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The return of living room gaming: Why I'm buying a Wii U

I haven’t owned a gaming console since 1997, when GoldenEye 007 seemed to be the apex of technological sophistication. The console, a Nintendo 64, was powered by an NEC processor clocked at 100MHz with 24KB of L1 cache. Those specs are laughable now, but at the time they marked a massive leap from N64’s predecessor, Super Nintendo.

Since those days, though, my interest in gaming has faded. At some point between the release of N64 and the launch of the current-generation offerings from Nintendo competitors Sony and Microsoft, a new ethos took hold in mainstream gaming. Light-hearted adventure games like Mario Kart and Donkey Kong were replaced by more serious, less linear shoot ‘em up-style titles.

Over the past decade, gaming consoles and the titles developed for them have improved exponentially - the current-gen Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 offer insane graphics, heavy-duty processing and expansive ecosystems that incorporate such features as online multi-player functionality. Accordingly, as gaming technology grew more sophisticated, more people became hooked and the culture that emerged around video games turned hardcore, with a $100 billion (£62 billion) industry nudging it on.

But while there are evidently millions of people who want to get lost in a deep, layered, complex game for hours at a time, that’s not at all the kind of gaming experience I’m after. And that’s why I’m going to buy a Wii U, Nintendo’s latest, current-generation home console.

The release of the first Wii in 2006 hinted at the possible reversal of the single-player trend, shifting from the isolation engendered by many shoot ‘em up games to a more casual, family-oriented setting not unlike the experience of playing board games. That’s not to say its technology was as static as Monopoly or Cluedo - the Wii brought the concept of motion control into the living room and its graphics, although not groundbreaking, were decent enough. The Wii U builds on that user-friendly functionality, introducing the concept of dual-screen gaming to the mainstream.

“It's likely that faster processors and pretty pictures won't be enough to motivate consumers. [Competitors] need to react to what we've done and we need to continue innovating with the Wii U and we will,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told CNET last month.

Fils-Aime’s comment reinforces a statement from Nintendo in April, in which it told Yahoo’s Digital Trends that it does not “focus on technology specs. We understand that people like to dissect graphics and processing power, but the experience of playing will always be more important than raw numbers."

The console, which retails from £249, integrates a touchscreen Wii U GamePad as its primary controller and second screen. It’s powered by an IBM-built tri-core processor clocked at 1.24GHz and features an AMD Radeon HD GPU, with 2GB of RAM and 8GB or 32GB of onboard storage. Its tech specifications - and its online integration, according to some reviews - are hardly more impressive than those of most smartphones, but it wins out by having other, incomparable advantages.

By its very nature, the Wii U trumpets multi-player gaming with players you already know, bringing family and friends together in your living room in a way that is refreshingly reminiscent of the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 before it. Like those consoles and like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which re-piqued my interest in the idea of playing video games with friends, the Wii U is designed for same time, same place multi-player gaming.

Today’s games du jour - Call of Duty, Halo, et al., are premised on single-player or multi-player structures, with opponents who might be continents apart. They are intense, wholly immersive games that can go on for what seems like forever, requiring time and an emotional commitment that I’m not prepared to give to a video game. Yes, the technologies involved are certainly impressive, but the experience is far more involved than what I’m looking for.

The Wii U, meanwhile, encourages the opposite of that - same time, same place gaming. It also eradicates the elitist, intimidating attitudes that can exist in modern gaming. Most importantly, though, the Wii U encourages just plain old fun with everyone.

Want to find out more? Read our Nintendo Wii U review.