The last time I got excited about a new video game system was in September 1999, when Sega introduced the Dreamcast.
It had a 128-bit processor — back when that was an important statistic — as well as great launch titles like Sonic Adventure and SoulCalibur. It also had a $299 price tag.
I was 10; my brother and I had just scraped together $40 for a used Sega Genesis. That was our first system, followed by an NES that hardly worked, a Super Nintendo bought from a classmate, and an Atari found at a garage sale for $7.
We saw the Dreamcast as a luxury item reserved for a select few, not something we could ever imagine owning. I remember playing it at Zellers and glancing sadly as I left the store, knowing it was not to be.
The reason I mention all this is that the memories all came flooding back last week, when Nintendo announced the launch date and price for its new console, the Wii U, with a glitzy press conference in New York City.
The system will reach stores on Nov. 18 with a retail price of $299 for the basic unit. A deluxe set with a pack-in game, a charging dock for the controller and extra memory will cost $50 more.
The big deal with the Wii U is the GamePad, the fancy new wireless controller, featuring a built-in touch screen surrounded by buttons. Some games can be played using just the controller screen, freeing up the TV for other use.
Unlike the Wii — which was designed to appeal to kids, geriatrics and every demographic in between — the new system is targeted at hardcore gamers, perhaps the only reliable market in an era when every tablet and phone under the sun can fulfill the needs of casual players.
I haven’t laid my hands on the Wii U yet — the Times-Herald’s invitation to New York must’ve gotten lost in the mail — but even from 2,000 miles away, I find it simply overwhelming.
First, the name’s juvenile and confusing, if not plain stupid. “We You?” Enough with the pronouns. If they’re aiming for hardcore gamers, they could have chosen something aggressive, like “Deathbox” or “Pixeltron” or “Spriteblaster.”
I’m also perplexed at why they’re releasing it here three weeks before it comes out in Japan. Normally, the situation is reversed; for instance, Super Mario Bros. 3 was released in 1988 but didn’t reach the U.S. until two years later. Maybe we’re getting the beta version so they can work out the kinks out first.
Finally, I’m not sure how I like the idea of controllers the size of tablet computers. CNET says they’re lightweight and small enough for a child to grasp, but they look massive and awkward to me. I suspect they’ll drain batteries quickly and be expensive to replace or repair.
I know young Joel would be devastated, but it’s the truth: the latest system on the block is within both my reach and my price range, and I don’t really care.
It could be that I’m getting too old and too busy for new toys. Perhaps I’m content with the mountain of games I currently possess (and no longer have the time to play). Maybe Nintendo has relied on gimmicks and the same characters for too long.
For now, I’ll just stick with the oldies — at least, while I’m holding out for Sega to come back and give us the Deathbox.
(P.S. I finally bought a second-hand Dreamcast last year for $25 and it was just as awesome as my 10-year-old self had imagined. Crazy Taxi forever.)
Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.