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Nintendo's hard sell

Does Wii U's launch strategy show a crisis of confidence at Nintendo?

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"There is a lot to ask you"

Satoru Shibata said what we were all thinking when his boss Mr Iwata beamed into Europe's Nintendo Direct this afternoon.

The silence since Wii U's unveiling over a year ago has been deafening. Press and consumer confusion has given way to indifference, and this year's uninspiring E3 showcase did little to change that. Finally, we have a November 30th release date and a launch plan, but the big questions won't go away.

What is Wii U? Is it a suped-up Wii? Is it Nintendo's answer to iPad? Is it aimed at the hardcore or the family market? The launch software and pricing strategy revealed today suggests that Nintendo wants Wii U to somehow play all of these roles.

A large part of Wii's breathtaking success was because of its simplicity. One console, one intuitive controller, one killer app - Wii, its Remote and Wii Sports seduced the world. Even today, Wii sits way ahead of 360 and PS3 in terms of installed base. When Nintendo plays to its strengths, it makes accessible, colourful, life-affirming games for extraordinarily successful consoles.

Three launch SKUs for Europe shows that Nintendo's vision for Wii U isn't nearly as clear, or as daring. Basic, Premium and a ZombiU bundle speak of Nintendo's attempt to please both families and the hardcore. Extra Gamepads, Pro Controllers and how the Wii Remote fits in to all of this adds to the sprawling number of options available to the consumer.

And the muddled media messaging rumbles on, too: Four press briefings, one this morning for Japan, then later three simultaneously across Japan, the US and Europe. TVii was announced in the US, but nowhere else. Black Ops 2 was mentioned in passing in Europe's feed, and yet in the US, Activision talked its flagship shooter up while also confirming 007 Legends, Transformers Prime and Skylanders Giants on Wii U.

Thankfully for Nintendo, Wii U will not be judged on its fumbled reveal. Though the launch plan smacks of indecision, let's not allow that to overshadow some potentially brilliant videogames. I have no doubt that Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros U will both be excellent, and both Rayman Legends and LEGO City Undercover look ideal for a Nintendo console.

But does anyone care about Mass Effect 3 and Arkham City on Wii U? Will FIFA 13 really be improved with extra GamePad functionality? Tekken, Assassins Creed 3, Ninja Gaiden, Darksiders 2 - all hardcore games coming to Wii U, but to be blunt, they are unlikely to steer 360 or PS3 owners away from the console they already own. The reveal of Bayonetta 2 was today's biggest surprise, a game apparently rescued from the abyss by a Nintendo keen to seduce its small but vocal fanbase. A smart move in terms of reputation, but perhaps not commercially.

Wii U's success does not depend on how well EA and Activision can port over its 360 and PS3 games, plonking a map screen on the GamePad. Nintendo consoles have always relied upon the genius of its first party software, widespread appeal and affordability. Wii U's Premium bundle encapsulates Nintendo's conundrum - a higher-priced, 'hardcore' black Wii U with greater storage space, but a family game like Nintendo Land bundled in with it.

Wii U will be just fine this Christmas with Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U leading the charge. After the honeymoon period is over, though, I would love to see Nintendo emerge with a clearer vision and a more focused strategy for Wii U. Right now, less than two months from launch, there are still questions to be answered.

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