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Nintendo at E3: Awkward Wii U Mates the Worst of Tablets and Consoles

Nintendo (NTYDO) showed off its Wii 2, now called the Wii U, and its long-rumored touchscreen controller at its Electronic Entertainment Expo keynote. The Wii U, due next year, may still emerge as a compelling game machine, but its bizarre controller looks as unwieldy as a Motorola (M) Xoom and as restricted as a Bluetooth device. Which isn't exactly a recipe for fun.

A tablet that's not a tablet
Nintendo gave zero technical details, but the Wii U itself seems like a fairly straightforward upgrade to the old Wii with better graphics and sound. The real "new" aspect is the controller, which has:

  • 6.2 inch touchscreen
  • four shoulder buttons
  • two thumbsticks
  • one touchpad
  • microphone and speaker
  • an accelerometer/gyroscope
  • a stylus
  • FaceTime-style talking with other gamers
Sounds like a tablet, right? (Well, except for that retro stylus touch, anyway.) Nintendo, though, says it isn't. The Wii U controller can only be used in range of the Wii U system, unlike Sony's forthcoming PlayStation Vita handheld, which doubles as controller and independent mobile game player.

True, the controller screen can carry a game from the TV screen and back, like the handheld/console setup Sony announced yesterday. It can also be used with the Wii Fit pad and current Wii motion controllers. And that's about all we know at this point.

You need monster hands
It's odd to think that anyone would appreciate a controller this large -- approximately 8 inches by 6. Controllers are usually far smaller because they need to fit comfortably in the gamer's hands -- especially for Nintendo and its younger-skewed audience.

The digital leash to the Wii U also means the controller looks like a tablet that's all dressed up with nowhere to go. Third, as Sony showed yesterday with its PS Vita handheld, Nintendo could have used its smaller Nintendo 3DS handheld be the controller for the Wii U instead of making the consumer buy a larger device.

For reasons that aren't remotely clear, Nintendo is trying to take -- make that, "create" -- a middle road between controller and tablet. After years of offering sleek, ergonomic controllers, it's going to have a tough slog convincing gamers to use a device larger than their heads.

Photo courtesy of Rob Boudon // CC 2.0