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Bring on the Zombies

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Nintendo is doing its own zombie act: coming back from the dead with the new Wii U, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Are you prepared for the Zombie apocalypse? It’s a concept that has long been viral on the Internet, inspiring numerous guidebooks on how to prepare for both the day and night of the living dead. You can even explore a version of Google Maps adapted to show the level of likely zombie infestation across the globe (see http://www.mapofthedead.com/map/), and highlighting resources like pharmacies, hardware stores and police stations, where you would find handy resources to help survive the undead onslaught. Medicine, guns, axes and baseball bats will be high on your shopping list.

Sadly, preparing for the apocalypse only by reading a map is like learning to drive using a mapbook. You also need on-the-job training.

Enter an unlikely ally: Nintendo. It is the old-timer of the gaming console industry, and rapidly falling behind Sony and Microsoft. These global giants have brought the industry back to life, respectively, with a new version of the PlayStation Portable, called the Vita, and an add-on to the Xbox, the Kinect.

As a result, many have predicted the demise of Nintendo, which had stunned competitors a few years ago with the family-friendly Wii and Wii Fit, which turned a computer gaming device into a home gym. The combination took gaming out of the domain of the kids and nerds, and made it a family affair.

But ‚family-friendly‚ eventually becomes equated with ‚dull‚ . When Sony and Microsoft upped their game, so to speak, Nintendo sales took a dive.

Now, like the monster that wouldn’t die, Nintendo is about to lurch out of the tomb once more. In recent weeks, it began demonstrating prototypes of two new devices, the Wii U GamePad, and the 3DS XL.

The U is a handheld console not startlingly different to the PlayStation Vita at first sight, but with an edge. Unlike the competing devices, when you buy the U, you don’t have to throw out the old Wii. Instead, it complements it by acting as both a controller for the Wii, and offering a third person viewpoint of Wii action. In some games, it adds new layers, functioning as a diagnostic tool, weapon, or anything else the game designers conceive. And it is an independent portable gaming console in its own right.

The games demonstrated on the Wii U in Johannesburg last week were mostly of the family-friendly variety, filled with far-too-cute aliens and princesses. But there is an exception: Zombie U.

It is as dark, vicious and disturbing as you could wish in a zombie game. Playing on a big screen, you explore a burnt out shell of London, and a deserted Buckingham Palace. In a neat touch, one of the weapons you find is a cricket bat, underlining the cultural differences between killing zombies in the UK versus the USA.

The Wii U’s high-definition LCD touch-screen creates a second window into the game. While you are part of the action on the big screen, the U can scan the environment as well as dead bodies to detect tools, weapons and other shopping list items.

If someone wants to watch normal TV, the gamer can shift the action onto the U GamePad, and skulk off to kill the undead in private.

Mysteriously, the GamePad includes a camera. Nintendo is not yet revealing how it will be used, but it opens up new possibilities, like immersing your image directly into the action.

In other words, the U is far more than a useful training tool for taking out zombies. It also reveals that the evolution of gaming proceeds apace.

As if to underline that, Nintendo also announced a large new 3DS. Called the XL, for extra large, it retains the dual-screen format of the DS and 3DS, but with screens double the size. The main screen will provide higher definition 3D than its predecessor, and help set a new bar for immersiveness in games. It will be released in South Africa at the end of the July. while the U will hit the shelves in November, in time for the holiday season.

Around that time, Sony and Microsoft will wish the dead would just stay dead.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter at @art2gee

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