Wii Shows Its Chatty, Sensitive Side With New Accessories

Nintendo made news at the E3 Media & Business Summit Tuesday with additions to its Wii video game console.

The game maker debuted a new accessory for gamers to enhance the sensitivity of its Wii Remote as well as a bevy of games, some of which add new functionality to the Balance Board and another that offers a different community experience.

“They really have pushed the technology differentiation forward relative to what their competitors are offering. At the same point, [Nintendo is] expanding the titles and really showing that they do have strong third-party support out there,” said Michael Gartenberg, a JupiterResearch analyst.

Wii All Want to Play

Most noteworthy among Nintendo’s announcements was the unveiling of the upcoming Wii MotionPlus accessory for the Wii Remote. The square, white plug-in accessory attaches to the end of the Wii Remote and, in conjunction with the accelerometer and the sensor bar, provides a heightened tracking of the position of a player’s arm and orientation.

The extra-sensitive Wii Remote catches a gamer’s slightest wrist, arm or hand movement and renders it identically in real time on the screen, according to Nintendo. It offers players a true 1:1 response in their game play.

Along with the enhanced controller, Nintendo also revealed several upcoming games.

“Wii Sports Resort,” a sequel to “Wii Sports,” lets players indulge in new sporting pursuits, including “Sword Play,” “Power Cruising” on a water scooter and “Disc Dog.” The new title is available at no cost with the new Wii MotionPlus accessory and Wii Remote Jacket. The game is scheduled for release in the spring of 2009.

“Animal Crossing: City Folk,” which hits stores Nov. 16, takes players into a community populated by quirky animals, Nintendo said. Gamers can improve their community, chat with the locals or spend the day fishing and collecting fossils. They can also take the bus to the city where players can connect with other players using WiiConnect24. They can bid on friends’ items at the auction house or visit the Happy Room Academy HQ to view the top-rate player house.

Voice chatting with other players takes a step beyond the headphone in “Animal Crossing,” with the addition of the new WiiSpeak microphone. Sold separately for US$30, the new accessory enables players to Internet voice chat with their Wii Friends — person to person and room to room.

“The whole microphone and enabling that sort of chat in the game — it’s very, very interesting to see, and it certainly pushes the bar forward. The key here is integrating the headset functionality into the experience of the game itself, and that’s sort of where it gets interesting,” Gartenberg told TechNewsWorld.

With the “New Wii Music,” Nintendo has increased the functionality of the Balance Board accessory beyond its WiiFit beginnings. The game, for up to four players, allows users to play more than 50 instruments using simple motions such as strumming and drumming — no formal music training or sheet music needed.

“It’s going to be hard for [the other console makers] to duplicate the experience. The announcements look very, very good. And we’re still seeing them innovate in terms of core technology,” he noted.

Third-Party Library

Nintendo is also beefing up its library of games for the Wii and portable DS gaming device.

Shaun White Snowboarding from Ubisoft also expands the use of the Balance Board to include snowboard simulator. The game, a Wii exclusive, will be available by the end of the 2008.

For the Wii, there is “Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party” that also uses the Balance Board, and “Call of Duty: World at War;” Coming to the Wii and DS is “Star Wars: Clone Wars”; for the DS, there is “Guitar Hero On Tour Decades,” “Pokemon Ranger,” available Nov. 10, “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars,” set to debut this winter and a possible version of Will Wright’s upcoming “Spore” PC game ported for the DS.

“They are showing that they really do have strong third-party support with some of the more important titles coming from the market, like ‘Jedi Knight’ and ‘Clone Wars,’ as well as ‘Spore.’ What we’re seeing here is that Nintendo has really proved the concept. They’ve proved they can capture the hearts and minds of consumers, and that becomes a no-brainer when you’re a developer. You want to get on that bandwagon. And that’s what we’re going to continue to see here,” Gartenberg pointed out.

DS of the Future

Nintendo also announced a few of its future plans for its portable game console, the DS. The company is working to make the device more than a simple gaming platform, said Cammie Dunaway, vice president of sales & marketing.

Already being tested are features that would provide air travelers with information on connecting flights or at which baggage claim they can find their luggage, the nearest ATMs and local restaurants. At Seattle’s Safeco Field, baseball lovers have been testing a feature that offers scores from live baseball games in other cities, baseball highlights and allows participation in an interactive trivia contest with other ballgame attendees and even lets users order food, the Seattle Ichi Roll, for instance.

Another idea, currently being tested in Japan, is to use the DS as a replacement for a shelf of cookbooks. Nintendo plans to offer the “Cooking Guide” cookbook filled with international recipes and cooking tips in the U.S. in November.

“The DS is transforming itself from a device for gamers into a natural companion for everyone,” Dunaway said.

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