Nintendo: Wii U Is Core Enough and It’s the Most Innovative Game System Ever Made

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The Wii U launches in just two months on Nov. 18, once again pitting Nintendo’s ability to create enthralling, never-before-seen gameplay against the less intrepid, core-focused muscularity of competitors like Microsoft and Sony. Will lightning strike twice? Will the Wii U resonate with casual players? Will the system’s high-definition makeover bring core gamers back to the fold? We’ll see.

After Nintendo’s Wii U preview event last week, I asked Cindy Gordon, Nintendo’s V.P. of Corporate Affairs, a few questions about launch details, pricing and the system itself. Here’s what she told me.

(MORE: 11 Things I’d Like to Know About Nintendo’s Wii U)

Let’s talk about the Wii U’s pricing. Analysts set a lot of the expectations, for better or worse, and so everybody was expecting the system to come in at $250, or $300 with a pack-in. How did Nintendo settle on $300 and $350?

So just to back up in terms of the pricing topic, this is intended to be a mass market, mainstream consumer product that we think does deliver really strong consumer value, and we think no company has ever put this much innovation and offered as many new and compelling experiences — this sort of wide range of features and experiences — in one system.

Every Wii U owner, right out of the box, they get not only a new HD console, next-generation, that’s truly a step up from everything that’s out there; they’re also getting a completely integrated second screen with a gamepad that’s creating brand new entertainment experiences. They’re getting what we announced today, this groundbreaking new entertainment application that we’re calling Nintendo TVii, that revolutionizes the way you find, watch and interact with TV and your video on demand content. In addition to all that, you’re getting additional services, including Miiverse, our online gaming community, the Internet browser, e-shop, video chat — all of those are included at no additional cost.

On top of that, consumers who purchase the Deluxe model for $349.99 get a copy of Nintendo Land, which is a great value, and they can participate in the incentive program, the digital deluxe promotion. And keep in mind we’re launching with more than 50 titles in the launch window. So there’s a lot of value you can see, touch and feel in the Wii U right on launch day.

Speaking of the games, what’s the average price for mainstream games? For the Wii, it was $49.99. For the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it shifted to $59.99.

$59.99, though obviously games can fluctuate up and down from that.

So the days of $49.99 mainstream games are probably over?

Our goal is to offer players options. The logic behind offering two Wii U sets, for instance — the Basic and Deluxe — is to give consumers as much flexibility as possible when they decide to enter the Wii U experience. Offering the Basic set gives them a lower cost of entry and really the flexibility to choose any game they want. Nintendo Land is a great game that we think really showcases the Wii U’s uniqueness, but there are some people that may really want ZombieU on day one, and some people who’ll want Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

How about the cost of a second Wii U GamePad? Is there even a need for a second Wii U GamePad?

At this point we’ve announced that it’s technically possible to play games with two Wii U GamePads, but we don’t have games launching now that take advantage of that, so we’re not selling them as a separate SKU. Somewhere down the road when the software supports it, it would make sense to introduce that.

The Wii U GamePad as a secondary screen seems to be inspired by the DS, and I’ve described it myself as a DS snapped in two. Would you say the DS is the direct antecedent of the Wii U?

We’ve certainly heard people say that, and it’s interesting that we innovated with two-screens on the DS and 3D on the 3DS, and sure, you can imagine at Nintendo people were thinking about what that might look like on a home console and what the possibilities would be.

Usually the way it works at Nintendo is, someone comes up with a great software idea, and that enables a particular hardware experience. Very often at Nintendo, software and hardware are intrinsically tied together. There’s no question that there’s nothing else out there like the Wii U GamePad’s integrated second screen.

But yes, we have heard people liken it to the DS.

(MORE: TVii for the Wii U: Nintendo’s Bold Move Beyond Gaming)

The Wii’s primary audience seemed to be more casual and family-oriented, and yet many if not most of those of us who write about games tend to identify more with the so-called “core” audience. A lot of that core audience is skeptical about Nintendo’s commitment to core gaming, given the economic appeal of growing the casual demographic. Will the Wii U be different?

If you look at the 50 games in the launch window, there’s really deep third-party support, and you’re talking a wide range here of titles that are going to appeal to everyone. We’re going to continue on that mission of wanting to make everyone want to be a gamer with Nintendo.

Our range includes franchise favorites like New Super Mario Bros. U, we’ve got core blockbusters like Call of Duty: Black Ops II, expanded audience hits like Just Dance 3 and Scribblenauts, and more breakout newcomers like ZombieU. And then we have all the digital games in the e-shop, which is launching on day one as well. Our mission is to offer something for everyone.

How will services we’re familiar with on the Wii and 3DS work in the Wii U environment?

Certainly you’ll be able to access your Wiiware and all of those things like the Virtual Console titles on the Wii U console, day one. And of course you’ll also have Miiverse, which is what’s unique and new, and a key differentiator for us — it’s very much a part of the Wii U, just as the Wii U GamePad is uniquely a Wii U component.

The Miiverse is integrated into your favorite gaming software as well as the Wii U interface, and through Miiverse, you have direct connectivity between gamers, between games, the Wii U hardware, meaning you can interact with your game friends inside the game world. That’s distinct, this idea of community and trending topics and in-game integration, to be able to join Miiverse and share how you’re doing in a particular game, your wins, your agonies of defeat, what people are discussing — that’s a truly unique feature of the Wii U.

By making the Wii U backward compatible with the Wii, you’re introducing the possibility that gamers could theoretically wind up owning a Wii U, Wii Remote, Nunchuk, Wii U GamePad, the Pro Controller, the Balance Board, Wii Wheel and dozens more. That’s a lot of stuff.

For the most part, considering 103 million people already own a Wii Remote and sixty-some million own a Nunchuk, you know, these are forward-compatible. For us it’s about maximizing the value of your investment, so you don’t need to go out and buy anything extra. One out of every three people in the U.S. already own a Wii Remote.

The Wii U is backward compatible with Wii games — any chance you’ll support visual upscaling or post-processing effects as Sony did for PS1 games on the PS2, and PS2 games on the PS3?

What I can tell you is that we don’t have anything announced on that. It’s possible to play your Wii games on the Wii U, but no, we haven’t announced anything about making any changes to those games in any way or changing how they would appear on the Wii U.

Can you play Wii games on the Wii U GamePad?

No, Wii games are only playable on the main screen.

Nintendo’s “launch window” is fairly big — Nov. 18 through March 13. Can you say which games of these “more than 50” that we’ll see on launch day, or tell us when you’ll be able to name them?

I realize we’re just two months away, and we’ll certainly provide that clarity as we get closer to launch. The ones we’ve talked about so far are Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U.

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