Nintendo's pre-E3 show just wrapped up, with an unprecedented focus on Wii U's online functions.

The machine's innovative new Miiverse online system took centre stage, and Nintendo's put it front and centre in the console itself too. When you power up your Wii U, you'll see the Miiverse Plaza, a vibrant, online connected community: other players will fill the plaza with comments about games they're playing, introducing you to new games and a whole community. Wii's online functions are all behind Channels; Wii U puts them right in your hands, right from the start.

It's the scope of the features that impress most, though. Miiverse aims to connect consoles and players even for single-player games.

Imagine playing the new Zelda and getting stuck in a temple; instead of opening up a strategy guide or a web browser, the Wii U's social networks can be accessed from any game with a few taps, suspending the game in the background. Post a message asking for help, and other users will be able to respond; if you get really stuck you can start a video chat with them to discuss strategies. You'll be able to check into the Miiverse on 3DS and, in future, all web-enabled devices.

No Nintendo console has offered such open communication before, and while that's damning with faint praise, Wii U truly does look leaps and bounds beyond Wii and even 3DS. While there will undoubtedly be limitations — hey, this is Nintendo we're talking about — the framework is far stronger than we've seen before.

Yet there's still an unmistakable air of Nintendo-ness to all this. Mii characters gathering around icons in a plaza; sending handwritten notes and doodles to friends and social networks; commiserating when you die on Super Mario Bros. for the hundredth time. It's less about connecting consoles and more about connecting players.

After spending so long trailing so far behind the competition, Nintendo could finally have an online service that leads the way.