Nintendo Wii U Gets Launch Date, Pricing, and TVii Entertainment Features

2012 hadn’t been a kind year to the upcoming Nintendo Wii U console – bad press was abundant, with concerns about hardware capabilities, the battery life of the GamePad controller, the possibility of a frame rate dip when using that GamePad controller, and whether or not Nintendo would actually learn to Internet.

Considering that the Wii U was promised as a 2012 release, Nintendo needed some positive momentum for their new console in a big way. Fortunately for the long-standing video game titan, they got it at their presentation in New York yesterday.

Just as a reminder, the big changes in store for the Wii U are a significant hardware update that should bring graphics capabilities at least up to par with, if not past, what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 can do, and a new GamePad controller. Only a maximum of two GamePad controllers can be used at a time – otherwise, the Wii U will still be using Wiimotes (although, as we found out yesterday, those will need to be the more recent Wiimote Plus controllers, not the older ones – whether or not the Wii Motion Plus accessory will be compatible with the Wii U is unconfirmed). That GamePad is a 6.2” touchscreen tablet with dual joysticks and all the buttons and D-pads you would expect on a video game controller. The GamePad will open up a lot of new ways to interact with games, and of course, it’ll serve a different function for each game (it can serve as interactive map, a HUD, a menu screen – anything video game designers can imagine).

Here’s what we learned yesterday – the Wii U will drop on November 18th. The basic version will retail for about $300, while the deluxe set will go for $350. The basic version will have 8 GB of storage, a sensor bar, and an HDMI cable. The deluxe set will include 32 GB of storage, a console stand, a charging stand for the GamePad, a copy of Nintendo Land (roughly, the Wii Sports of the Wii U – a theme park of sorts with mini-games related to classic Nintendo franchises), and access to a promotional discount program for the digital store. Wii U games will sell for $60, and while the official launch day lineup is unconfirmed, Reggie Fils-Aime declared during the presentation that it would be the strongest launch lineup for any Nintendo console, for whatever that’s worth. Wiimote Plus controllers will still retail for $40.

Nintendo did show that it has been learning a little about Internet services, introducing something called Nintendo TVii that took many by surprise with how impressive the service looks. TVii looks like it will match Xbox Live in terms of functionality, except it will be free. TVii is an app that runs on the GamePad. The app pulls content from all kinds of online services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and puts it all in one place. Each member of the family can create their own account, and receive personalized recommendations based on all of their viewing habits, regardless of source. Better yet, TVii can pull content from DVR and live television and put it on screen – it’s basically a one-stop place for all of your entertainment needs, in the most complete sense – possibly even more complete than Xbox Live (though that could change when SmartGlass hits). There will also be a social networking component, which will allow Miis to become friends, share recommendations, and comment on shows and movies in real-time. Connecting to Facebook and Twitter will also be possible.

Nintendo’s other big problem from the Wii (which, despite a historically successful start, crashed into a brick wall a couple years ago and hasn’t recovered since) was the lack of quality third-party games. That changes with the Wii U. Marquee titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Call of Duty: Black Ops IIMass Effect 3, and a new untitled project from the makers of the popular JRPG Xenoblade are all heading to the Wii U – games that would have almost certainly never appeared on the Wii. Classic Nintendo is on its way, too, with an impressive looking New Super Mario Bros. U and Pikmin 3 confirmed. And, in what came as a major surprise to pretty much anyone with a vested interest in the franchise, Bayonetta 2  was announced and confirmed as a Wii U exclusive. We got to spend some hands-on time with these games yesterday, and were quite impressed with how much fun we were having with games like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U. After playing these games,  we’re starting to understand how the GamePad adds another fun way to interact with games - at-least when implemented properly

Questions about the new console remain, but Nintendo can rest assured that they’ll be able to cruise into November 18th with a little positive momentum, something that was badly lacking before yesterday. We’ll still need to see that launch lineup, and Nintendo still desperately needs to display that online multiplayer won’t be a disaster again, but the Wii U has probably never looked as promising as it does right now.