01.23.13

Nintendo offers new updates on Wii U including smartphone access for Miiverse

At 9:00 EST, Nintendo streamed their latest in a series of pre-recorded videos, called Nintendo Direct, an initiative they began in October 2011.  Some go in-depth into a soon-to-be-released game; some reveal upcoming details or tease future projects. Today's was focused on their new console, the Wii U, and provided a much-needed boost in anticipation and excitement for a console struggling to find its legs. In brief, here's what Satoru Iwata, president of NCL, offered the salivating masses.

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*Miiverse, the social-networking community built into the console that offers the ability to type or hand-drawn messages on the GamePad's screen, was highlighted. Players use it to share secrets with others, seek out hints, doodle, or just "express your emotions." The quality of some of the illustrating work being done on a daily basis is startling.

*You will eventually be able to browse Miiverse through your smartphone; initially you'll need to use a browser, but an official App is planned.

*Two upcoming system updates will go live this spring and summer. Each will deal with frustrations many players have had with the system already, such as long load-times and a sluggish user interface.

*The Wii U will finally get its own Virtual Console service. Starting this March, you will be able to download a selection of classic NES and SNES titles. These will be playable Off-TV on the GamePad and will have their own Miiverse communities. The entire Wii VC catalog will not be available right away. Those who have bought VC games on Wii will be able to re-purchase the new versions for a dollar or two.

*In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Famicom (Family Computer in Japan, released two years later in America as the NES), a Wii U Virtual Console trial campaign will be available leading up to the service's official launch. Each month will offer one classic Famicom/NES game to buy for 30 cents, available for 30 days. Thirty! Cute. The first one is Balloon Fight. You can download it right now. Upcoming games include F-Zero, Super Metroid, and Donkey Kong.

(Sadly, the Japanese feed included details on Mother 2, the cult RPG masterpiece known in the US as Earthbound, which has never been re-released due to copyright snags. The absence of its mention is disheartening for the series' future in the west.)

Okay, that's fine. What about actual new, Wii-U exclusive games?

*Pikmin 3 is coming soon, including a Pokemon Snap-ish in-game camera feature, allowing you to take snapshots of the game environment from the ant-like creature's perspective. You can then share these photos through Miiverse.

*Exercise game Wii Fit U will allow for personalized communities, so you and your friends can privately share your exercise goals and boast of your shrinking BMI. Okay!

*Though no Nintendo-published titles are releasing in January or February, a steady stream of games will start arriving in March, including the aforementioned Pikmin and Wii Fit sequels, Game & Wario, Lego City Undercover (co-developed with Traveller's Tales), and The Wonderful 101 by Platinum Games.

*The Wonderful 101 footage was shown. It includes water slides!

*Backstage development footage was shown for Bayonetta 2, the Wii U-exclusive sequel that caused a small tragic internet uprising upon its reveal last fall when certain unsavory members of the fandom called for Hideki Kamiya's head. One producer said the new game will feel like you're battling the final boss the entire time. Or something like that.

*Super Smash Bros., in development for both Wii U and 3DS, is progressing well. First screens will be shown at E3 this June.

Fine, fine. But we knew about these games before. What about new stuff??

*Nintendo EAD Tokyo, the studio behind Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, is working on a 3D Mario game for Wii U to be shown at E3.

*A new Mario Kart game will also be shown at E3. Let's all cross our fingers for Double Dash-style backseat drivers using the GamePad screen, eh?

*The highly anticipated follow-up to Wii Party has been announced. Boom. (Okay, I jest. BUT: This actually looks pretty neat, with Off-TV 2-player games that use the GamePad for simple takes on baseball and foosball.)

*Goodfeel, developer of Wario Land: Shake It! and Kirby's Epic Yarn, is working on a Yoshi game for Wii U. This was leaked as a possiblity when a Canadian website for Best Buy included Yoshi's Island Wii U on their release list before taking it down. This will be the first Yoshi-centric game on a console since 1998's under-appreciated Yoshi's Story on Nintendo 64.

Makes sense. But what about crazy dream scenarios that may or may not induce your excitable roommate to implode?

*Atlus and Intelligent Systems are teaming up for cross-over game Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem.

*While working on the next Legend of Zelda, Eji Aonuma and his team experimented with older art styles and found an HD version of the Gamecube fan favorite Wind Waker's cel-shaded graphics to be quite pleasing. While working on a brand-new game in the Zelda series, they will also be releasing a Wii U remake of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker this fall, with upgraded graphics and fine-tuned gameplay. Get out your Tingle Tuners, y'all.

*Finally, Iwata introduced footage of a new game by Monolith Soft, developers of Xenoblade: Chronicles.  You traversed open-worlds, took on giant dinosaur-like monsters, and crawled to the top of cliffs to look out over expansive valleys below. Codenamed "X," this is likely a follow-up to Xenoblade. As majestic as that game was, it landed in our Top Five Most Disappointing Games of 2012 feature, if only due to our high expectations. Perhaps this one will make us weep, this time with joy.

And.....   that's it. Phew! Nintendo has lain the gauntlet down in the form of unique services (Miiverse), legacy games (Virtual Console), expanded audience entertainment (Wii Fit U and Wii Party U), established fan favorites (Pikmin 3, Bayonetta 2, Yoshi), established and expected updates (3D Mario, Smash Bros., Kart), revived classics (HD Wind Waker!), and a smattering of "hardcore" surprises (SMT X FE, Xenoblade follow-up).

Yes, entirely new IP is still slim, with The Wonderful 101 the only new franchise on offer, and one that we've known about since last summer. But the oncoming slate of games and experiences exclusive to Nintendo's new system has much to offer. With Microsoft and Sony being cagey with their next system reveals, now was the time to blow out the details on what potential Wii U buyers can expect. Iwata and Co showed they haven't conceded the console market to their patient competitors. Who knows what the rest of the year will bring...