First look at Nintendo’s Wii U

Thursday, January 12th 2012. | Games News

LAS VEGAS, — Nintendo’s Wii U is a next-generation gaming console that comes with a large touchscreen controller — which changes how the games are played. CNNMoney got its hands on the highly anticipated device.
The demo took place at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At first glance, the Wii U console looks almost exactly like the original Wii.

First look at Nintendo Wii UThe difference lies in the special 9-inch-long controller, which gives the bearer — let’s call ’em the Wii God — a bit of special power. This player can see things on the 6.2-inch touchscreen that their fellow gamers, equipped with regular controllers, see on the linked-up TV.

For example: In the “Chase Mii” demo game that CNNMoney tried, two to four players with regular controllers try to catch the player with the touchscreen.

The regular players simply see their avatars running around on the TV, while the Wii God sees an overhead map on the touchscreen, which shows where everyone else is running.

The touchscreen controller also works with a single player, though Nintendo showed off only part of that capability with a video of Zelda gameplay. Though the demo didn’t allow actual playing, it illustrated how pressing buttons on the touchscreen can move a game map from the TV to the controller and back again.

Details on the Wii U’s price and release date won’t be available until later this year. It’s important for Nintendo to get the pricing right on the Wii U, since a recent misfire on that front has cost them.

The handheld Nintendo 3DS went on sale in North America at $250 in March, and the company reported that day-one sales were the best of any of its devices. But sales slumped over the next few months. In its July earnings report Nintendo was forced to cut the 3DS price by 32%, to $170, in order to jumpstart sales.

The bad news got worse at Nintendo’s next earnings report, in September, when the company disclosed that it expects an annual loss for its fiscal year that ends in March. That would be its first annual loss in 30 years.

Nintendo blamed the loss — which it estimated at 20 billion yen ($264 million) — on weak sales of the 3DS and original DS handhelds, as well as unfavorable currency conditions. Nintendo had previously predicted an annual profit of 20 billion yen.

Meanwhile, Nintendo is staying away from a potential cash cow market: mobile and social gaming. The casual game market has exploded on platforms like Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone and other smartphones, as well as Facebook — yet Nintendo isn’t interested.

Reggie Fils-Aime, the president of Nintendo North America, told CNNMoney that the company feels “the best Nintendo gaming experience is on Nintendo products,” and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

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