LOS ANGELES — It can scan zombies, replace a TV remote, open a window into virtual worlds and shoot ninja stars across a living room. It’s the Wii U GamePad, the 10-by-5-inch touchscreen controller for the successor to the Wii out Sunday, and if you ask the brains behind the “Super Mario Bros.” about it, they say it’s going to change the way video games are made and played.
“You can’t manufacture buzz,” said Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. “You can’t manufacture word of mouth. All we can do is to provide the product and the games to foster some sparks that hopefully enable that to happen. We think we have that with Wii U.”
Much like the iPad, the curvaceous GamePad features a touchscreen that can be manipulated with the simple tap or swipe of a finger, but it’s surrounded by the kinds of buttons, bumpers, thumbsticks and triggers that are traditionally found on a modern-day game controller. There’s also a camera, stylus, microphone, headphone jack and speakers.
While the Wii U can employ its predecessor’s motion-control remotes with a sensor bar that similarly detects them in front of the TV, the console’s focus on two-screen experiences makes it feel more like a high-definition, living-room rendition of the Nintendo DS and 3DS, the Japanese gaming giant’s dual-screen hand-held devices, than the original Wii.
“It’s a second screen like a tablet or a cellphone, but it’s different,” said Mark Bolas, professor of interactive media at the University of Southern California.
“In addition to providing more information, the GamePad is also a second viewpoint into a virtual world. Nintendo is letting you turn away from the TV screen to see what’s happening with the GamePad.”
The touchscreen controller can also serve as a makeshift TV remote control and online video aggregator for services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. (Nintendo cheekily calls it TVii and announced Friday that it won’t be available until December.) Some games have the ability to flip-flop between the TV screen and the GamePad screen, allowing for non-gaming use of the TV.
There are limitations to the GamePad: it won’t work after it’s been moved 25 feet away from the Wii U console; it lasts about three to five hours after charging; and while its touchscreen is intuitive as those that have come before it, the GamePad is not quite as simple to use as the Wii controllers that had everyone bowling in their living rooms.
“Is the GamePad more complex than the Wii Remote was six years ago? Certainly,” said Fils-Aime. “On the other hand, I believe consumers will easily grasp the GamePad and what we’re trying to do with the varied experiences we’ll have not only at launch but over the next number of years in this system’s life.”
Not all features ready for debut
Some of the entertainment features on Nintendo’s new Wii U won’t be available when the game machine goes on sale Sunday.
Nintendo didn’t give a reason for the delay in Friday’s news release.
The new service, Nintendo TVii, promises to take into account all the ways users watch movies, TV shows and sports.
If you like the TV show “Modern Family,” for example, it will present you with a list of the show’s episodes gathered from available sources, whether that’s Hulu, Netflix or traditional cable TV.
The Wii U is the first major game console to launch in six years. The free TVii – pronounced “tee-veeee” – features were supposed to be available at the time of Wii U’s launch in the U.S. and Canada. Nintendo said the TVii service will now be activated sometime in December.
With TVii the GamePad controller that comes with Wii U is supposed to work as a fancy remote control. Viewers will be able to browse shows to watch or send suggestions to other Wii users. The service also captures scenes from live TV and displays them on the controller’s touch-screen display.
Nintendo also said the ability to watch Amazon, Hulu and Netflix content on the Wii U won’t be available for a few more weeks. These are separate apps, though the content services will also be available through the Wii U app.The Associated Press