Wii to Wii U, Nintendo’s next system

Vidgame publisher unveils console at E3 conference

Nintendo raised the curtain on its latest videogame console, the Wii U, on Tuesday, but there was one key piece of hardware missing at its presentation — the console itself.

Instead, Nintendo used the Nokia Theater to turn the spotlight on the controller that consumers will use in a variety of ways to play games.

The white device borrows heavily from Nintendo’s popular DS and newer 3DS handhelds and is the company’s evolutionary answer to mobile gaming on cell phones and tablets, with its large 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen, game controls, microphone, speakers and front-facing camera.

“We hear you,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. “You want the same thing you always wanted. And you want something different.”

Nintendo execs stressed that the device, which is compatible with Wii’s other games and controllers, isn’t meant to be another mobile gaming gadget, although it can be used to play games as a standalone device without a TV.

Controller’s main draw is its ability to interact with games in a variety of new ways and let users fling video from its smaller screen onto a larger TV. Device essentially puts another important screen in the user’s hands to play games.

The console that the controller will connect to was never mentioned during the hourlong presentation. One reason is that the new hardware won’t hit store shelves until 2012 and designs have yet to be finalized.

Nintendo did not disclose the price of the system set to bow sometime during the second half of next year.

At the same time, Nintendo is likely looking to hold off on the big reveal until next year’s E3 where it will be able to drum up even more buzz leading up to its launch.

While execs cleverly danced around the missing console in console in the room, the purpose of the company’s message was clear: Nintendo is ready to enter the high-definition era.

Footage for a variety of titles shown on the bigscreen were rich and detailed, the kind of high-end HD graphics that are typically seen on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 consoles, but have been lacking on the Wii since the device rolled out in 2006.

That switchover has encouraged more third-party publishers to embrace the new Wii U for their tentpole titles.

Games set to launch on Wii U include titles from Electronic Arts, THQ, Sega, Ubisoft and Warner Bros., including “Batman: Arkham City,” “Lego City Stories,” “Assassin’s Creed” “Darksiders II,” “Dirt,” “Aliens: Colonial Marines,” “Future Soldier,” “Metro: Last Light,” “Tekken” and “Ninja Gaiden III.”

“This is a better platform than we’ve ever been offered by Nintendo,” said John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts. “We can’t wait to see EA games on this new system.”

Nintendo has long used its Wii to target casual gamers, but is going out of its way to emphasize that it hopes to lure back core gamers with Wii U, especially with more mature fare like horror games, fighters and sports titles.

“Some hardware is seen as only appropriate for the most passionate players,” said Satoru Iwara, global president of Nintendo. “Others, like Wii, they say, seem to attract a large number of casual gamers. As an industry, what we haven’t achieved yet is a game platform that is equally satisfying for all players. This is exactly what we intend to create with our new platform.”

The company also showcased a number of tentpole titles — “Super Mario 3D,” “Mario Kart 3D,” “Luigi’s Mansion 2,” a new “Star Fox” title and a remake of the NES classic “Kid Icarus” — for its 3DS handheld system, which has seen sales stumble since its launch in March. The games should provide the handheld with a significant sales boost this holiday.

The company also has big plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its “Legend of Zelda” franchise.

3DS owners will feel the love immediately, with a free download of “The Legend ofZelda: Link’s Awakening” in the just launched eShop. Next week, the 3DS exclusive remake of the classic “Ocarina of Time” hits stores. And by the end of the year, “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” will be out for the Wii. In September, DSi owners will be able to freely download the four-player co-op game “The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.”

And, to highlight the series’ integral music, Nintendo said it plans to release two CDs of music to the game — and will have a series of global symphony performances dedicated solely to the game.

(Chris Morris contributed to this report.)