Thoughts and Impressions of the Wii U Hardware

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As of this writing, today marks the two-month anniversary of the launch of Nintendo’s latest home console, the Wii U. It might seem a little late to be offering up a review, but there is purpose behind the timing. Besides being slammed with other work and things over the holidays, it’s no big secret that the Wii U had a rough start in some ways, with certain features becoming available well after the launch (such as Nintendo TVii, which was added just before Christmas).

If you wanted a straight-up look at the hardware, there are other, bigger sites which had their units sooner, and those that heavily concerned have probably already checked them out and made their decisions well beforehand. I decided it might be better to wait until the dust settled around the system and its features, and then give it an overall more evaluative look for those who remain undecided.

Incidentally, I don’t consider this a review, per se. The system is just getting started, and more can change, but these are my thoughts and impressions of the system as they currently stand, having played it for the past two months. The game reviews are coming soon after this, as this is strictly about the system.

Miis and the Nintendo Network ID

Creating an ID (up to 12 are allowed) for yourself on the new Nintendo Network is quite simple, and simpler still if you have a Nintendo 3DS. This is due to the fact that you can import a Mii you’ve already created on the portable system to use with your account here. That, plus some basic information (gender, e-mail, birth date, etc.), and you’re ready to go. You can change this info at any time, but unlike simply logging in to use the system, you’ll have to remember a password to access your data.

The importing of Miis is a little bit nicer as well, as the Nintendo 3DS kind of forced the camera on you before allowing you to bring your Mii over from the Wii. Given that the Wii U GamePad features a built-in camera, it would have been all-too easy to make the same mistake. Nonetheless, if you don’t already have a Mii, don’t have a Nintendo 3DS, or simply want to give it another try, you can still use the camera to capture the real you and Mii-ify it.

(Personally speaking, I much prefer my “hand-crafted” Mii to the photo version.)

After creating your Nintendo Network ID, you can then proceed to link it to your Club Nintendo account, allowing for the automatic registration of downloaded games. However, as recently learned, this does not include games downloaded from the Wii Shop Channel in the console’s Wii Mode (which will be discussed at greater length later).

Unfortunately, unlike other systems which use network accounts (such as Xbox Live), the Nintendo Network ID seems more or less bound to the system, unless Nintendo transfers it themselves, meaning that you cannot login to play on your account on a friend’s Wii U. Perhaps this is just as well, as it does not seem that game save data is tied to the account, either; for example, New Super Mario Bros. U has three save files, period, and anyone logged into any account can access the same three files.

This has, however, given way to larger issues. Ars Technica called the restrictive Digital Rights Management “a baffling throwback” for numerous reasons, among which are the lack of an Apple or PlayStation Network-like ability for more than one system in a household to share the same games. As with Nintendo’s previous hardware, this means that if you wanted to download a game onto each hypothetical Wii U you own (one in the bedroom, one in the living room, let’s say), then you have to pay the full amount for each system, rather than having all units share an account.

Furthermore, word has recently spread about the fact that purchasing a second-hand Wii U will allow the new owner to download the old owner’s games, even with a new account. Ironically, if the old owner was opting to upgrade from the Basic Set to the Deluxe Set, they would not be afforded that same luxury.

The Update

Besides creating a Nintendo Network ID, one of the first things every user must do in order to experience the full potential of the Wii U– the Miiverse and eShop among them– is to install an update. And it’s no small update, either; some have reported having to wait as long as an hour or more for the 5GB update to download and finish installing. I’m happy to say that on a Rogers High Speed internet connection, it didn’t take nearly that long.

“And this is Nintendo, for crying out loud,” says GamesRadar, “the company that used cartridges for the N64 to avoid long load times! The Wii U’s first patch takes longer to load than every single N64 game combined– think about that while you wait for Miiverse to download.”

Of course, the need for the update right out of the box is unfortunate, particularly if you were looking at giving the console to someone as a gift. Nintendo of America even urged users on its official Twitter account to do the installing beforehand so that the recipient will be ready to go. I can only imagine that might lend itself to the awkward decision of giving someone a Wii U that isn’t “ready” to go or having them tear into a gift that’s already been opened (personally speaking, I have a tough time getting everything back in place just so).

On top of that, there are risks involved with the massive update, as there have been reports of the console “bricking” as a result of power being lost or the connection being dropped during the sometimes-lengthy download/installation process, effectively making the device useless. It’s unfortunate that the console is prone to such potential dangers.

I can only speculate, but my guess would be that the programming was not finished in time for the first batch of consoles to be manufactured, packaged, and shipped. With any luck, some point in the future will see the update pre-installed on the machines before they leave the factory.

That said, I do not know currently whether or not this 5GB update takes up space permanently on the hard drive, though if it does, this could be a problem for those with the 8GB Basic Set. As it stands, I currently have 19GB left on the 32GB Deluxe Set, and while I do have a number of programs, demos, and save data shown in the data management, there is no icon regarding the update.

Dashboard/Home Menu

The system’s dashboard is very much like the one found on the Wii or the Nintendo 3DS, with rows of icons representing various games, programs, and so forth. At the bottom of each “page,” you can access the icons for the Miiverse, eShop, internet browser, Nintendo TVii, and notifications.

The Home menu doesn’t feature notifications, but does add the ability to check your Friend List to see who else is on, as well as to check on your downloads with the aptly-named Download Manager, plus controller settings and a system manual. It’s unfortunate that the Friend List is hidden away here, however, as you can befriend people on the Miiverse section, but it’s this separate section which not only tells you when they’re on, but also where it actually confirms that you’ve become friends. It’s a minor issue, but if you forget, you’ll have to click “OK” on several notices before being able to check anything within.

An interesting feature is that pressing the X button switches the view on the television and GamePad screens between the dashboard and the Miiverse Plaza, where you can look around at what people are playing and saying. The crazy part is that I’ve actually been able to identify people through their Miis, and add them to my “Follow” list.

There are other eccentricities as well; I had the icon for Wii U Chat flashing the other day for no apparent reason that I could tell from opening the app, and whenever I go to the Home menu, it always tells me “Data has finished downloading.” Every. Single. Time.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.