Nintendo Co Ltd will launch a console with a dedicated Super Mario game title for the first time in 16 years, as the struggling Japanese company hopes the new Wii U will score the rave reviews that helped make its predecessor the world's biggest gaming hit.
Nintendo, which was knocked off its perch at the pinnacle of gaming industry hardware by Microsoft's Xbox in recent years, formally unveiled its distinctly white console on Tuesday, saying it will support two "GamePad" controllers designed to look and function like tablets.
Super Mario U was made specifically to tap the Wii U's controller, they said. The last time Nintendo published a new Super Mario title when a home console was introduced was in 1996, with the Nintendo 64.
"Every time a new Nintendo home console is announced, we start hearing familiar feedback from long term fans: 'Sounds great but you've got to have a Mario game,' " Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told a packed theater at the E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles.
The decades-old Super Mario franchise features its namesake plumber traversing different adventure scenarios. Executives showed off different levels featuring its signature fixtures: Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Gumbas. It spearheaded Tuesday's presentation of a plethora of games intended for the Wii U, including NintendoLand.
Analysts said Nintendo, which traces its origins back more than a century to the streets of Kyoto, badly needs a hit.
Nintendo needs to fend off upstart challengers like casual game makers and apps for mobile devices like Apple Inc's iPad, which are making inroads into the $78-billion videogame market.
In 2011, it launched the 3DS handheld device to disappointing initial sales in part because at first it lacked new versions of its top games.
The original Wii revolutionized the industry by introducing motion-controlled gaming, and outsold rivals like the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 3. But sales have been slowing, triggering the company's first annual operating loss and a major stock slide.
The "Wii U" – which will carry video content from Netflix Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Google Inc's YouTube and Hulu – will hit store shelves in time for the holidays. Nintendo did not put a price tag on the device.
The first console from Nintendo in six years will also come with a social gaming network dubbed "Miiverse." The new device will also have a headphone jack, a camera in the front allowing for videochat, and a microphone.
While investor reaction has so far been lukewarm on the Wii U, the videogame industry is embracing the first console to hit the market in years. Ubisoft said on Monday it is developing eight games for the Wii U's launch.
Executives at Ubisoft said the company was lured by the chance to have players use two screens in one game.
"The Wii U is really interesting in terms of asymmetrical game play, with one player doing something and one other player doing something at the same time," Xavier Poix, studio director of Ubisoft France, said in an interview.
For instance, players can use the stylus on the GamePad to draw bridges in the game to help or hinder their friends who are playing together using Wiimotes, for example, and also play the game independently on the GamePad even if the TV is off.
The company also showed off games made by other companies built for the Wii U, such as Warner Brother's Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition.