Coming off last year’s confusing announcement of the Wii U, Nintendo isn’t taking any chances this time out. Last night, the company held a the equivalent of posting “First!” on a message board with a last-minute pre-E3 recorded announcement. Delivered by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, the focus was exclusively on changes to the Wii U Game Pad (including that shiny new, official name), and some of the key features that the console will be bringing to the table.
The tablet controller will now feature two regular analog sticks that can also click down, instead of the analog disks featured on last year’s prototype. Additionally, the Game Pad features a card or figure reader, which we assume is similar to the way Skylanders work with the portal device. The screen on the controller can also function as a television remote, though it remains to be seen how well that will work. Universal remotes are either very basic or, in the case of Logitech’s Harmony line, extremely complex (and expensive).
The idea behind the screen on the Game Pad was further explained using the term “Asymmetric Diversity.” What this means is that the image shown on the controller will be different than that shown on the television. The example in video was of Wii Sports’ baseball minigame, with one person as the batter and the other as the pitcher. Another example had the Game Pad on the ground displaying a golf ball as a player used a Wii Remote as the club. Helpful hint: don’t step on your Game Pad. The device will also have gyroscopic and motion controls in addition to it’s touch capabilities.
By way of example, Nintendo offered up a scripted video that has spawned the very first bad E3 meme of the year. Joining the ranks of ”Giant Enemy Crab,” “Riiiiiiiidge Racer,” “My body is ready” and “Good job, Jeremy,” is “Non-Specific Action Figure.” Let’s just say that brand new nugget is the least embarrassing part of that hot mess. Essentially, the absurdist work of art served to show off a couple of features. The Wii U will have an ever-present message feature that allows players to ask for help from friends and video chat with the Game Pad acting as a camera.
After leaving the basement-dwelling zombie fodder behind (and if this video is Nintendo’s attempt to woo back the core gamer, I don’t think it will work), Iwata-san explained that that the social aspects of the console will be called Miiverse. This will also be the first screen players see when booting up the device. Miis will gather around icons representing games, with messages (either typed or handwritten) appearing on the Game Pad’s screen. The idea is that players can meet (Miit?) and connect with one another. Additionally, using a Super Mario Bros. overworld, Nintendo showed off that messages can be left for other players. In some ways, this is reminiscent of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls.
Along with short missives, players can change their moods for other players to see. Move over MySpace, here comes MiiSpace. Post-launch, players will be able to communicate via Wii U, 3DS, PC and mobile device thanks to the WiiVerse’s browser-based architecture.
As unexpected as this pre-E3 announcement was, it does get the console’s feature set out of the way, allowing Nintendo to make the most of their time at the press conference tomorrow. They will be focusing more on games, which is something absolutely necessary if they are going to cleanse the palette for mainstream gamers. The Wii has turned many core enthusiasts off from Nintendo’s home offerings, and they need to work that much harder to bring these players back into the fold.
We’ll be liveblogging the Nintendo press conference tomorrow as well as bringing you all the news from the show floor.