A few short years in the video game business can feel like an eternity, especially if you're an ageing game console in this technology-obsessed world.
One of the forefathers of video games, Nintendo, launched its revolutionary Wii home console back in 2006. While its lack of rich, high-definition features and its quirky motion-sensing wand-like controller left a big question mark over how it would fare against its more powerful console competitors - the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 - the Wii went on to become a worldwide mainstream success.
Launched just in time to find its way under Christmas trees, Nintendo's next-generation console and successor to the Wii is here, with an equally atypical name, Wii U.
Like its predecessor Wii U takes a pioneering approach to home console gaming.
While there are two models available, a basic (white) and premium (black) version, both bundles include a familiar console that hooks up to the television and a unique GamePad.
This chunky new accessory combines a wireless game controller with tablet-like functionality in the centre. This is Nintendo's first step into high definition console gaming and the innovative new peripheral is easily the focal point of the Wii U package.
In addition to its six-inch touchscreen, the GamePad includes integrated tilt and motion sensors, a full complement of traditional game controls and buttons including dual analogue sticks, stereo speakers, a microphone, camera and removable stylus. Apart from its gaming duties you can set the GamePad up to double as a replacement for your trusty TV remote.
The controller looks and feels like a standalone portable console, but when playing games it relies on being wirelessly connected to the console and must remain in wireless range to function.
This brings us to one of Wii U's main drawcards. Not all games, but almost half of the titles at launch, including Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty: Black Ops II and the New Super Mario Bros. U, allow users to start playing with all the action displayed in the traditional way on TV. At any time they can switch the gameplay visuals to the GamePad's screen, thereby freeing up the TV for someone else to use while they play on uninterrupted. I can sense parents nodding in approval right about now.
The GamePad's surprisingly light form is due, at least in part, to the lack of a decent size battery. This results in the peripheral petering out after three or so hours of play, when it must be placed on the recharging dock for several hours. However, there is the option to keep the GamePad tethered to the recharge cable while playing.
Although the Wiimote controller from Nintendo's previous console is supported by Wii U, only one GamePad is included with the new console. In order to play party-style multiplayer games with friends and family, additional controllers must be purchased if you don't already have a cupboard full from owning the Wii console.
The basic version of the Wii U console includes 8GB of internal storage designed mostly for saving game data, while the premium model offers 32GB. Players wishing to download digital games from the online marketplace will need to budget for a USB external hard drive, which can be hooked up to the console and used to store these larger game files.
Hardware innovations aside, one key area that Nintendo must make good on with this latest generation is the online space. Its competitors are not only well established in the online gaming arena but continue to introduce new non-gaming services to their respective platforms, and in doing so, increase their appeal and value with each new feature.
The Wii U offers a free online gaming portal called Miiverse, where players can find friends and meet new people in a social-media-style environment; comments can be posted and viewed, and players can choose whom they wish to follow. This is a stark offering compared with the Xbox Live service, but it's an improvement on past offerings and it's clearly still early days for Nintendo's online service.
Wii console owners upgrading to Wii U will be pleased to know their library of old Wii games is fully compatible with the new console. However, if you own games dating further back, to the Gamecube console, those small discs are no longer supported.
At present the Wii U has an enviable head start on its competition, with Sony and Microsoft yet to confirm that new and improved Xbox and PlayStation consoles are around the corner - although all rumours point to their arrival this year.
Meanwhile, Nintendo's latest home console is another package of innovation and familiar fun for fans, with just a few minor quirks. Only time will tell if Nintendo can repeat its success.
- Sydney Morning Herald