We like the Nintendo Wii U's novel premise, we really do. Half embracing the new touchscreen tablet paradigm while at the same time mixing in huge motion-sensing controllers with on-TV video action just seems bold, crazy, and adorably weird. And yes, possibly game-changing. But it might be a doomed effort before it even launches. Wii U isn't due until some ill-defined moment in 2012, and Apple, Sony, and other competitors are touting very similar, if not far superior, efforts that are scheduled to arrive much sooner.
iDevices and the Apple TV
Hitting the news now is a proof-of-concept game design from Firemint that links an iPad to an HDTV via an Apple TV and Apple's own AirPlay wireless technology. The game is top-seller Real Racing 2 HD, and the setup is simple: Your iPad hosts the game, with its touchscreen displaying ancillary data (real-time "telemetry," as it were) and settings options, and you use it to steer and control your race car. The game action itself is displayed on your big-screen TV through a $99 Apple TV.
That's a 10-inch tablet streaming two HD-resolution images (one at 1080p full HD), with sophisticated motion controls. Plus, unlike the Wii U's "tablet," you can take the iPad elsewhere, and use it for all sorts of non-gaming purposes.
Sure, the iPad costs more, Apple's gaming developer community doesn't necessarily have the chops that Nintendo can manage, and all this requires Apple's iOS 5 update, which isn't due until fall. But AirPlay will also be possible via the iPhone 5 and 2011's iPod Touch, and probably older gear, too, which brings the price down. And there are tens of thousands of games available in the App Store already.
Sony's PlayStation Vita may have a silly name that sounds more like an energy drink than a gaming system, but it's an extremely powerful handheld that sports more computing power than the Space Shuttle (okay, all three shuttles, several times over). It has two touch-senstitve interfaces with one on its HD screen and one on its rear face.
This week the developers of role-playing game Ruin showed off exactly how potent its skills are by showing the PSV continuing a game that was mid-play on a PS3 at exactly the same point, with all the surrounding goings-on from enemies and so on. Syncing happens via the cloud, and it's seamless.
It's not dual-screen gaming, but it's almost more powerful--you can simply pick up the action mid-game and take it with you from your spot on the sofa to wherever you need to be (imagining Dad has really put his foot down, and you have to get in the car to go visit Granny). And we know that current-gen PSPs can interact with a PS3 to act as controllers--so we imagine the PSV's ability to interact with a "mother" console would be even more sophisticated.
And don't forget OnLive--the upstart "non-console" gaming console that acts as a host for a game hosted on OnLive's servers somewhere else in the cloud. It works on TVs, computers and now iPads--with clever touchscreen controls to replicate the more traditional keys-and-joysticks input that games use. This week OnLive showed a Bluetooth controller that connects to an iPad to replicate a joypad's functionality, meaning you could play a console game on your TV streamed via AirPlay...without a console. And you still get the benefits of all the other things an iPad can do.
We wish Wii U the best, but it may be arriving a little late--and a little underdressed--to the gaming party.
[Image: Flickr user ho-fosho]