Over the past six years, Apple and Nintendo have fundamentally shaken up the video game industry. They greatly outsold the competition by reaching out to people who had never played video games before.
The Nintendo Wii hooked kids, parents, and even whole retirement homes by presenting a controller that made sense immediately. It offered a kind of competitive pantomime. As a pixelated tennis ball hurls toward you, swing the Wii's motion-sensitive remote and your character on screen does the same.
Meanwhile, the Apple iPhone sneaked a high-powered gaming machine into millions of people's pockets. Once there, simple and addictive touch-screen games flourished.
Now Nintendo is attempting to combine the two. This winter, the Japanese company will launch the Wii U, pronounced "we, you." The new set-top box will use the same controllers as the Wii, but will also come with a GamePad, a two-handed controller with a touch screen in its center.
The GamePad unlocks a number of new ways to play. For example, the game Chase Mii asks up to four players to use Wii remotes while a fifth person uses the new controller. The foursome tries to outmaneuver the other player, chasing him through a digital maze. But thanks to the GamePad, the target has more information than his opponents. As they look at the TV, he may use the extra screen to see a full map of the maze with icons representing his pursuers.
While Sony and Microsoft focus on online gaming with either far-flung friends or digital strangers, Nintendo says video games are at their best when everyone plays in the same room. Many Wii U games push this idea.
But the GamePad affects single-player games, as well.
When used by a single player, the small screen acts as a second window into the game world. Several examples have people temporarily holding the controller about a foot from their faces and then moving it around like a periscope to scan a room for clues or to aim down the scope of a rifle.
At its most basic, the small screen may also alleviate family quarrels over who gets the television. Some games allow a player to continue playing on the GamePad while someone else watches TV.
The Wii U will go on sale this holiday season. Nintendo has yet to announce a price.
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