Within the year we'll have a new piece of Nintendo hardware. That fact alone is enough to have us foaming at the mouth with excitement but get this: it'll also be the most powerful console on the market.
We love the Wii to its jaggy old bones, but there's something about the idea of an all-conquering HD Nintendo machine that makes us squee ourselves silly. So will it be the ground-breaking wonder-machine we're all hoping for? Does Pikmin 3 actually exist? And do Ubisoft have the usual smattering of rubbish ports ready for day one? All of those questions and more will be answered in the next few pages, as we bring you the inside skinny on the world's most exciting piece of future tech...
When will it be out?
Everything so far points to a launch between June and December 2012. Ninty boss Satoru Iwata had already confirmed that the console would miss the end of the fiscal year (ie, April 2012), but after stating "we would like to show the final format of the Wii U at the E3 show next year" at Nintendo's most recent financial results briefing, he made it clear it's not going to arrive until well after June.
While it's crucial for Nintendo to get a head-start, Iwata's equally keen to get things right from day one: "As we learned a bitter lesson with the launch
of the Nintendo 3DS, we are trying to take every possible measure so that the Wii U will have a successful launch." With both release date and price set to be announced "when we are able to explain the specific proposals", it looks like we'll have to hang on until June before we find out more.
When will anyone go hands on with it?
Nintendo aren't set to reveal the console's final form until E3, so it seems the industry's annual willy-waving contest - sorry, enormously important trade show - will be the first time the world's press get their hands on the real thing. The upside of this delay? It gives developers plenty of time to get their games looking shipshape before revealing them to the world.
What are the hardware specs so far?
Nintendo have again partnered with IBM for the console's CPU, which is - warning: techy stuff - a multi-core 45nm microprocessor based on the architecture found in the human-trouncing Watson supercomputer. Its GPU is a custom-designed AMD Radeon HD chip, akin to the three-year-old R770. In layman's terms, that means it's not quite cutting-edge tech, but more than competent, and certainly enough to make Wii look pretty rusty already.
So how powerful is it really?
Curiously, all comparisons so far have been with Xbox 360 rather than PlayStation 3, though with what we know about the system's architecture, that's because it has more in common with Microsoft rather than Sony hardware. Darksiders II developers Vigil Games claim it's more powerful than either, "but there's still a question mark about how much you can squeeze out of it. You know how it is: a new system, tricks get learned as the lifespan goes along, so this is where we're starting, and it looks good."
Final hardware details are subject to change, but reports have it pegged as anywhere from 15% to "a lot" more powerful than current-gen hardware. It may not last for long, but when Wii U is released, Nintendo will have the most technologically capable console on the market. When was the last time you could say that, eh?
How will it work with 3DS?
Nintendo have been bigging up connectivity since the GameCube years, but few games have really made use of it - outside Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring Of Fates, how many titles really encouraged players to connect their DS and Wii? Exactly. Sure, we'll see a few titles where 3DS can be used as an optional controller, but with a likely disparity in power terms (not to mention the interface differences) it won't be much more than that.
How much is it likely to cost?
It'll be more expensive than the Wii was at launch, that's for sure. "We haven't announced pricing for Wii U, but you can definitely expect that pricing is going to be different," boomed human skyscraper (and president of Nintendo Of America) Reggie Fils-Aime. Industry 'expert' Michael Pachter claims the console's "sweet spot" would be $249, but a lot depends on just how powerful the machine is and how cheaply Nintendo can manufacture those touch-screen controllers. We'd put money on a UK price somewhere between £249 and £299, assuming the global economy doesn't implode before that.
What's Miyamoto working on?
Well, there's Measure Up, the E3 curio based on Shigsy's decidedly odd habit of carrying a tape measure around and testing himself to guess the size of everyday objects. The game was demoed at E3 2011 to zero fanfare, but it's sure to form part of a casual-friendly title at launch, if not a downloadable offering. Otherwise he'll be overseeing the next Mario game, though that could take a while to appear. Oh, and Pikmin 3, natch.
Will Pikmin 3 be a launch title?
We'd bet Edge magazine's lunch money on it. After all, it was originally in production for Wii, but now development has shifted over to Wii U. And with a 'proper' Mario and Zelda likely some way off, we need a first-party biggie at launch alongside the game that Retro Studios are developing. Which brings us neatly to our next point...