Nintendo's recently released next generation entertainment console, the Wii U, is an interesting device. At the center of the new console is a wild hybrid controller/tablet which brings touch and touch gestures to the traditional console experience.
It's a cool concept, although in many ways it's one that's very familiar. The iPad, the iPhone and Android tablets abound, and most of us are already enjoying some form of touch screen gaming. What the Wii has going for it is the classic living room gaming/media experience. Fortunately, even without the Wii, you can get a taste of this kind of setup with the mobile gaming ecosystems you're already invested in:
Apple TV with AirPlay Mirroring
If you're an Apple household, you're probably already fully equipped with iPads and iPhones and maybe even the reasonably affordable Apple TV. If so, the configuration offered by the Wii U is already old news.
With an outstanding selection of games, iOS is deadly competition against the incumbent console kings in the battle for your couch. Pair that with Airplay mirroring and the Wii U starts to look like child's play. For the uninitiated, AirPlay mirroring lets you connect your Apple TV with your iPad or iPhone, streaming the action happening on your device to the big screen.
Many games even offer multiplayer modes, which unlike the Wii U, let multiple players pair touch screen gaming with the big screen in the middle of your living room. Check out this list from Apple'N'Apps for a breakdown of Airplay Mirroring compatible games.
But What About Android? PC?
If you've always been more of a PC gamer than a console fan, then you're more likely to have a media PC hooked up to your big screen TV than a video game console. If you also use an Android phone than you'll want to check out WanderPlayer on the Google Play store, a neat little app which lets you configure that beautiful new Nexus 4 (or whatever latest Android phone has captured your affection) to act as a highly customizable gaming controller for your PC.
I've also had great luck using apps like Unified Remote and the Official XBMC Remote on Android, letting me control my media PC connected TV with my Android phone or Nexus 7 tablet from the comfort of my couch. Browse XBMC (the highly configurable open source media PC software), Netflix, or just open up couch mode in Vimeo or YouTube and enjoy all your downloaded content and web that Nintendo struggles to offer with the Wii.
One thing the Wii U has going for it is physical buttons. If you grew up in the 80's and 90's you likely have your favorite controller configuration, and a touch screen alone just isn't enough.
Ten One Design offers a solution with these handy and adaptable thumb pads which easily snap (via suction cup) to your tablet or smartphone to give you a more tactile option for playing some of your favorite games. With two sliding joysticks, the Fling Mini works really well with any dual joystick games, including some of my favorite mobile offerings, like retro classic PewPew on Android, or Android and iOS favorite (and Airplay compatible) Modern Combat 3.
Your other option here is to use a Bluetooth or USB controller with your Android device. The Wii and the Playstation wireless controllers both use Bluetooth to connect, so with a bit of patience you can use your classic physical controller of choice to control your tablet or smart phone gaming. Many Android tablets also offer a USB host port, which let you simply connect any PC USB controller for instant physical controls on your tablet of choice.
Pair that with the HDMI out port on your favorite Android device, and voila! Your Android tablet or smartphone becomes a living room gaming console with a wide range of games and web connected apps (and don't forget those retro console emulators) that in some ways even rivals the Wii U.
The Wii U is a device in the midst of an identity crisis. Clearly a response to the tablet and smartphone encroaching on the living room gaming territory that used to be Nintendo's wheelhouse, the Wii U is sort of a tablet, mostly a traditional console, barely a media distribution device. With a wide array of alternatives, it just may not be enough to fend off mobile in the battle for for your leisure hours and play time.
While every kid at heart born between the 80's and the year 2000 will still likely want their Mario fix, for a whole new generation this is likely becoming less of a necessity. Games like Angry Birds have the branding and popularity to take a big bite out of Nintendo's pie, and while Nintendo will still likely sell a deluge of these devices this Christmas, the Mario Battle Mode for your living room gaming and media experience is really heating up.
(Images: as linked, lead image: Sean Rioux)