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

Nintendo has released a slew of details about its next-generation console, the Wii U, ahead of this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. The show, in Los Angeles, will run from Tuesday through Thursday.

Nintendo needs to make a splash at E3 after seeing poor sales for its Nintendo 3DS and the 2006 Wii console, and the company is working hard to tell users that it has something new to offer.

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“I believe when you hear from Nintendo this week, there will be several times when you say to yourself, ‘Well, that certainly is unique.’ And hopefully, you’ll be thinking of unique in a good way,” said Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in a video release.

The company is taking a big step to fill in the gaps it has in online connectivity, adding a “Miiverse” social network that lets you interact with your friends and other players around the world to connect to each other. You can also use the Wii’s camera for video conferencing and use the controller to update your network with text or picture messages. Gamers can also share comments from other players within games , something the company says it hopes will add a sense of “empathy” to the games.

The company is heavily targeting the family market with the new device, which has a touch-screen controller called the Wii U GamePad. The controller can be used to play games on the GamePad even when the television is being used for other things, a selling point for families who may fight for control of the television.

The new controller features two joysticks, an addition from the prototype that the company showed off at last year’s game show. Nintendo has also contoured its controller to more easily fit in players’ hands. Developers will be able to build in unique functions for the GamePad into their games; for example, you can use the smaller pad as a sight for a shooting game.

The new console will support all other Wii controllers — the Wii Remote, Nunchuck controller and Balance Board. The company is also introducing a “Pro” controller, with a form-factor more similar to the controllers for the Xbox and the Play Station.

All Wii discs also are compatible with the new system. You can also use the GamePad as a television remote.

It wasn’t completely clear from the video how much the graphics on the new console have improved, which is a major complaint about the its predecessor. Iwata said in the video that the company has many more announcements to come during the show; Nintendo will make its presentation Tuesday.

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