E3 2012: Nintendo details Wii U, focuses on third-party games

Nintendo focused heavily on third-party developers in its keynote, a smart move for the company as it tries to sell the Wii U to hard-core gamers.

In the six years since the Wii launched, Nintendo has seen its console go from the hottest thing on the market to a device that’s collecting dust in living rooms around the country. But with the Wii U, Nintendo hopes to revamp its image and capture some of the excitement of the third-party games — including titles such as Batman: Arkham City, Assassins Creed III: American Revolution or Avengers: Battle for Earth — made up a large part of the speech.

As for the console itself, in a wise move from Nintendo, the Wii U will support two gamepad controllers, which should make it much more versatile.

Nintendo didn’t show off what the console can do with two game-pads in Tuesday’s keynote, but Nintendo America head Reggie Fils-Aime said to expect dual-game pad experiences in the future.

The console itself is very different from the old Wii. Nintendo didn’t focus much on the device — preferring instead to talk about games and the controller. But the box does lay flat, a departure from the upright stance of the old console. The graphics in the games in the presentation — particularly the Avengers game — looked like they were a serious step up from the Wii. But apart from a throwaway mention from Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto about the console's “improved resolution,” there was little mention of the hardware in the console.

Each of the big three game makers have now given their opening spiels to the industry, and each have outlined their measures to extend gaming beyond the television. From Microsoft’s Smart Glass to Sony’s Cross Play to the tablet controller for the Wii U, gaming companies are moving to take gaming off the television screen in one way or another.

For Nintendo, that means using its tablet controller to supplement — and, in some cases, replace — the gaming experience on the television. The presentation was punctuated with ways that developers have used the tablet screen as an inventory screen, tactical map or scanner screen. For example, in Batman: Arkham City, the player can use the tablet to select and then guide batarangs through the cityscape. In the new survival title ZombiU, gamers can use it as a sniper sight or as the keypad on a door. All in all, the tablet has been used to keep players out of menus and the mini-game screens that pop up in traditional titles. The gamepad can also be used in multiplayer games to direct action, something Fils-Aime showed off in his demonstration of Ubisoft’s Just Dance title. The person with the game pad can direct the action — the demonstrators called the person with the pad the “puppetmaster” — and pick poses and steps for players to perform.

Nintendo also showed off a ton of its own titles, such as Super Mario Brothers Wii U and Scribblenauts Unlimited. In Wii Fit, the game pad can be used to do things such as aim, but can also be used to continue a workout when someone else needs the television. The tablet can also interact with a third peripheral that lets users upload data from off-Wii workouts into their console.

The company also had some announcements for handheld gamers, though there will be more information on the 3DS in a Wednesday conference. Nintendo executive Scott Moffitt, speaking for the handheld team, did preview a few titles including Luigi’s Mansion:Dark Moon and third-party titles such as Epic Mickey and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

Related stories:

E3 2012: PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale supports Cross Play

E3 2012: Microsoft shows off ‘Halo 4,’ Smart Glass and more

E3 2012: Wii U aims to distinguish itself from the pack

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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