Following the release of the iPad the online rumor mill now needs to find something else to focus on. The product most likely to fill that gap is Nintendo’s successor to the Wii. Since its launch in 2006, speculation has steadily been mounting about what features the next-gen Wii will pack and when it will appear. As usual, Nintendo hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with any details about its follow up console, prompting information hungry fans to gobble up any morsel of gossip. So we decided to put our ear to the ground in an attempt to glean just what the next-generation Wii will offer.
The holy grail of Wii 2 (or Wii HD, or whatever name you want to guess at) related info is surely the tech specs. So far the only thing anyone seems to agree on is that the next-gen Wii will be HD – which is pretty much a given. With its maximum resolution of 480p there has been constant speculation about an HD upgrade to existing consoles to put it on an equal graphical footing with the Xbox 360 and PS3. Even upon the Wii’s release there were rumors that a HD upgrade would be possible with a firmware update. [Wii’re Gamers] Nintendo denied the rumors and, given that it's almost four years since it was launched, it is obvious such an upgrade is not going to happen.
In October last year a poster on the French website, Logic-Sunrise, claimed a reliable source at Nintendo had revealed that, in an attempt to combat piracy, the Wii 2 would sport a Blu-ray drive. It would also have a simultaneous worldwide release some time in 2010 and that Nintendo would offer some kind of trade in offer on current Wiis. The Blu-ray drive is a real possibility, the 2010 release date is looking less and less likely, and a Nintendo buyback of current Wii consoles to go towards a new console just seems like wishful thinking. [Google translation of Logic-Sunrise via Crunchgear]
With an expected greater emphasis on digital distribution and backward compatibility another feature the next-gen Wii is almost certain to get is increased local storage space. Thanks to an update in 2009 the Wii now allows the loading of Virtual Console and WiiWare games directly from SDHC cards up to 32GB in size. This is up from the unit’s 512MB of internal flash memory, which quickly proved woefully inadequate following the success of Virtual Console and WiiWare. Nintendo won’t to make the same mistake again. [What they play]
While HD graphics and increased memory storage will be nice, it isn’t enough for Nintendo to release a new console. Earlier this year during a Q&A; session at an investors meeting, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, who was asked about the rumored Wii HD, said, "If asked if making the Wii compatible with high definition - just making it compatible with high resolution - will get players throughout the world to buy it, I would of course say, 'Do you think it would sell with just that? It needs something new.'" [andriasang]
Truer words were never spoken. After all it was the Wii’s innovative motion controller that captured the imagination of casual gamers and led to it outselling both its high definition capable rivals. It’s unlikely such an audience will be likely to be tempted by a new Wii if its main selling point was HD graphics. However, with both Microsoft and Sony bringing out motion controllers for their respective hardware this year in the form of Natal and the Playstation Move, Nintendo needs to up the ante again. Just how it’s going to do that is anyone’s guess, but the company is no doubt working on it.
Nintendo of America President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé, is quoted as saying, “we pride ourselves on the big innovative jump, typically in the area of the consumer experience. The way we approach that innovation, because we have hardware developers working side by side with software developers, is that when the software developer comes forward with an idea that can't be executed on the current platform, that's when we start thinking seriously about the next system. We're not there yet, from a Wii perspective.” [Forbes]
But I suspect comments from Iwata are more credible. "As soon as a new system is complete -- from the very moment it is complete - we're thinking about the plan for the next game machine," he said when quizzed about a successor to the Wii. "We believe there's still more we can do with the Wii," he added. [andriasang]
At the Nintendo Media Summit in February this year Nintendo America’s Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing, Cammie Dunaway, confirmed the company starts working on new hardware as soon as a platform is launched. She also further hosed down speculation of an imminent Wii replacement saying she didn’t think there will be new hardware “anytime soon.” Comparing the sales of the Wii to the PS2 she said that, even though the Wii had outsold the PS2 compared to the same point in its lifecycle, it was still some way off reaching the overall total sales of the PS2, which indicated the current Wii “still has a lot of room to grow. [Gamespot]
Such comments suggest the rumors of a Wii successor being released this year are overly optimistic. Even though sales slumped last year, a price drop brought a dramatic turnaround with more than three million consoles being sold in the US in December 2009, setting a regional record for the month. This coupled with the fact that the total worldwide sales figure of 70.93 million units to the end of 2009 is still a long way off the more than 140 million PS2’s sold as of October, 2009 and Nintendo really doesn’t have a reason to replace it. [Sales figures via Wikipedia]
Instead the company looks to be focusing on the introduction of new content for the current Wii. This includes big franchise titles such as Metroid Other M and Super Mario Galaxy 2, and titles geared towards more hardcore gamers along with the introduction of Netflix video streaming in the US.
Depending on how you look at it, Nintendo is either much better than Apple at keeping details from being leaked, or much worse at generating advance publicity. Either way it appears the only way we’re going to actually learn anything concrete about the Wii 2 is when Nintendo wants us too, which could well be as little as a month before the new console is actually released – provided some Nintendo employee doesn’t accidentally leave one in a bar before then.