Thursday, April 11, 2013
Analysis: The Wii U Launch Part 2 Turning on the System
So you bought a Wii U, now what? Well if you bought a launch Wii U, then your first boot is greeted by one of the most daunting day 1 software updates in history. Initially the press was unable to complete their reviews of the hardware because this patch, which enabled core system components like MiiVerse and the digital store front Nintendo eShop, was not available until hours before retail released the console into the wild (Engadget story the day the patch went live: http://goo.gl/AVBOS). The patch was bulky and slow to download, and confusion and/or bad luck during the install caused some gamers to accidentally brick their consoles, which means render them inoperable (source: http://goo.gl/dDZ4z). Truth be told I tried to find an article stating when the day 1 patch was included in the retail shipments of Wii U. I want to believe that anyone who buys the console moving forward no longer has to do this, but unfortunately I do not have anything supporting that. The software should be a more recent version in retail now than what early adopters dealt with.
Getting past the patch issues, what happens next? Unlike former Nintendo systems, on the Wii U users get to create an online account that allows them to access MiiVerse and the Nintendo eShop. There are some quirky things about how Nintendo implemented user accounts. For starters there are no system level achievements (something gamers who have experience with Steam, Xbox, or PlayStation have gotten used to seeing). Also your accounts are tied to your console, which means unless you contact Nintendo for assistance with a legitimately busted system, your purchases, save data, etc. are stuck on the hardware you created your account on. This also differs from some system, such as Xbox, where you can look-up your account on a friend's system and move your ID over for multiplayer sessions. Doing a Google search for this topic brings up a myriad of articles focused on what happens if your console breaks as well as what happens if you buy a used console (search results: http://goo.gl/MjCJq).
The good news is that most of the scary stuff is out of the way. The good stuff is more fun to talk about. For starters, taking a step back and looking at the hardware, the Wii U is much sleeker and entertainment center friendly than previous Nintendo machines. The GamePad itself is sturdy. The buttons feel good, and the device is not too heavy. You can check the system out at demo kiosks in most major electronic stores and GameStop locations, so I will not belabor the design here nor will I deep dive into the tech, which is pretty interesting in and of itself (check the Iwata asks hardware edition for some cool details http://goo.gl/bF4Z9 or check out iFixit's teardown http://goo.gl/HS0Ij). One additional note though, all Wii peripherals are meant to be compatible with the system. I honestly have only used my Wii-mote during the system transfer process and while playing Nintendoland, but Wii-motes, the motion sensor, the Wii Balance Board, etc. should all be compatible with your Wii U system. The system does play Wii discs, albeit through a built in emulator. I kind of lied before about being done with the scary stuff, but this part is optional. If you owned a Wii and opt to move your content to a Wii U, there is a system transfer process that is honestly more trouble than it is worth. Not all games are transferrable (Lost Winds refused to transfer from my system http://goo.gl/tijzv), and the content that does transfer as well as your ability to play Wii discs are all driven by an emulator as I mentioned before. You basically have to switch your console into Wii compatibility mode via an application on the home menu. The process takes quite a while, and it may not be entirely worth it. The Wii U cannot play GameCube games, so some people may prefer to just keep the Wii connected if they still use it for an extensive library of Virtual Console games, any WiiWare titles that do not transfer, or to play GameCube discs. The only other note on hardware I have is that you may also want to purchase a separate hard drive. The Wii U comes in two SKUs, Deluxe and Basic. Even the Deluxe only has less than 30 GBs of storage available for game data, which is not much for digital game buyers (storage details: http://goo.gl/OLlzZ, external hard drive guidelines: http://goo.gl/DqLqk).
As far as applications go, there are some decent ones baked into the system as well as some cool stuff available on the Nintendo eShop. As usual Nintendo charm is apparent in everything. The music is relaxing on almost every menu you navigate to, and the interface is intuitive. One thing you will notice right away is the Wara-Wara plaza. This is the main screen where Miis congregate across systems. You will be treated to the most popular MiiVerse posts here, and you can set what type of games you want displayed in the plaza via parental controls (I had to swap to child friendly titles after the ZombiU stuff kept popping up). There is a great article with Nintendo developers and executives explaining the motivation for this type of social platform on a gaming console or as they call it "an empathy network" (http://goo.gl/bIynY). It goes into more detail than I will, but some of the features include posting screenshots from games you are in, liking posts from other uses (called "Yeah" in MiiVerse), and more recently filtering content based on who actually owns the game or who you are friends with. The features are actually very similar to communities in Steam for PC gamers. It can be a lot of fun aside from the excessive "should I get this game?" posts and the small percentage of users begging for "Yeah" responses. They are constantly updating and improving the social aspects based on feedback as well.
Finally before wrapping up this installment, I want to heap some praise on Nintendo for dramatically improving its digital store. The Nintendo eShop (same name as the 3DS Nintendo eShop; however, they are not currently connected nor do they share accounts or currency, stay tuned for news from Nintendo on that front) contains a lot of first day digital games, some great Indie titles, and soon a full Virtual Console. They are releasing Virtual Console games one per month for 30 cents leading up to the full Virtual Console launch later this year. I believe Kirby's Adventure is the current 30 cent title as of this writing. You can also connect your eShop account to Club Nintendo for great rewards including games and physical products. Nintendo has run Club Nintendo for a long time, and it is a hidden gem. The rewards are often times rare merchandise or full games, and it is easier now than ever to get credit for hardware and game purchases (you can also take surveys on the games you buy for additional points). This is separate from Nintendo's "Digital Deluxe" promotion for early purchasers of the Deluxe Wii U SKU (for details on that promotion go here: http://goo.gl/eqIdB). Club Nintendo has been around for a while and hopefully will continue on for a while. Nintendo posts "How To" videos on their YouTube channel on some of these services, and I linked one related to Club Nintendo for reference. How to connect a Club Nintendo account to your Nintendo eShop data: http://goo.gl/jtnwA. Nintendo has significantly bridged the divide with Indie developers with this console, which will be a great content generation source moving forward (source: http://goo.gl/jY5DH).
The future is bright for the system software. The eShop continues to get content, MiiVerse is coming to smartphones and tablets (source: http://goo.gl/3M7iS), loading times will be improved with a couple of planned system updates (loading times to be discussed in a future installment), and the full Virtual Console will launch later this year. I got a little long winded on this installment of the Wii U launch analysis, but if you have questions about the system not covered above, feel free to sound off in the comments.