The new Wii is coming out on November 18th! It's a tablet! It's a console! It's a media center with a built-in accelerometer attached! It's the last stand of a once-proud gaming giant!
Here's what you need to know:
What's this Gamepad thing?
It's Nintendo's Big Idea this time around. You'll use it as a controller (along with your old Wiimotes), but it's also a self-contained tablet, so in most games you can switch from the TV to playing just on the touchscreen. You can also buy an extra one for around $175 (based on the international price, though the U.S. pricetag is still unconfirmed). Fortunately, only two at a time work with the Wii U, so you'll only need to buy one extra, if you want it. It should make for some interesting multiplayer games, which often pit the person with the GamePad against people using regular Wiimotes.
If you're using the Wii U to watch TV or movies, you can use the Gamepad as a remote control, roughly the way an iPad works with a cable box. The general consensus is that it's pretty comfortable. Here's what Destructoid said when it rolled out at E3:
Granted, it is very strange to play with it for the first time — having your hands so far apart just feels odd. But once you get used to it (it takes no time at all!), the controller almost melts in your hands. It is very ergonomic and never once felt uncomfortable. Despite its size, it is not heavy at all (it is actually lighter than an iPad), and I can easily see myself using it to play a long game.
Wait, what was that about watching TV?
You can watch TV with it! That part is called TVii (pronounced "TV"), and it's Nintendo's play to join the next generation of media-center consoles with legit video streaming and Tivo powers. They've already lined up partnerships with Netflix, Hulu, Tivo and Amazon Direct. Mostly, it means the flow for watching video will be a lot simpler, whether it's from cable, streaming or static media.
How much does it cost?
It'll cost $300 for the 8GB version and $350 for the deluxe 32GB version with charging cradles, a subscription to Nintendo Network Premium (which gets you discounts on future game downloads) and a free copy of Nintendoland. If you're going to get one, you probably want the premium, since it's only $50 more. It's kind of high for a console, until you realize it comes with its own tablet.
Here's a demo from last year.
What about the games?
There's a new Mario, which looks an awful lot like the Wii version. It's also launching with the survival horror game ZombiU, which looks familiar but fun. There's the usual meta-game where Nintendo basks in its own mythology — in this case, a gauzy, childlike amusement park (that's Nintendoland) where you can play mini-games with Mario and Zelda and Samus and so on. It's basically the WiiU version of Adventure Island. How you feel about it will depend on your level of NES-related nostalgia. After launch, it'll also have the big games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Mass Effect 3 and Assassin's Creed III, like every other system. Plus, it plays all your old Wii games.
You sound uncertain.
There are a lot of weird things about it! Double-screen setups can be really awkward (see: Dreamcast) and making one of them a touchscreen is only going to make it weirder. That could be good — there's no point trying to make a better Xbox — but it could also accentuate a lot of the problems the Wii had. If you just want to play Call of Duty, why would you do it on this awkward tablet thingy?
So what does it all mean?
This is a make-or-break move for Nintendo. In the six years since the original Wii launched, they've been a bit rudderless, with just incremental changes to the DS and surprisingly few new flagship games. The 3DS fizzled, adding to the pressure. If it doesn't pan out, the Wii U could easily be their Sega Dreamcast — one last ill-advised project before they get out of the hardware game entirely and just make Mario games for Xbox. For one of the most storied companies in the game industry, it would be a sad way to go out.