Wii U kickstarts next generation of gaming

It has been six years since the current generation of home games consoles was launched with the unveiling of the Xbox 360, so the move to the next generation with the first sighting of the Wii U this week seemed long overdue.

Consoles have historically been renewed in five-year cycles, but this time Microsoft and Sony are looking to get 10 years out of their substantial investments in the high-definition 360 and PlayStation 3, having given them a new lease of life last year by adding their respective Kinect and Move motion-sensing controllers.

Of course, they were playing catch-up on Nintendo’s play-by-waving innovation, which has made it the runaway leader of this generation with more than 86m Wiis shipped since its launch in 2006.

However, the Wii’s sales have been slowing in the face of the stronger competition, with the console’s lower specifications and lack of HD graphics making the near-term introduction of a successor essential in its case.

The Wii U – a slim white box, much deeper than it is wide – will be launched in 2012 at a date and price to be announced.

What we do know is that this is not really about the console and its addition of HD – it is all about the controller, another startling Nintendo innovation.

There were cheers and rapturous applause as the Japanese company revealed its potential at the E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

It is almost a console in itself, with a 6.2 inch colour touchscreen, an abundance of control buttons, camera, microphone, stylus, speakers, wireless connectivity and the same motion-sensing chips that made the Wii so easy to use for non-gamers introduced to the machine.

The magic comes when a game on the TV screen can be switched by the player to the controller’s screen if another family member wants to watch live television instead. Alternatively, a movie being watched on the touchscreen can be switched to the larger TV display.

More important, the controller allows far more gaming possibilities – its screen revealing all manner of gaming elements to interact with the TV or showing the user a different view of the action than rival players watching the TV screen and using regular Wii remotes.

The Wii U then is a literal representation of Nintendo’s unique view of gaming, one that stands it in good stead as it fights to maintain its lead over Sony and Microsoft in the years to come.

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