Hands on with Nintendo’s Wii U, coming this holiday season

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Nintendo’s Wii U is a next-generation gaming console that comes with a large touchscreen controller that gives the bearer special powers and adds a new layer to the game.

The Wii U won’t be released until later this year, but CNNMoney tried it out during a demo with Nintendo in New York City this week.

The Wii U console itself looks almost exactly like the original Wii. The difference lies in the special wireless GamePad controller, which features a 6.2-inch touchscreen that works differently with each game. It also adapts for multi-player gaming.

Nintendo hasn’t yet set the Wii U’s price tag and exact release date, but a representative said it’s expected to launch in time for the holiday season.

Multi-player vs. single-player: With multi-player games the GamePad holder sees different things on the touchscreen than what their fellow gamers, who have regular controllers, see on the linked-up TV.

In a chasing game that I tried, players with regular controllers team up and try to catch the gamer with the touchscreen. The regular players simply see their avatars running around on the TV — but the GamePad holder sees an overhead map on the touchscreen, which shows where everyone else is running.

In its single-player mode, the GamePad can add some special features or interact with what’s happening on the TV.

In one archery game I tested, enemies “jumped” off the screen and onto the GamePad controller if they weren’t defeated quickly enough, giving the player a second chance to grab ‘em.

One first-person shooter game had me use the GamePad to grab items. Players could also move the controller around the room to check out a special map.

Games and media: Nintendo released a partial list of upcoming Wii U games, though as always, titles and launch dates are subject to change.

For now, the planned slate includes a few Mario titles, a Wii Fit exercise game and Pikmin 3. Third-party developers like Electronic Arts (EA), Sega, and Ubisoft will also sell Wii U games, including titles from the “Mass Effect” and “Assassin’s Creed” franchises.

In addition to games, Nintendo says the Wii U will offer some social networking features, as well as streaming media apps from Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500), YouTube and Hulu. The GamePad will add a special feature to these, too.

As a Nintendo rep explained: Let’s say a teenager is using the Wii U to watch a movie on Netflix, on a regular TV screen. Mom comes home and wants to watch something else. The teen can simply switch to the GamePad controller and continue watching, uninterrupted, while Mom puts something different on the TV.

Pricing: The Wii U’s price tag is still a big question mark. Its predecessor — which didn’t have a fancy GamePad controller that is obviously costing Nintendo extra to include — launched in 2006 at $250.

Nintendo knows it needs to get the pricing right. Its handheld 3DS system went on sale for $250 in March 2011, and its day-one sales beat records. But sales slumped over the next several weeks, and the company was forced to slash the 3DS price to $170.

Meanwhile, Nintendo shows no signs of changing its stance on mobile and social gaming. Company executives insist they’re still not interested, even though the casual game market has exploded on platforms like Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone and other smartphones, as well as on Facebook (FB). To top of page



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