imagine selecting your inventory items in an RPG from a touch-screen controller or selecting your Madden plays this way. The GamePad is interesting, but there's also a downside: It's somewhat large to hold in you hands for extended periods of time. If it's too big, Nintendo is also offering a Pro Controller for the system, which is very similar to an Xbox 360 controller.
The Nintendo Wii U arrives later this month!
ZombiU from Ubisoft may be the best Wii U exclusive at launch.
Does Wii U really mark the launch of the "next generation" of gaming? That's debatable. So far, all of the games I've seen look pretty similar to what you're going to get today on the Xbox 360 or PS3. Look at Assassin's Creed III or Call of Duty: Black Ops II. The system certainly ushers in the next-generation for Nintendo, but many would argue Nintendo is a generation behind the competition - remember that the Wii launched with SD graphics. Nintendo would argue the "next generation" isn't just about graphics or performance, but instead is defined by a new gameplay experience. The Wii U GamePad offers a new way to play games, but is it as revolutionary as the Wii's motion control? The jury is still out until we see more software.
Does Nintendo have a Wii Sports-like hit game on its hands? A Nintendo system is always defined by the lineup of first-party games from its internal studios. While Pikmin 3 is coming out in early 2013, the launch of the system will be anchored by two key titles. The first, New Super Mario Bros. U, is a classic 2D Mario game with gorgeous HD graphics, flying squirrel suits, and baby Yoshis. The second game, Nintendoland, is the one that has the biggest breakout potential. Set up like a theme park with a series of mini-games, you'll use the GamePad to throw ninja stars, fly around in a spaceship, or navigate through a Donkey Kong-inspired obstacle course. While I don't think Nintendoland is going to be as big as Wii Sports, it does have mainstream and multiplayer appeal. The other game to keep an eye on is Nintendo's Karaoke title, Sing Party. While it's not for core gamers, it could be a hit with families around the holidays along with Just Dance 4 from Ubisoft.
How is the launch lineup of third-party games? Nintendo is promising the strongest lineup of launch games in company history. I'd agree that Nintendo certainly has a lot of software coming out on day one from third parties. Over the first few months, you'll see games like Mass Effect 3 Special Edition, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, NBA 2K13, Assassin's Creed III, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. That's an impressive list of titles, but the issue is that those games are basically ports of what you can already play on Xbox 360 and PS3. For launch, the standout exclusive third-party game is ZombiU, a first-person action/adventure game from Ubisoft. While it is no Assassin's Creed, the game's post-apocalyptic London setting makes for some intense moments as one Zombie bite will kill your character.
Are there other features of Wii U that are worth checking out? Nintendo is starting to dabble in entertainment in a bigger way. Netflix and Hulu will be available on Wii U, and the company is planning a new initiative called Nintendo TVii, a co-viewing experience that lets users at home comment on a show on their GamePad alongside the TV airing. This TV/GamePad crossover is a big focus for Nintendo, as players can play Wii U games directly on the GamePad screen, thus freeing up the TV for other uses.
How will Nintendo's online system compare to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network? It's a few weeks before launch, and the answer is still murky. Nintendo has promoted a new feature called the Miiverse that will allow Wii U players to interact with each other online and share hints and tips. While it appears that the "friend codes" needed to play with others online in the Wii era will be eliminated, it's still somewhat vague how you will find and connect with your friends online.
What has you most concerned about Wii U? While third parties are certainly shipping big games for Wii U this fall, I wonder what 2013 will look like. Will we see big releases like BioShock Infinite, Dead Space 3, or Grand Theft Auto V on the system? So far, it doesn't sound like it, which is concerning. Combine that with the fact that Sony and Microsoft may soon start talking about systems even more powerful than Wii U, and it's fair to wonder what the long-term plan is for Wii U. As always, the unknown factor is what software Nintendo will bring to the table. We know a new Smash Bros. is in development, and we have to assume a true HD Zelda game will come down the road as well. For many gamers, those two titles alone will be enough to alleviate any long-term concerns about the system.