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Nintendo set to change the game (again) with next-gen Wii

With a portable touchscreen controller, new Wii U console aims to evolve how we play video games.

Nintendo’s Wii U video-game handheld console is displayed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, California, June 7, 2011 (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty)

For decades, all over the world, the same argument has been happening. Gary wants to watch TV, but Bruce wants to play video games. Typically, such a dilemma would be solved with any combination of persuasive debate, rock-paper-scissors or punching, but Nintendo’s new Wii U console (set for a mid-to-late 2012 release) appears to be the tech-inspired compromise many have been waiting for.

Unveiled yesterday in Los Angeles at E3, the Wii U features a six-inch touchscreen built into a hand-held controller so players can switch from playing on TV to the portable display. The original Wii put Nintendo back in the game with innovative motion technology and gameplay that attracted legions of casual gamers, this new console is the company’s push to get the attention (and disposable income) of hardcore gamers. And if Seth Schiesel’s review in the New York Times is any indication, they’re well on their way.

In addition to being a separate game display, the portable controller screen is also incorporated into traditional play. As Schiesel says, some games “will require players to switch their attention back and forth from the television to the screen in their hands. In [one] demo, pirate ships were firing arrows at me, and I had to hold up the controller to block them. So I would see the arrows launched from the ships on the TV. Then I would raise the controller and see the arrows stick harmlessly to the ‘shield’ I had raised.” The hand held screen can also be used during TV playing for in-game features like maps.

Over at AllThingsD, in outlining her three big takeaways from Nintendo’s announcement, Tricia Duryee makes a great point that the new portable screen will almost certainly compete with Apple’s iPad for face time, given its forward-facing camera, ability to browse the Internet, draw on the screen with a stylus, play standalone games like Othello, view photos and video chat.

Speaking of Apple, Schiesel points out an enviable similarity between the two companies. “Nintendo and Apple stand alone at the top in finding new ways for consumer technology to entertain and inform. And that is because both companies actually put technology second in their design process. What comes first is the consumer experience; for these companies technology is useful only as it allows everyday people to have new experiences.”

That is a key differentiation, particularly in an increasingly crowded marketplace. And it’s why millions of hardcore and casual gamers alike will be lining up to buy a Wii U next year.