Yesterday's Nintendo Direct livestream saw the long-awaited unveiling of the price and release date for Nintendo's Wii U. Following a dismal conference at this year's E3, where the console's guiding philosophy emerged looking even more confused than prior to its demonstration: Katsuya Eguchi's on-stage demo of NintendoLand was a painful example of someone struggling to explain the supposedly self-explanatory. A lack of original third-party titles and announcements beyond a vaguely defined 'launch window' only further buried Nintendo at an event where they were expected to soar.
With the console known to be pegged for a 2012 launch, last night's showing represented Nintendo's last chance to generate enthusiasm for a console which has so far been met with resounding cynicism and indifference. Fortunately, short of revealing fresh titles by Retro Studios and Monolith Soft, fans have every reason to be encouraged.
The most contentious part of the reveal will likely be the console's price. Two Wii U bundles will be available at launch in the US. A deluxe package priced at $350 will include a black console, the NintendoLand game, a trial of Nintendo's premium online service (offering discounts against digital investments) and a few handy peripherals, such as a stand for the console and its gamepad controller. The basic package, at $300, contains a white console with a smaller amount of memory (8GB against the deluxe version's 32GB, although both can be expanded via four USB slots) and none of the additional peripherals - although thankfully, unlike the 3DS, an AC adapter for the gamepad is included in both bundles.
The prices are roughly $50 more than was expected and some may balk at shelling out what is a relatively high sum on hardware only slightly more advanced than that offered by Microsoft and Sony's current consoles. In Europe, Nintendo allowed retailers to set the price, and early indications suggest the console will be arriving at the same price in Euros on the continent as in dollars in the US (never a popular practice). In the UK, GAME and Amazon - typically the country's most overpriced retailers - offered the frankly absurd sums of £260 and £310 for the basic and deluxe versions respectively. Despite sales tax being included in those prices, it places the basic version at a staggering $421 and the deluxe at over $500. A third bundle, including ZombiU and a Classic Controller Pro, was mooted at £330, or $535.
Fortunately, these prices were quickly undercut, a trend likely to continue until closer to the console's launch. Amazon accidentally listed the basic version at £200, a price soon retracted but not before many orders had been placed, while SimplyGames also temporarily offered the basic for around £200 and deluxe for £250. At the time of writing, Zaavi are offering the most appealing prices, particularly the ZombiU package at £300, with the other versions coming in at a solid £230 and £275. At this early stage, with many retailers having yet to make their pricing strategy clear, it remains to be seen whether those prices will stay the best options for UK gamers, whether other outlets will come down to meet them, or if Zaavi's price (as happened with Amazon and SimplyGames) will go up.
If some may balk at the price, Nintendo at least showed a respectable lineup of games available for the console's launch, confirming a handful of expected third-party titles (Call Of Duty: Black Ops II, for example) inexplicably absent at its shambolic E3 presentation. Only nine are officially down for launch day at this stage - New Super Mario Bros U, NintendoLand, FIFA 13, ZombiU, Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3 Special Edition and Rayman Legends, plus Toki Tori 2 and Trine 2 available on the eShop - but other 'launch window' titles will certainly join them before long, with Arkham City Armoured Edition, Darksiders 2, Epic Mickey 2 and 007 Legends most likely. Though the majority of those titles will have already been available on competitors' consoles for varying amounts of time, it's the most solid, gamer-centric third party selection that Nintendo has managed to put together in many years. Rayman and ZombiU represent the big exclusives, with the former hopefully not destined to be pushed aside by fellow 2D juggernaut New Super Mario Bros U, and at least shows the Wii U capable of handling everything its rivals can, with a little extra of its own.
While it was disappointing to learn Pikmin 3 will only be coming in 2013, rather than at Christmas as some had optimistically speculated, Nintendo seem to be parsing out their titles to avoid the droughts which have afflicted every one of their console since the N64. There's a solid list of titles to fill the post-launch period, and the unexpected Bayonetta 2 reveal was exactly the kind of unveiling Nintendo needed to wow gamers disenchanted by the Wii. The typically vile internet reaction to news of the game's exclusivity showed how strong a coup it was. Platinum's other game, the Pikmin-esque Wonderful 101 (formerly Project P-100) is another third-party game attuned to Nintendo fans' fondness for cult oddities, while also showing extensive and intelligent use of the gamepad's touchscreen.
If yesterday's presentation wasn't enough to build the crazed level of anticipation likely to greet the next XBox or PlayStation, Nintendo managed to allay most gamers' fears of a repeat performance of the Wii's relative lack of traditional gamer titles, at a price which is slightly higher than hoped for, but not exorbitant. The console's central philosophy remains fuzzy, as shown by the myriad control options available, although this does save anyone with a Wii remote from having to invest in a whole new set of controllers (especially since a second Wii U gamepad is expected to cost a heart-stopping $100, probably £75 in the UK) and ensures pointer aiming for FPS' will endure into the next generation, despite only being confirmed so far for Black Ops II and unlikely to feature in ZombiU.
The console will be available in time for the Christmas period, arriving on November 18th in the US, November 30th in Europe/the UK, and December 8th in Japan. Nintendo have yet to unveil details of their online plans, which will be crucial for many gamers before jumping onboard, but between the reasonably strong launch lineup, not-terrible price and promise of Bayonetta 2 and further third-party support on the way, the Wii U will be back on many players' radars. Mission accomplished, for now.
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