What can we expect from Nintendo’s successor to the Wii?

As Nintendo officially announces the existence of the Wii 2, Ryan wonders just what the company's next console will bring…

By any yardstick, the past five years have been astonishingly successful for Nintendo. Its successor to the Game Boy Advance, the DS, confounded pundit expectations to becoming the best-selling portable console of all time.

The Wii, despite its antiquated technology, was embraced with similar public affection when it arrived in Europe in late 2006. Like the DS, some commentators were initially scornful of its chances against Microsoft’s far more powerful Xbox 360 and the inbound PlayStation 3, yet the Wii has since sold approximately 86 million units to date, some 30 million units more than either of its rivals.

By courting an entire sector of the market as yet untapped, Nintendo cannily found a way of placing a Wii in the homes of people who’d never dream of picking up a controller, and titles such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit have enjoyed colossal sales.

Apparently caught on the hop, it took Sony and Microsoft some time to think of their own responses to the Wii’s magic wand-like control system, and it wasn’t until last year that the Xbox 360 saw the release of the hands-free Kinect device, and the PlayStation 3’s own Move controllers. Tellingly, both devices were marketed to a casual audience in commercials notably similar to Nintendo’s own.

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Of course, in the fast-moving videogame industry, nothing stands still. While Nintendo may have been toasting the success of the Wii from a financial standpoint, not everyone was entirely happy.

From both a hardcore gamer and a developer’s position, the Wii never has been the perfect platform. Undeniably brilliant though games such as No More Heroes and Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are, the number of genuinely great hardcore titles have been far outstripped by the mountainous piles of derivative shovelware that have appeared for the console.

Looking at this year’s release schedules, there’s almost nothing notable on the way for the Wii at all. The one concession is the next Zelda title, Skyward Sword, and that’s unlikely to be released until the Autumn.

The Wii’s meagre support for online gaming, meanwhile, also feels years behind the services offered on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, and Nintendo’s refusal to release an external hard drive for the Wii, coupled with the console’s miniscule internal memory, has lead to users having to store their games on flash cards.

The constrictive memory constraints of the console’s fiddly and archaic WiiWare online shop meant that developer Team Meat decided to cancel the Wii version of Super Meat Boy rather than offer a cut-down version of the game.

Given the comparatively ancient technology that underpins the Wii, it’s unsurprising that Nintendo has been quietly working on its replacement. Indeed, the only surprise is that it’s taken so long to come to like – many industry crystal ball gazers have been incorrectly predicting a Wii 2 announcement for years, only to splutter in frustration when Nintendo proved them wrong yet again.

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But now, finally, Nintendo has announced that a Wii successor is indeed in the works, that the new console will be officially unveiled at this year’s E3 expo in June, and is expected to go on sale next year.

Going under various names, such as Project Café, Nintendo Stream, Wii 2 or Wii HD, numerous rumours have been flying around about what we can expect from the console. There have been suggestions that the device will be far more powerful than the Xbox 360 or the PS3 – which, given the age of those consoles, isn’t at all unlikely – and that it’ll include support for 3D televisions.

The biggest question, though – more so than the console’s technical prowess – is what kind of control system this new device will employ. The Wii was sold exclusively on the unique nature of its remote-and-nunchuck set-up, and now that Sony and Microsoft have come up with their own controllers, it seems inconceivable that the big N would simply regurgitate the same system as the Wii a second time.

Rumours appeared in mid-April that Nintendo had a kind of touch tablet controller in the works, which incorporated a camera, motion sensor and 6-inch screen, along with traditional D-pad, bumper and trigger buttons.

This, of course, hasn’t been confirmed by Nintendo, but if it’s true, the new controller sounds needlessly complicated to us. The beauty of the Wii’s controller (in spite of its inaccuracy, which was later fixed with the Wii MotionPlus) was its simplicity. Where other modern consoles offered a joypad bristling with buttons and triggers, Nintendo’s system was comparatively elegant, even welcoming. It’s little wonder that those who wouldn’t normally pay attention to videogames greeted the Wii so warmly.

Control system aside, we’re anxiously waiting to see whether Nintendo’s new console will properly address the criticisms levelled at its predecessor. Will it finally embrace online, multiplayer gaming in the same way as its rivals? Will it offer a better, more smoothly integrated online shop that actually allows consumers to download demos, while freeing developers from restrictive memory constraints? Will it come with a hard drive, DVD and Blu-ray support and high-definition graphics?

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The answer to all the above, surely, is yes. While it’s admirable, and perhaps understandable, why Nintendo hasn’t joined in with the technological arms race its rivals have indulged in, these are all things that gamers of all kinds have been requesting for years.

Whatever Nintendo reveals at E3, its reception will be critical to Nintendo. The Wii caught its competitors by surprise, but Microsoft and Sony have since bounced back with hardware of their own.

In March, an alarming survey suggested that almost half of all Wii users hadn’t bothered to turn on their consoles in six months or more. If Nintendo’s to keep up in the race for the next generation’s imagination and cash, it’s that audience the company needs to recapture.