Just as rumors about the PlayStation 4’s release date and the Xbox 720’s tech threatened to monopolize the console conversation, Nintendo stepped up its efforts to ensure that the recently released Wii U remains a vital component of that debate. In a powerhouse Nintendo Direct presentation this morning, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata took the wraps off Yarn Yoshi and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for Wii U, announced Shin-Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, debuted footage from Monolith Soft’s untitled Wii U project  (which looks very much like some sort of sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles) and confirmed that Super Smash Bros. U, a new 3D Mario game, and Mario Kart for Wii U will all appear at E3 2013.

Games are only half the story. System updates promise to bring new features to Miiverse, add Virtual Console titles to the Wii U eShop and speed up the system’s notoriously slow loading times.

The first (and most exciting) of two pending Wii U system updates is scheduled nebulously for Spring, with Iwata’s comments during the Nintendo Direct presentation suggesting an April time frame. The Spring update will begin the process of reducing Wii U’s load times, and shortly after the update goes live, so will Virtual Console on Wii U. Curiously, Nintendo is taking an incremental approach to addressing the Wii U’s troublesome load times, and users will have to wait for the system’s Summer update for the process to be complete. In any case, Iwata promises that software will launch faster, and users will be able to return to the Wii U menu faster, after each update.

When the Wii U Virtual Console launches this Spring, it will contain only a subset of the games currently available on Wii. Initial offerings will be restricted to a selection of NES and SNES titles, to be followed by games from a system new to Virtual Console, the Game Boy Advance. NES games will run $4.99 to $5.99, while Super Nintendo games will be $7.99 to $8.99. Iwata notes that the Wii U Virtual Console games are being newly developed, and aren’t just ports of the existing Wii versions. And yes, you’ll be able to play them right on the GamePad screen, no TV required. The Wii U Virtual Console games will also allow users to create Restore Points, and will have their own Miiverse communities.

Wii U Virtual Console

That’s the good news. The bad news, in this case, is that users who have previously purchased NES or SNES Virtual Console games on Wii and transferred those games to Wii U will have to pay a fee if they want access to the updated Wii U versions – specifically, a buck for NES games and a buck fifty for SNES games. Not exactly highway robbery, but still a bit of a bummer.

Taking some of the sting out of that bit of news is Nintendo’s Virtual Console Trial Campaign, which is going on right this very minute. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Family Computer (a.k.a. Famicom, known as the NES outside of Japan), Nintendo is releasing one classic game on Wii U’s eShop each month, starting now and running through July. For 30 days, that title will be available for the paltry sum of  thirty cents. Thirty cents! Balloon Fight is already available, to be followed by F-Zero in February, Punch Out! Featuring Mr. Dream in March, Kirby’s Adventure in April, Super Metroid in May, Yoshi in June, and the game that started it all, Donkey Kong, in July.

Miiverse received a lot of attention during the presentation, and no wonder. Nintendo’s gamers-only social network has proven to be an unexpected highlight of the Wii U since the system launched last November (just like Reggie said it would). According to Iwata, new features are on the way.

“Because Miiverse is, in broad terms, a closed web-based service that employs many internet sever side features, we can easily make changes and also add features. We are planning to expand some features this Spring.”

Chief among those expanded features is the ability for users to browse Miiverse from their smartphones. That functionality is slated to arrive this Spring as a browser-based experience (which, presumably, will also be available from PC), with dedicated apps to follow sometime in the future. In addition to offering users new ways to access Miiverse, Nintendo is also adding to the service’s functionality. When Wii Fit U launches (it’s due sometime in the “first half of the year,” so… end of May?), users will be able to create their own closed Miiverse communities, with a specific ID number assigned to each group. Pikmin 3, meanwhile, will allow players to take in-game pictures with the GamePad and display the results on Miiverse. Also on deck, more than one official community for popular games, along with filtering functions and unspecified usability improvements.

Iwata Miiverse

After an uncomfortably quiet post-launch period during which Nintendo was obviously focused on driving holiday Wii U sales, the company has come roaring back. More than ever, this is a Nintendo that is actively listening to its audience and responding to that audience’s wishes. While Sony and Microsoft continue to jockey for position in the next-gen race, Nintendo is here right now with hardware and games that are only looking better and better. It’s almost a relief to say it, but it’s an exciting time to be a Nintendo fan.

Ranters, which of the new Wii U features are you most looking forward to? Faster load times? Miiverse on your phone? Virtual Console games on GamePad? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @HakenGaken.

Source: Nintendo Direct


tags: eShop, Nintendo, Wii U