Nintendo announces Wii U controller for new console, coming in 2012 [Updated]

Summary:Nintendo teases with a hybrid controller-tablet sidekick to the upcoming Wii U console at E3. The "Swiss Army knife of controllers" does everything from handle video chats to double as a second screen in games.

[Update: This post was originally written using only the information presented on stage at E3. I have clarified details on the controller and added a post with more details on the Wii U console.]

Rather than unveil the new Nintendo Wii U console on stage at E3 today, Nintendo introduced the Wii U controller for the next platform instead. Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime believes, "It'll change the way you game personally, and change the way you interact with your family and friends."

The second generation Wii console is called “Wii U” (pronounced "We-U") because it's a system that "we" can all enjoy (casual and serious gamers) but this iteration is also customized for "you", according to Fils-Aime. But no technical details were revealed during the press conference.

To call this new device a controller doesn't quite capture all the interactive possibilities it offers. It is more like a sidekick to the new console (and television) that doubles as an extra controller in some games, and works as a standalone entertainment device in other scenarios. Think of it as a hybrid controller and tablet with a 6.2" touchscreen.

It turns out the rumors about Project Cafe were correct: the Wii U controller has a 6.2" touchscreen (with stylus), with the typical control pad and buttons, circle pads on either side, left and right shoulder buttons embedded into the top two corners, trigger buttons, rumble motor, a rechargeable battery, a sensor strip and the gyroscope and accelerometer sensors built-in like other Wii-motes. It also includes other features not typically found in a video game controller like a microphone, camera and speakers, because the Wii U controller is "not meant to be a portable gaming system even though it shares some characteristics," said Nintendo Global President Satoru Iwata.

Like any good sidekick, the Wii U controller can enhance gameplay and hold its own when not linked to the television (but still connected to the console via wireless Internet to render the games):

  • Wii U controller offers a second screen to the game on the television: There are many different uses for a second screen in a Wii U game. Here are just a few of the ones mentioned today. In a Chase Mii game demoed on the Nintendo channel after the official press conference, players can play digital hide and seek, with one player using the Wii U controller's screen showing a bird's eye view of all the other players so she can better hide from her friends. The other players using the original Wii-motes only have the main television screen to navigate the game.Another example presented on stage involved using the Wii U controller to display your golf ball and the TV screen to display the fairway to simulate 3D gameplay (see below).
  • Continue console game on Wii U controller: For the times when the television cannot be used to play the Wii, the controller allows the player to continue to game on the device.
  • Play games on the Wii U controller: As a portable device with a larger screen than the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U controller can also transform into a digital game board for an impromptu game of Othello.
  • Transfer content from Wii U controller to television: You can share the video you are watching on the Wii U controller with your television so more people can enjoy the same content but on a larger screen.
  • Make art on the Wii U controller: The touchscreen is another surface for artists to hone their craft.
  • Video chat on the Wii U controller: That's pretty self-explanatory.
  • Browse a Web page on the Wii U controller: See above.
  • Use Wii U controller as an universal peripheral: One of the developers featured in the video reel called the Wii U controller "the Swiss Army knife of controllers" and he wasn't kidding. With the large built-in touchscreen, the device can morph from a weapon in one game and to a chopping board in another.

Without a doubt, the Wii U console exists as both Iwata and Fils-Aime made a point of inviting Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello on stage to tease that the new platform will feature "deeper online capabilities." But it's obviously not ready for prime time because they are still a year away from launch.

The Wii U controller definitely kicks console gaming up a notch, but it's hard to tell just how it all works until Nintendo has full, functioning games that make full use of the system's potential. Fils-Aime made a point of stating that the Nintendo Wii U games on display at E3 are just "interactive demonstrations" for now.

No word yet on how much the Wii U controller will retail or when it will be available in-stores in 2012.
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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

About

Gloria Sin is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about the tech toys that you can't live without for ZDNet. She has little patience for poorly designed user experiences, and is not afraid of opening the guts of her own machines for repair or hacking her gadgets for new uses.She has written for FastCompany.com, Popular Scienc... Full Bio

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