Nintendo Wii U goes on sale this weekend

Wii U gamepad gives players a new view of their video games

Nintendo's new game console the Wii U will go on sale in the U.S. Sunday as the company attempts to regain ground from Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's Playstation 3.

Research manager for IDC's video games service Lewis Ward expects the console to be successful at launch, selling 1.5 million units in the U.S. between its Nov. 18 debut and the end of the year. Its long-term success will depend on software titles, content partnerships and if it can capture the hard-core gaming audience.

"The HD platforms [Sony's PS3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360] have branched out into the areas where Nintendo has historically done very well with the younger kids and teens," he said in an interview. "And what we're seeing from Nintendo is that they're going the other way. They've got the family market down pat and now they're trying to go back and get some of the core audience."

"Call of Duty: Black Ops II" will be one of the launch window titles, which should attract the hard-core audience, according to Ward. He said he hasn't been able to try the new "Call of Duty" with the Wii U, but is interested in seeing how the Wii U's "gamepad" will work with it.

The Wii U gamepad includes a small screen for what Nintendo calls asymmetric gaming or where the information displayed on the gamepad differs from what's shown on the main television screen. For example, in one game called "ZombieU" the gamepad is used as a sniper rifle scope, which allows players to zoom in on a potential target before pulling the trigger.

To see Wii U game play and our analysis, watch a video on YouTube.

A suite of games called "Nintendo Land" ships with the Wii U Deluxe Set, which costs $350. It includes a game called "Luigi's Ghost Mansion" where the player holding the gamepad acts as the ghost chasing after other players. The other players play on the big screen and can't see the ghost.

"In my testing of 'Nintendo Land,' I think it gets the point across while you're having fun," Ward said.

Nintendo hasn't said how many units it will have available at launch, but did say that it was more than the first Wii, which went on sale in 2006. One GameStop retailer near Boston said that the store only had five units, all of which have already been preordered.

"In one sense, selling out is a good thing because you're going to get all the press of selling out like Apple does," Ward said. He said that an artificial shortage isn't bad, but that at the same time Nintendo needs to have enough supply to hit the 5.5 million units that company president Satoru Iwata is projecting in its first year on sale.

"As far as I can tell there aren't any issues around the hardware availability and those sorts of things," Ward said.

It's been six years since the first Wii launched and kicked off a motion gaming craze that Microsoft and Sony had to match. Now the popularity of the Xbox 360 and PS3 far exceeds that of the Wii and whether Nintendo's newest console can help the company regain lost ground remains to be seen. Ward predicts that even with the launch of a new console, Nintendo will come in third in sales this holiday season behind Microsoft and Sony.

The console war will continue in 2013 as Ward predicts that both Sony and Microsoft will debut their next generation consoles at the E3 game expo in Los Angeles in June.

The Wii U goes on sale in the U.S. Sunday, in Europe and Australia on Nov. 30 and in Japan on Dec. 8. The Wii U Deluxe Set costs $349.99 and includes a black game console with 32GB of storage, a gamepad and cradle and the "Nintendo Land" video game. The Wii U Basic Set costs $299.99 and includes a white game console with 8GB of storage and a gamepad.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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