Wii U Out November 18, Priced Up to $350, ‘Nintendo TVii’ Unveiled

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It was getting close, with autumn knocking, but Nintendo this morning finally announced a release date and pricing for its imminent Wii-quel, the Wii U. The set-top video games system will officially hit shelves in the U.S. on Sunday, Nov. 18.

At a New York-based Wii U preview event — one of four the company’s staging worldwide in a kind of whirlwind media blitz — Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage to lay out the company’s launch plans.

(MORE: Nintendo Wii U Will Be More Expensive than PS3, Xbox 360 in Japan)

Fils-Aime explained the system will come in not one, but two flavors: Basic and Deluxe.

The Basic Set, colored classic Wii-white, will include the Wii U console with 8 GB of internal storage, one Wii U Gamepad, AC adapters for both, an HDMI cable and a sensor bar for $299.99.

The Deluxe Set, which Fils-Aime described as colored “full dress black,” will include everything in the Basic package, but with 32 GB of internal storage, a gamepad charging cradle, a stand for the gamepad and console, a pack-in video game (Nintendo Land) and enrollment in a “deluxe digital promotion” whereby players will receive points for each digital download they purchase (sort of like credit card “cash”), redeemable toward future digital content from Nintendo’s e-shop. The price for all that: $349.99

Those prices are definitely higher than analyst predictions, which had the system topping out at $300 (with a pack-in game) and possibly selling for as little as $250, which was the Wii’s launch price back in November 2006. The other gotcha is just 8GB of storage on the $300 model. Who, in 2012, is going to hold onto $50 and sacrifice 24 GB of storage space given the shift to digital downloads? No doubt that’s exactly what Nintendo’s counting on (though Microsoft’s had plenty of success over the years with its storage-anemic 4 GB Xbox 360). The company said nothing about external storage options, or the possibility that you’d be able to upgrade the Wii U’s internal storage.

[Update: Fils-Aime reportedly confirmed external expansion options are a go in a post-show presser, telling Engadget “You can plug in a full-on three terabyte hard drive if you want. I’ll love you as a digital consumer.”]

And then the company dropped a shoe no one expected and announced something called “Nintendo TVii,” a way to basically mix up live TV, TiVo DVR and streaming content from services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, control all of that with the Wii U GamePad, then access context-sensitive extras if you want to drill down. Nintendo described it as part of a threefold strategy: To give you “a better way to find something to watch,” the ability “to start a program directly from the gamepad” and, while watching, “to engage with other viewers as things unfold.”

For example, Nintendo showed how you could be watching one show on your TV screen, but using the Wii U GamePad to preview another before queuing it up to play on the TV. To launch a new show, said Nintendo, you simply touch the Wii U GamePad screen.

One of the more interesting TVii subsets was “Sports,” where Nintendo demonstrated how you could flip between live game view, player stats, game scores, interact with captured “moments” (freeze-frame snaps), go back to view highlighted plays and in general learn more about what you’ve just seen.

The TVii demo went off hitch-free, though the Wii U GamePad interface was at times a little confusing, in particular a strikingly complex series of concentric rings harboring dozens of TV channels and controller buttons that at one point popped up in the lower-right-hand quadrant. You’re apparently supposed to “dial” your way to content with the thing, which looks “decoder-wheel-meets-bike-lock” intimidating, so I’m curious to see how it actually handles.

Nintendo reminded everyone that the Wii U is backward compatible with the Wii (though only the Wii — GameCube support is no more), and that “almost all Wii games and accessories work with the Wii U.” Fils-Aime said more than 100 million Wii Remote controllers and 65 million Wii Nunchuks have been sold in the U.S. alone, which is why he said Nintendo wasn’t including them with the system. If you don’t have a Wii, Fils-Aime said Nintendo will be selling standalone Wii U-branded versions of the Wii controllers soon. The downside, of course, is that anyone hoping to trade their existing Wii in for store credit now has a much more difficult decision to make (you can’t trade in the system alone).

“The wait is almost over — in just 66 days, Wii U will arrive with the strongest lineup of launch software in Nintendo history,” said Fils-Aime, highlighting over 50 first- and third-party games — a mix of originals and enhanced ports, though with no real standouts at this point. (As usual, the most intriguing stuff is by Nintendo, e.g. Nintendo’s theme park extravaganza Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U.) The catch: The “launch window” runs from Nov. 18 through March 2013, and the company didn’t specify which titles would be available at launch, save for Nintendo Land.

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