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Nintendo Unveils the Wii U, Leaves the World In a State of Bewilderment

New controller technology offers tablet-like functions, third-party support heavily touted.

Say this for Nintendo: they're rarely predictable.

This morning's E3 2011 Nintendo press conference promised to unveil the console maker's next generation of hardware, and Nintendo did not disappoint. Instead, it mostly confused, bewildered, and at times, very much impressed.

Games will support unique displays via the screen when you're playing on the TV, or transfer gameplay directly to the screen.
Games will support unique displays via the screen when you're playing on the TV, or transfer gameplay directly to the screen.

Let's start with the name, which had been the subject of much bandying by various industry pundits. Everything from just "The Nintendo" to far more ludicrous options had been tossed around, but the near-universal agreement that the Wii branding would be ditched turned out to be a falsehood. The Wii U is the new system, and Reggie used the name unveiling to make a few alliterative talking points regarding "unity" and "utopia" among players.

The console is designed to cater to both the hardcore audience that Nintendo seemingly all but abandoned when the Wii was first introduced, and the casual-minded players who flocked to the Wii in its early days. But just what the hell is this thing, anyway?

Nearly all of the presentation was dedicated to the new controller technology, a slick-looking, tablet-inspired device with two circle sticks, a d-pad, the usual suite of buttons, a gyroscope, a built-in camera, and what have you. However, the big draw is the built-in screen, a 6.2 inch touch-sensitive screen that can emulate at least some version of the graphics you'll see on your TV screen.

Though the demo at the conference didn't do much to explain this, there is actually a Wii U box that hooks up to your TV, which works in proper HD. It's backward compatible with all existing Wii games, and apparently supports existing Wii hardware too.

This is the box. Yes, there is a box.
This is the box. Yes, there is a box.

One of the more intriguing things about the new controller device is that it actually lets you keep playing your games if you decide to do something else with your TV. Whatever game you're playing via the TV will automatically switch to the controller screen should you decide to start watching something else on television.

Nintendo's big thing was to demonstrate the number of different uses for the tech, which included everything from video chat, to stylus drawing, and a variety of motion/video-based controls. However, this was done largely at the expense of new game announcements. Reggie himself only touted one new game in development--a new Lego title from TT Games--but a video featuring several third-party developers and publishers including a slate of game announcements, including Darksiders II, Assassin's Creed, a new Tekken game, Metro Last Light, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, and more. EA's John Riccitiello even vaguely described the "possibility" of a Battlefield game appearing on the system, as Battlefield 3 footage played behind him. However, he stopped short of an actual announcement.

Nintendo is not showing any full games at E3, but rather is sticking to "game demos," which sound more like tech demo-ish proofs of concept. Regardless, we'll definitely be getting our hands on this strange, fascinating new device during the show. Look for more in the near future.

Alex Navarro on Google+