Nintendo Wii U Will Be More Expensive than PS3, Xbox 360 in Japan

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We’re assuming Nintendo plans to out the Wii U’s U.S. price and release date at a press event happening this morning in New York at 10:00 a.m. ET — stay tuned, I’ll be covering that shortly — but in Japan, the company’s already said when you can pick up its latest console as well as how much it’ll cost.

Dec. 8, that’s the date Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the company will release its new video game system on its home turf, and it won’t be cheap. Reuters reports Nintendo will sell two versions: an entry-level model with 8 GB of internal storage for 26,250 yen (USD$338) and a more storage-robust 32 GB version for 31,500 yen (USD$406).

(MORE: Hands On with the Wii U, Nintendo’s Next-Generation Game Console)

While that date may seem a little tardy to us on this side of the pond, remember that Nintendo released the Wii on Nov. 19, 2006 in the U.S., followed in Japan on Dec. 2., Dec. 7 in Australia and Dec. 8 in Europe. A November U.S. launch for the Wii U would thus still make sense, and in fact the rumored launch date has been Nov. 18, a Sunday, which would square with Nintendo’s traditional weekend-launch stance.

I’m a little more concerned, though not wildly surprised, by the pricing. The Wii went for 25,000 yen (about USD$215) when it launched in Japan — considerably less than the entry-level Wii U. Even rivals Sony and Microsoft sell for less: By comparison, an entry-level PS3 in Japan currently goes for 24,980 yen (USD$322) and the Xbox 360 for 19,800 yen (USD$255).

Nintendo’s famous for turning a profit on its hardware out of the gate, and that’s surely part of the equation here, but I think it’s more than that. The company obviously believes the Wii U offers something its rivals don’t.

Assuming Nintendo announces similar configurations here later this morning — the company’s finally joining ranks with its rivals and getting into the priced-by-storage game — it’ll be interesting to see if it hits the $250 and $300 price points. Pundits have opined that the system needs to arrive at $250 standalone or $300 with a bundled game (the Wii came with Wii Sports as a pack-in), but that speculation didn’t account for different internal storage options.

I’m much more curious about the software, especially after the 3DS launch debacle last year, where the hardware was intriguing but the games lineup anemic. With its tablet-like, touchscreen-centric control pad, the Wii U is in theory as bold a departure from the Wii as the Wii was from traditional set-tops in 2006. Without several breakout titles (first-party or otherwise) and if it sets its system pricing as high or higher than Microsoft or Sony’s consoles (with price cuts from both predicted in response to the Wii U’s launch), Nintendo could find itself in a very difficult place.

But then pundits have been hand-wringing about Nintendo since the Wii arrived, and the company still cleaned up in unit sales, so here’s what I’m not doing at this point: betting against Nintendo.

MORE: Nintendo’s Provocative Pre-E3 Wii U Reveal: A Tweaked Controller and New Social Network