Nintendo’s Wii U: Big Ideas, Big Price Tag

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Wii U Deluxe SetWii U Deluxe Set

Hot on the heels of Nintendo of Japan’s Wii U pricing and release announcement – an 8GB model costing 26,250 yen and a second 31,500 yen SKU with 32GB of memory and some additional bells and whistles will drop in Asia on December 8th – Nintendo of America has just revealed their plans for the domestic release. In an event streamed live from New York, COO Reggie Fils-Aime explained that we’ll also have our pick of two models.

Releasing earlier here (November 18th) than in its home territory, the white 8GB Basic configuration lists for $300 and comes with the console itself, the requisite HDMI cable, the sensor bar and the new Gamepad. The larger capacity Deluxe version also includes a charging cradle, console and controller stands and Nintendo Land as a pack-in for $350. It was further revealed that the classic Wii Remote, while compatible, won’t come in either bundle, though Wii U-branded models will be forthcoming.

Reggie went on to outline the Wii U’s three-pronged approach: games, the already much-touted Miiverse service and additional television entertainment options. On the games front Nintendo continued to beat the drum of Nintendo Land with a closer look at its recently revealed Metroid Blast game mode, as well as with other first-party heavy-hitters like New Super Mario Bros. U (which will smartly be available on launch day). Third-party offerings like Platinum Games’ Bayonetta sequel and The Wonderful 101 (formally Project P-100) not to mention the kid-friendly LEGO City title were also given the spotlight.

Back Ops II Wii UBack Ops II Wii UThe big developer news included Capcom’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – which will be available on both Wii U and 3DS next year – and a solid showing from Activision. Skylanders Giants and the Nintendo exclusive Transformers Prime video game appear poised to please the younger set, while 007 Legends and Call of Duty: Black Ops II vie for the attention of the hardcore. Black Ops looked particularly interesting both graphically and with regard to its control scheme. While the Wii U Pro controller originally seemed like the best option, the way the game handles play on the Gamepad is both novel and functional. From using the touchscreen for load-out to implementing it as a second screen for multiplayer, thus replacing traditional split screen, it really does seem to make the most of the hardware.

Wii TviiWii TviiThe multimedia options similarly rely heavily on the Gamepad. The Nintendo TVii service lets you access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and even your TiVo content. You can use the Gamepad as remote, complete with a content guide and the kind of social media integration similar to that found on smartphone apps. The Wii U continues to highlight the concept of two-screen viewing experience, but how it interacts with your own individual TV setup remains to be seen.

Though its pre-holiday release date has now been cemented and NOA obviously has ambitious plans for their next console, the future of the Wii U is far from clear. The quick price drop of the 3DS showed that Nintendo can indeed overestimate what the public will pay for its latest tech, and the bare bones $299.99 Basic Wii U model seems like a poor ploy executed simply so they can promote a starting price of “under $300.”

Consequently, the Deluxe Set’s wider offering seems to offer a more solid experience, particaulrly with the inclusion of Nintendo Land. While some bemoan it as another mini-game collection, its exactly the sort of proper character-centric first party title that Nintendo relies on to move units – a smart if incredibly unsurprising pack-in game. Though, admittedly, even with these additional wares I’m not sure $350 is a comfortable price point for the majority of American gaming households. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the prices of the second Gamepad or couple of Pro controllers that those looking to get the most from the system will also want to pick up.

On the plus side, with 50 titles available during the system launch window, November of this year through March 2013, the Wii U could conceivably leverage any number of must-play games into respectable sales numbers for the system overall. It seems as though many are already foretelling Nintendo’s Sega-style doom due to numerous missteps across the past few console generations, but I think those people underestimate Nintendo’s resilience. The relative strength or weakness of the Wii U is impossible to calculate this early in the game, and though I don’t doubt the system can sell it’s important to realize that, in addition to Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is also competing with itself this time around.

The Wii was a massive success. It went from an industry joke to a cultural touchstone, and though its legacy contains no small amount of shovelware it truly redefined the way we play games. Whether or not lightning strikes twice depends on both how well Nintendo is able to continue to tweak gameplay in new and interesting ways and whether or not we in the buying public are willing to come along for the ride.

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