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A crop of new gaming peripherals is set to extend the Wii’s kid appeal

Before Nintendo unveiled its latest gaming goodies at E3 in July, it was hard to imagine how much more innovative gameplay could possibly get. The console that's sold 10.9 million units worldwide since its November 2006 debut has revolutionized the industry, and especially the kids and family segment of it. Prior to the event, software and peripheral manufacturers were busy melding the Wii's remote technology with new applications and entertainment licenses, but several hardware extensions introduced at E3 promise to make the experience more realistic and open up the field even wider.
September 1, 2008

Before Nintendo unveiled its latest gaming goodies at E3 in July, it was hard to imagine how much more innovative gameplay could possibly get. The console that’s sold 10.9 million units worldwide since its November 2006 debut has revolutionized the industry, and especially the kids and family segment of it. Prior to the event, software and peripheral manufacturers were busy melding the Wii’s remote technology with new applications and entertainment licenses, but several hardware extensions introduced at E3 promise to make the experience more realistic and open up the field even wider.

The most notable entry is the Wii MotionPlus (WMP), a small attachment for the Wii Remote controller that captures even more precise motions using Bluetooth technology. The first game to put the accessory in the spotlight is Wii Sports Resort (SRP US$49.99), which will come packaged with WMP when it lands at US retail in spring 2009.

The game, a sequel to the original Wii Sports, includes an assortment of outdoor sports activities that can still be enjoyed without the WMP. But the accessory really shines in games like Sword Play, where the head-to-head competitive experience is taken to a whole new level. Two players are pitted against each other, both equipped with a light saber-like sword, and the goal is to knock the opposing player out of the ring. The WMP senses every subtle twist of the wrist and accurately interprets the angles at which players are blocking their opponents’ blows. Other games included are Power Cruising, which requires gamers to hold the Wii Remote and Nunchuk the way they’d hold the steering wheel on a jetski, and Disc Dog, which involves throwing a Frisbee-like disc for a cute canine to catch.

Nintendo is also edging into the kids social networking arena, starting with the latest incarnation of its Animal Crossing franchise that’s scheduled to hit retail this holiday season. Animal Crossing: City Folk is a stripped-down, kid-friendly Sims-esque game with a simpler community feel to it. Individual avatars can troll online worlds where events happen in real-time, including holidays. (For example, players can go trick-or-treating on October 31.) They can also take a bus into town to watch magic shows or get a Mii makeover at the salon. Ultimately, the multiplayer game targeting the six to 11 crowd is about exploring the virtual world and building relationships with animals in the town.

Nintendo is further amping up this offering with the WiiSpeak microphone, which should sell separately for an SRP of US$29.99. The peripheral opens up more opportunities for expanding networking applications that have practically become expected features in kids games. It sits on top of the Wii sensor bar and acts like an old-fashioned telephone party line for the next-generation console. Using the Nintendo WiFi connection, any number of players in a single room within range of the microphone can talk to their friends anywhere in the world who have a WiiSpeak linked to their systems.

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