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Plugged In

The Wii U: What we know so far

Plugged In

When it comes to shocking new hardware, no one does it quite like Nintendo.

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Wii U console (Nintendo)

Remember the first time you saw the Wii's motion-controllers in action? Or witnessed the 3DS' glasses-free 3D tech firsthand? They might have had a rough 2011, but, sink or swim, Nintendo is pretty fearless when it comes to releasing daring new gaming gadgetry.

And they're about to do it again with the Wii U. While it's far, far too early to weigh in with a verdict about whether or not the anticipated system will enjoy anywhere near the success of its forebear, we still know a good deal about it already.

It's coming out this year.

When, exactly? We won't know that until Nintendo is good and ready to tell us. We'd expect to hear an announcement prior to the E3 convention in June, however, as Nintendo has already indicated that they plan to release the Wii U sometime between E3 and the end of 2012.

It's got a crazy new controller.

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Wii U controller (Nintendo)

You've undoubtedly seen pics of the Wii U controller at work, and probably are a little confused by what, exactly, this tablet thing can do.

The controller is roughly the size of an iPad and indeed features a 6.2" touchscreen, along with an array of buttons, two analog sticks, a front-facing camera, an accelerometer and a gyroscope. The point of such a clunky piece of hardware? You'll be able to swap the image from the TV screen to the controller at the touch of a button, allowing you to keep playing your game if someone in the house wants to use the TV. Very thoughtful.

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But don't think of it like a Nintendo-branded iPad or anything. The controller will apparently only have single-touch capability (unlike an iPad or iPhone), so you won't be pinching and zooming Mario.  However, the gameplay possibilities are very, very cool.

It will be backwards compatible.

All those Wii games gathering dust on the shelf will, for a while at least, be just fine remaining on the shelf instead of being shipped out to the garage. The Wii U will fully support Wii games and Wii hardware, including the seventy-five Wii controllers you crammed into the bottom drawer of your entertainment center.

It's in HD. Really.

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Wii U Zelda demo (Nintendo)

"It looks good…for a Wii game."

How many times has that phrase been uttered since 2006? Enough for Nintendo to finally address the biggest issue with their motion-sensing machine: its dated, lackluster graphics.

The Wii U console will output in glorious 1080p HD, supporting 16:9 anamorphic widescreen via a built-in HDMI port. That brings it to parity with the Xbox 360 and PS3, though the manner in which developers use the power of the system itself — said to be burlier than the PS3 and Xbox 360, but not by a lot -- will ultimately dictate how good its games will look.

It should provide a better online experience than the Wii.

Not that that's saying much — the Wii's online network is light years behind what Sony and Microsoft have managed with the PS3 and Xbox 360.

But at least this time around, Nintendo realizes that building a solid online infrastructure from the get-go is a good idea. One rumor indicates that EA's Origin service could do some of the heavy lifting, although lining up an exclusive partner like that doesn't jibe well with Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime's assertion that they're aiming to create a "flexible" online environment.

A more recent report also points to an app store, which would also bring Nintendo up to speed with the wide variety of services available to users of Microsoft and Sony machines. This isn't exactly Nintendo's strong suit, but there's reason to be optimistic.

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