The Nintendo Wii U has been a bit of a dark horse since it’s announcement earlier this year. Gaming pundits and gamers alike wonder whether the upgraded horse power and iPad-like controller would be enough to give bored Wii owners a reason to upgrade. One of the biggest weaknesses on the Wii was the web connectivity, and the next generation of consoles need to be more than just game systems to succeed — they must be living room entertainment units. In Nintendo’s newest pre-E3 announcement, the company highlights their new online game network and social features and seems to be headed in the right direction.
The most relevant social demo appears at 12:45 in the video below and shows a gamer getting defeated by a zombie survival game, then using his Wii U to post a “help me” message to the Wii forum and browse the answers without even stopping the game. Another user on his phone is able to see the Wii forum and answer the gamer’s request for help. It’s a pretty integrated social experience that we haven’t seen on any other device, and it gets better. He uses his controller as a video camera and has a video chat with another gamer to get a better answer on how to defeat the level. This is definitely a new type of way to connect to other gamers, and an evolution of social gaming.
This new forum and network doesn’t seem to have any official naming yet, but is part of the Nintendo network and is called “Mii Wara Wara” by the development team. The kind of design principle behind the Wii U network is ‘wara wara’, which is the sound that exists when a group of people appear. This is manifested even more within the “Miiverse”, which is the place where you and your Mii (avatar) can connect with other Nintendo players around the world. The idea is that the system is always connected, and other Mii are always milling around, and it’s easy to connect with other Miis that are playing the same game as you.
The video goes into detail in the ways that you can connect with other Miis. You can use your Mii gamepad for typing, or you can write handwritten messages to the various Mii forums — it’s easy to pause the game and switch to the Mii forums without interrupting your game. The video also shows a very cool social integration in Mario Bros, where after you play a level, you get a few seconds to see what other players are saying about the level as you play. The idea is to be connected with live players and other players in every game. This is that “Wara wara” vision. It’s quite bold, and we’ll see if games actually incorporate these social features.
The Wii U network also plans to extend to the Nintendo 3DS, the PC or any mobile web-enabled device. This would be a pretty great way to connect to other gamers anytime. I expect that this kind of games everywhere interaction will also be coming from Microsoft and Sony, so we’ll see who comes out on top.