Nintendo Wii U games go free-to-play in 2013 with Tank! Tank! Tank!

Nintendo Wii U represents a lot of firsts for the Kyoto-based company. It’s the first Nintendo home console to receive multiple firmware updates within days of its release. It’s the very first Nintendo console to offer up all of its retail games as downloadable titles at the exact same time they come out in stores. It’s the first Nintendo console to make backwards compatibility with its predecessor, namely the Wii, a ridiculous chore. It’s also going to be the very first Nintendo console to offer free-to-play video games.  What will new Wii U owners be able to play for nothing at first and in tiny increments after that?

Namco Bandai’s arcade shooter launch game Tank! Tank! Tank! is going free-to-play in 2013 but only in Japan to start. The publisher will offer the game as an upgradeable demo starting early next year. Here’s how it works: Downloading the Tank!! Tank! Tank! basic pack from the eShop doesn’t cost a dime and includes access to the City Map alongside the multiplayer modes Free For All, Giant Monster, and Team Battle mode. While this content’s free, you can only play three times a day.

After that, you’d got to pay for each piece of the game. The multiplayer My Kong mode, where one player on the GamePad controls a giant monster and the others control tanks trying to bring them down runs an extra 1,000 yen ($12.) Additional multiplayer areas like Volcano, Beach, and Canyon run 200 yen ($2.30) a pop, while the single player mode costs 2,200 yen ($26) on its own. At the end of January, unlocking the full game via the eShop will cost 5,040 yen ($66), more than the $60 price tag on the current retail version of the game.

Nintendo has said all along that it would encourage Wii U developers to embrace all different sales models on the new eShop, including free-to-play. Shortly after E3 2012, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata emphasized how his company was embracing alternative digital distribution pricing. “With respect to the Wii U system, when we began working on it, one of our goals was to have a variety of purchase options and additional e-commerce options available at its launch,” Iwata said during an investor question and answer session,”And because of that, we have prepared a Digital Rights Management system. We have designed the system from a technical standpoint to allow developers to freely take advantage of things like free-to-play and micro transactions.“

Tank! Tank! Tank! will be an interesting test for the Wii U, at least in Japan. Namco has only confirmed the piecemeal downloadable version for its homeland, not the US or Europe. Considering the success of other free-to-play games involving tanks like the 45 million player-strong World of Tanks, Namco will likely move the new version overseas in short order.

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