While Nintendo has been previewing its' innovative dual screen Wii U game system for two years, the Japanese game giant has finally made it real - announcing pricing ($300-$350) and availability (November 18) for the system.
The basic Wii U package includes both a console (which also plays conventional Wii games) and a snazzy tablet sized touchscreen GamePad controller used in conjunction with what’s happening on your big TV. In some games, multi-taskers will discover hidden tools on the tablet screen or get an overview map of a course not visible on the big TV. On Activision’s “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2,” one gamer can play on the big screen while a rival works moves on the tablet screen – much better than a split-screen setup when it comes to surprising your opponent.
Nintendo's tablet peripheral also can be enjoyed as a stand-alone game player, when other family members insist on using the big TV for actually watching television shows which, ironically, they might have first discovered on the Nintento TVii guide service that’s coming free with a Wii U.
The bump-up $350 Wii U system increases internal memory from 8 GB to 32 GB, adds a convenient charging cradle and stand for the GamePad Tablet, is dressed in black plastic (versus white for the basic system) and packs a game – “Nintendo Land.” All desirable additions.
Second screens are becoming all the rage these days in gaming. Sony is working numbers between the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita on titles like “Little Big Planet 2” while Microsoft is prepping a SmartGlass app so your tablet can function as an extra content display and input device for Xbox 360 games like “Madden NFL” and “Halo 4.” But Nintendo and its community of software supporters will be first to bet the farm on the concept – as Nintendo did quite successfully with the first motion sensor-controlled Wii system. More than 50 dual-screen oriented titles will available in the “launch window” through March. Nintendo is charging $59.99 for its' Wii U games, other makers set their own prices.
The gazillion dollar question is whether hipster gamers – who’ve often scoffed at the Wii’s “family friendly” nature - will jump for the higher education-minded Wii U. And, um, does this target audience have the bucks to lay out for it?
For their parts, Microsoft and Sony will surely try to convince gamers (and their gift-giving families) that a more proven, powerful and higher resolution Xbox 360 or PS3 represents a better value. And let's not discount the threat of all those game playing-plus tablets - including the much rumored iPad Mini from Apple and expanding line of Kindle Fire tabs from Amazon.
Microsoft has managed to get the price down to $100 for an Xbox 360 4GB system with Kinect, for consumers who agree to a two year, $15 a month Xbox Live Gold membership. Sony has cut the introductory cost for its' equally multi-media loving (and Blu-ray video disc playing) PS3 to $250, and there’s speculation the PS3 price could drop to $200 by the holidays or be bundled with extra games and peripherals. For that matter, what’s Nintendo going to ask for a "to be continued" Wii system this holiday? $100-$129 seems about right.