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E3 2011: “Wii U” revealed – The latest Nintendo accessory disguised as a console

In 1988 I got my first dedicated gaming console. It was the Nintendo Entertainment System which affectionately became known worldwide as the “NES”. It was my first introduction to an exciting world of gameplay with revolutionary 8-bit titles such as the Super Mario Bros series (SMB3 still being one of my all-time favourite games) and Legend of Zelda kick-starting a lifelong love-affair with Nintendo.

Always innovating and ahead of the game, Nintendo released a series of add on accessories for a greater control experience were introduced. Gadgets such as the Zapper (a light gun for titles like the highly-addictive Duck Hunt), Power Pad (a fitness/dance mat) and the Power Glove (an ultra-cool but elusive motion control gauntlet) were ahead of their time and their influences can be seen in modern gaming 25 years after the NES console’s release.

Succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES to us fans) in 1990 – the experiences got better when the graphics got a 16-bit overhaul and the 2-button controller became a 4-button controller to adapt to combination control demands of titles like Street Fighter 2. Along with old pals such as Super Mario resurfacing on the SNES, the gaming got faster-paced with titles such as F-Zero and Star Fox – which was the first title which required the “Super FX” enhancement chip.

To keep up with the quickening pace of play and fun new ways to game Nintendo’s list of add-on accessories for the SNES was endless. In place of the Zapper came the Super Scope – a 2-and-a-half-foot shoulder cannon which required a whopping 6-AA batteries and came with a selection of shooting mini-games akin to Duck Hunt and could be used for full titles such as Terminator 2.

A plug-in mouse was added to the list of Super Nintendo peripherals when Mario Paint came along in 1992. The creative package took a step away from gaming for the first time and offered fun and artistic activities – draw with the mouse and your creation would appear on screen – Nintendo again creating and innovating and the Mario Paint bundle was an extremely popular addition.

Towards the mid-90s with the release of the Nintendo 64 – focus seemed to be solely on the games. With the 64-bit format reinvigorating popular Nintendo trademarks – with Super Mario once again on-board in his first “three-dimensional” adventures and titles which have tried the test of time and fan favourites to this day – Goldeneye 64 (recently resurfacing on Wii) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (soon to appear on the portable Nintendo 3DS). The controller changed to a two-handled 6-button unit – ever evolving to keep up with the equally evolving complexity of gameplay.

With little or no focus on add-ons (the only note-worthy accessory was the introduction of the Rumble Pack) the gaming of the N64-era was top priority – and it paid off for both Nintendo and the gamer.

However, many forget that around this time Nintendo also released what was actually the first ever digital camera – on the Gameboy! The Pocket Camera could be used in co-operation with a Printer add-on which would print small strips of photos via the chunky plug-in. Nintendo taking what was designed to be a gaming gadget and making it something revolutionary. Think about that portable shooter on your smartphone..

Then came the Gamecube – a disc-based console which was hit and miss with gamers with notable add-ons coming later as a last-ditch attempt to restore interest in the console. A Nintendo-licensed Panasonic-produced DVD player was released as an add-on. But this didn’t do much to steal user affections from the superior gameplay of the beloved N64. We needed something special.

Five long years later we got what we were waiting for. Nintendo released its uber-selling Wii console and completely changed the game. The graphics, in fairness, left a lot to be desired but the gameplay was tight and the revolutionary control system, including wireless LED Wii-mote and attachable Nunchuk, allowed superb multiplayer experiences and a greater level of interactivity.

Throw in the incredibly popular Wii-fit, a selection of fun sport themed snap-ons for the Wii-mote and internet connectivity through the console and the widespread appeal of Nintendo had never been higher – with family and friends who had never gamed before wanting to get involved, whether to get active or to enjoy the Wii party!

The package was almost perfect – and now the swerve..

“Wii U” has been unveiled at the E3 confernce ahead of a 2012 release – and with it a total reimagining of the control system. It’s got an HD monitor built-in to a tablet with a few-buttons and a D panel which completely disregards the freedom of motion control and everything that was perfect about the Wii-mote system. You won’t be flinging this beast around for tennis!

The bulky hardware designed for “U”-nity and enhancing the family and friends appeal of the original Wii – by sharing videos and photos on your TV, making calls, browsing the web and you can even play backgammon. Lovely! *Sarcasm*

No doubt some of the features are good and useful and it’ll probably wipe your arse if Nintendo can cash in on it. But where is the core and legacy? The spirit and the excitement of gaming? From what I’ve witnessed in the E3 presentation there’s nothing new to the gaming experience. We get a menu screen in our lap, and the chance to play it portably – and..?  

It’s not a gaming console reinvention. It’s a piece of tatt which could have worked successfully as an add-on for the original Wii – it’s even seen in the video as working with the Wii-fit board.

In my opinion this doesn’t deserve a full console release – or the hype that preceded it. We wanted something as revolutionary as the N64 – and frankly for the first time in my 20 years as a Nintendo loyalist and someone who buys consoles for the purpose of gaming – I’m disappointed.

We’re following all the breaking news from the E3 Conference on the Gadget Helpline Blog – so please follow us on Twitter and our official Facebook page for all the latest and be sure to leave your thoughts and comments!