At Nintendo's pre-release event for its new game console yesterday, the company announced, as expected, the Wii U's price and release date—but there were a few surprise announcements too, including the TVii service. Even better, we were able to get some hands-on time with the Wii U and a few new games.
The Wii U news. The Wii U goes on sale November 18th, just in time for the holiday shopping blitz—no big surprise there. A Basic set ($300) comes with a white console with 8GB of storage, a white GamePad, the Wii U Sensor Bar (which detects controller motions), and an HDMI cable.
With the Deluxe Set ($350), the console and GamePad are black, and you get 32GB of internal storage, as well as the Nintendo Land game, GamePad stand, and charging cradle. Also included is the Deluxe Digital Promotion, a program that rewards you with points for buying digital content for the Wii U that can be redeemed for more digital content.
The TVii interface
TVii. The big surprise yesterday was the introduction of the TVii service for the Wii U. Using TVii, you'll be able to access all your content in one place using the Wii U GamePad. Nintendo's director of Network Business Zach Fountain told the crowd yesterday that the purpose of TVii is to "find, watch, and engage."
When you search for a TV show, TVii looks for live TV and also combs through your TiVo DVR and Wii U's streaming-video apps to find that show. The GamePad functions as your remote control, so you won't have to fumble with other remotes. And you can interact with the Wiiverse (Nintendo's social-media service) while you're watching a show.
Much like the X-Ray feature on the new Kindle Fire HD, TVii lets you find information on actors and locations in a show while you're watching. And sports are handled well: In a demo, football scores were shown on the GamePad, with favorite teams moved to the front of the list. And while you're watching a game, all of the pertinent information, such as scores, time remaining, and down, is displayed on the GamePad along with highlights of the game so far so you can catch up if you missed the beginning.
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New Wii U details. First, longtime Nintendo fans will be happy to know that the Wii U will be backward-compatible with Wii games and accessories. And Wii U games can work with older Wii controllers, though none are included in the bundles—so if you're upgrading from an older Wii, make sure you hold onto those controllers.
That said, Nintendo is promising its strongest game lineup ever. We don't yet know which games will be available on launch day, but some popular titles were demoed at the event--and anyone who criticized the Wii for not having enough hardcore games will be pleasantly surprised. Not only were family-friendly games such as Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U shown, but also Call of Duty Black Ops 2, Mass Effect 3 and Darksiders II.
Mass Effect 3 on the GamePad
Hands on with games. I was able to try out Mass Effect 3 yesterday, and to me, it looks as impressive on the Wii U as it does on rival consoles Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3. New features let you issue commands via the GamePad, and you can switch from playing the game on your TV to playing right on the portable GamePad itself--which is huge and exciting news for gamers.
I also spent some time with New Super Mario Bros U, which uses the GamePad in an interesting way: While I was not an active player, I could see everything that was happening on the screen on the GamePad. I tapped the controller's screen to create helpful boxes for the two active players, and I tapped on enemies to eliminate them for the players.
Bottom line. The Wii U appears to be a strong upgrade to the Wii. It finally brings Nintendo into the world of HD gaming, which was long overdue; Wii's visuals are showing their age. And with TVii, the Wii U has much more to offer from an entertainment standpoint.
The GamePad controller is a promising new idea for the gaming world, and it will be exciting to see how it's implemented in future games. Even games that are already available for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are getting new capabilities with the GamePad. I can't wait to get my hands on it for a full evaluation; look for a review here soon.