Though past Nintendo consoles have offered online functionality, they’ve always paled in comparison to similar offerings from Microsoft and Sony. In an effort to ensure that gamers see the upcoming Wii U console as a truly viable online gaming platform, Nintendo has signed an agreement with peripheral maker Turtle Beach to develop two separate headsets specifically for the console that will allow Wii U owners to experience the same sort of gameplay experience they might find on other consoles. Specifically, 360 degree sound and the ability to shout taunts at whoever just shot your avatar in the head.
The less expensive of the headsets is dubbed the Ear Force NLa, and is expected to hit store shelves in time for the 2012 holiday season. It features a $35 price point, and according to Turtle Beach, offers “high-fidelity stereo game audio and crystal-clear communication in a sleek, lightweight and durable design.” It’s designed to plug directly into the Wii U’s GamePad controller, though helpfully Turtle Beach also made the device compatible with Nintendo’s 3DS and DS handhelds.
Unlike the NLa, which can be purchased in both black and white, its big brother, the Ear Force N11, is only available in black. It too should hit shelves in time for the holidays, but at a slightly higher $50 price point. The N11 features all the accoutrements of the NLa, except that its “acoustically angled 50mm speakers” offer superior sound, and its “lightweight headband and breathable mesh ear cushions” allow for comfortable play even during extended gaming sessions.
While these both seem like quite solid devices, the real news here is that Nintendo is making a direct move into territory that has been foreign to it for years. Microsoft and Sony have allowed players to chat back and forth while playing their games via headset for the majority of the past decade, and this deal with Turtle Beach appears to be an attempt by Nintendo to even the playing field a bit. Unfortunately, as both of these headsets are third-party devices that must be purchased separately from the Wii U, they won’t have the ubiquity of the Xbox 360’s headset, but it’s certainly a novel move for Nintendo.
Still, given the company’s long-standing attempts to sanitize its online experience, we’re curious to see how widely employed these devices might be. If Nintendo decides to prohibit free speech in online multiplayer games, they may effectively become merely nice pairs of headphones.