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Nintendo ups its game with next-generation console

The new game console called Wii U is seen on a large screen during a news conference by Nintendo at the Electronic Entertainment Expo on June 7, 2011 in Los Angeles. Iwata said that Wii U will be compatible with all other Wii accessories.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Nintendo Co. is hoping it has forever solved family disputes about who gets to use the television.

After weeks of speculation, the Japanese gaming giant unveiled the successor to its Wii console at a gaming conference in Los Angeles. The Wii U, which will go on sale between April and December of 2012, features a 6.2-inch tablet-like controller that can interact with the larger TV screen and doubles as a standalone handheld device – allowing players to switch seamlessly between the two.

The Wii was a game-changer in the industry when it launched in 2006 – its motion control system proved wildly popular among families and casual players. Nintendo has sold 86 million units since it hit stores, but sales have been slumping over the last couple of years. The company's two biggest rivals – Sony and Microsoft – have made their own bid for the lucrative casual gaming market, releasing similar camera systems for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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Now, as those systems offer both motion-control and high-definition graphics, Nintendo is fighting to maintain its grip on the market it so successfully tapped. With the new system, it's also trying to bridge the gap between casual and hard-core players: While the Wii U's controller can be used to make voice calls, take pictures and run old Nintendo games, it also features an array of buttons, which will appeal to players who like first-person shooters and brawlers.

"Wii games did have the advantage of having easy-to-use controls, but the graphics lagged behind and it didn't have a good online multiplayer system," said Peer Schneider, publisher of IGN Entertainment. "Now it's pulling forward on the graphics. It seems like they're trying to appeal to everyone."

Because casual consumers aren't willing to pay as much as core gamers for consoles, pricing will be an important factor in determining its success, Mr. Schneider said. The Wii U does not yet have a price tag, but industry watchers said they expect it to be in the $299 range.

The Wii U "represents a major step toward reaching our goal" of reaching every kind of player, Nintendo Global president Satoru Iwata said at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

"Will U will be equally satisfying to all? No machine has done that before," Mr. Iwata said. "It will offer deeper and wider experiences than any gamer has realized before. It will let everyone see games in a different way."

Wii U is the first new home console in five years.

Sony began selling its PlayStation 3 home console in November, 2006, while Microsoft's Xbox 360 console became available in November, 2005. Both consoles have sold steadily, and neither hardware maker has revealed immediate plans for new systems.

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With files from Associated Press

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