The Wii U is the first Nintendo HD console and for some the beginning of a new generation. Whether or not this is true depends on the other companies reaction.
- The Controller -
An unique controller, the Gamepad, is the main atraction. It has a touch screen, two analog sticks (that are buttons too, like the Dual Shock), a D-Pad, four action buttons (A, B, X and Y) and four triggers (L, R, ZL and ZR). The touch screen is resistive, not capacitive, what means it doesn't support multitouch and it requires a little more pressure to respond, just like the 3DS. Comparing with Microsoft's SmartGlass, that uses tablets and smartphone as inputs, and the PS Vita, which could be used as a controller, the Gamepad touch screen is somewhat inferior.
- The Console -
The console itself is great. It's small, in comparison with XBox 360 and PS3. It's power is yet unknown, but it's claimed it can do whatever the others two can and a bit more. Since Nintendo didn't reveal the specs for the console, it's hard to know if that's true.
It comes with backward compatibility only with Wii games, but the system has to shut down and restart to then show the old Wii interface. It's in stardard definition and it doesn't look any better. Your data can be transferred from the Wii to the Wii U, but once it's done you can't reverse the process and the data will be deleted from your Wii, so be careful. Remember: the Wii U doesn't allow you to play Game Cube games right away, so your Game Cube saves will be used for nothing in the new console, at least for now. Nintendo can later create a improve the software for the system to be able to play Cube's game using those saves, but I wouldn't count on that.
Consumers have two options: a Basic White Wii U, with a Hard Drive of 8GB, for US$ 299,99 or a Deluxe Black Wii U, with 32GB, the game Nintendo Land and other acessories for US$ 349,99. Since it has a glossy finish, the Black-Deluxe version shows every single fingerprint. That happens with the console itself, the Gamepad and the Pro Controller, so it's impossible to avoid, unless you start wearing gloves while playing. The White-Basic version doesn't have that problem. It has the glossy finish too, but since it's white, it doesn't show so many fingerprints.
- The Games -
For now, some games have caught attention of the press: Nintendo Land, New Super Mario Bros Wii U and Zombi U.
Nintendo Land is a collection of minigames that uses the unique characteristics of the Gamepad. It's the best game to show how the asynchronous gameplay works.
New Super Mario Bros Wii U is another New Super Mario Bros Wii, but in HD. It feels like it's same game launched in 2009. It doesn't even show the console power, since the graphics are not impressive. The game is not hard, but it comes with a "Challenge Mode" to test your abilities as player.
Zombi U is more like resident evil. It makes use of the Gamepad to create a frightening atmosphere. The graphics are good, but not as good as the best games on the other platforms.
Nintendo is strong mainly beacause of it's first party titles, but they're trying to get more third party support this time around, what is great for the "hardcore gamers". Too bad the new console doesn't have a Zelda game at launch like the Wii did. Skyward Sword would serve well to push the sales. As a Wii title only, Skyward Sword is being neglected to oblivion. It's true, Wii U has backward compatilibity, but it would have been great if the game were upscaled to HD and used the Gamepad for something.
- The Wii U's Generation Debate-
What defines a generation are the common principles. Using that definition is possible to find that the Wii didn't belong to the PS3/XBox 360 generation. It had it's own, a 6th and 1/2 gen if you like, while PS3 and XBox 360 belongs to the 7th. What really matters are the principles behind the technology and the current generation ones are: 1) high definition, 2) new forms of interaction with games, 3) consoles as powerhouses of entertainment and 4) internet connection. The Wii U respects those principles and those principles only and that's why, at least for now, the Wii U belongs to the 7th generation.
The Gamepad doesn't set the Wii U apart from the others consoles: the use of new inputs is part of what defines the 7th generation. Just look at PlayStation Move, Kinect, PS Vita and SmartGlass. The Wii U Gamepad is not different, it uses the same principles, and it manifests the driving force of the current generation: the constant search for new and revolutionary forms of interaction with games. The Wii U doesn't bring anything significantly new, it rather tries to adapt to the current market.
But the generation of a console can only be truly detected a posteriori. It really depends on what the other companies will do. If they set strategies that resembles more the Wii U strategy than their current consoles do, then they'll belong to the Wii U generation. But if they come out with a different set of principles, they'll belong to another generation and Nintendo will be alone on it's own once again.