After weeks of rampant speculation, Nintendo took the wraps off WiiU -- a new console with a highly advanced controller -- at its pre-E3 press event at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles Tuesday morning.
Declining to focus on hardware specifications or even much in the way of specific games, Nintendo executives instead spent most of their time talking about the system's innovative controller, a tablet-sized device with a six-inch touch screen, standard gamepad controls (including a pair of thumbsticks and a full suite of action buttons), gyroscope, camera, mic, speakers, and wireless connectivity.
A demonstration video showed the controller in a wide range of scenarios, ranging from acting as a second screen for some games to functioning as what appeared to be a discrete game system -- though Nintendo was quick to point out that this is not its intended purpose. The controller allows for web browsing, can let users play games on its screen while other programs are shown on the TV, and even facilitates video calling between WiiU owners.
Few details were provided on software that will accompany the system when it launches in 2012, but Nintendo did mention a new Super Smash Bros. title is in the works and also called attention to Lego City Stories, an open-world action game in development by TT Games.
Nintendo's Satoru Iwata said he wanted his new system to appeal to all gamers -- a tacit acknowledgment that the Wii left core gamers out in the cold -- and then backed that statement up with a brief highlight reel that showed snippets of several third-party WiiU games, including entries in adult-oriented franchises such as Assassin's Creed, Metro, Tekken, Darksiders, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, and Batman Arkham.
Electronic Arts' John Riccitiello closed the WiiU presentation by hinting at some EA franchises that could make their way to Nintendo's new console, including Madden NFL, which could use the controller's screen as a discrete playbook, Battlefield, and the next Army of 2 game.
While WiiU was the focus of the event -- and, indeed, will likely set the tone for this year's E3 -- Nintendo opened the briefing with a live performance by an orchestra playing the soundtrack of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which is set to launch on the Wii later this year.
Nintendo game guru Shigeru Miyamoto took to the stage to conduct the orchestra as it played familiar Zelda sound effects, then went on to discuss how no fewer than four Zelda titles will be released in 2012, and that live symphony performances of Zelda music will take place in cities around the world to celebrate the franchise's 25th anniversary.
A few moments were also given the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo's stereoscopic handheld, which launched in Canada in March. Attendees were shown fresh footage from known games, including Mario Kart, which will apparently allow players to drive underwater and use hang-gliders to take to the air; Kid Icarus: Uprising, which looks to support three-on-three multiplayer combat; and Star Fox 3D, which will let players tilt and turn the system to control their aircraft (presumably not while the system's 3D effect is switched on).
A pleasant 3DS surprise came in the form of Luigi's Mansion 2, the follow-up to what many people (including yours truly) believe was the best game ever to appear on the Nintendo GameCube. The sequel will apparently make heavy use of the system's 3-D capabilities and provide not one but several mansions for Mario's brother to explore.
Still, poor Luigi was all but forgotten by the event's end. E3 hasn't seen new living room hardware in seven years, and the crowd of industry affiliates and journalists in attendance seemed downright giddy over the prospects of Nintendo's new console.
"Protoype WiiU experiences" (read: not actual games) will be available to try on the E3 show floor this week. I'm scheduled to get my shot at them tomorrow. Can't wait.