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Nintendo’s new Wii U hopes to redefine the way we play.

So much for virtual bowling. Having inspired 86 million players to embrace motion-controlled active play, Nintendo hopes its new system, the Wii U, will take video games to the next level. The console offers Internet connectivity and sports a front-facing camera for videoconferencing, and the new tabletlike controller boasts a 6.2-inch touch screen and gesture sensors (unfortunately, it’s sadly incapable of functioning as a stand-alone portable). Especially beneficial is the ability to switch a game from the television to the controller with the flick of a switch, meaning (hopefully) a little less fighting over who gets to watch TV. The upgraded controller also allows users to sketch hand-drawn images or enjoy zoomed-in or aerial views of on-screen TV action. Other possible applications include holding it as a shield to block incoming attacks or swiping a hand to hurl throwing stars. Backward-compatible with Wii games, accessories and controllers, it offers HD graphics but not upscaling of older titles. For all its added dimensions, though, several big questions remain: Can it attract hard-core gamers? Do designers know what to do with it? And does its growing complexity defeat the Wii’s greatest asset — intuitive, all-ages appeal? Expect answers when the console ships in 2012.