Nintendo’s Wii U gaming console hits store shelves in the United States on Sunday, November 18, and the new console is already garnering criticism for missing some key features Nintendo promised.
TVii, a social and interactive TV programming guide won’t ship until December, and video-streaming apps for Amazon on Demand, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube also are no shows at launch. And if you’re planning on storing a lot of data on your brand new Wii such as games and other digital content, you’d better opt for buying the top-end model or invest in some dedicated external hard drives.
Wii U basics
The Wii U will still be sold in two models, basic and deluxe. The $300 basic model features 8GB of storage and the $350 deluxe model has 32GB.
Despite criticisms, the Wii U is already generating excitement among gamers, critics, and analysts. Best Buy plans midnight release events at its locations across the U.S., and some prospective Wii U owners are already lining up at the Nintendo World store in New York City, CNET reports.
If you’re planning to get a Wii U this holiday season, you may want to buy one sooner rather than later. Market research firm IHS Screen Digest expects Nintendo to sell 3.5 million Wii U consoles worldwide by the end of December, and the demand will result in supply shortages during the holiday season. In late October, Nintendo said it expected to have Wii U supply problems during the holidays.
It’s not clear how many Wii U consoles will be sold in the coming days, but most major retailers have already sold out of their pre-order stock. So anyone who wants a Wii U will have to take their chances and line up for the device on the 18th. The other alternative is to submit to skyrocketing prices by resellers on Amazon and eBay where prices currently range from $450 to $550 for the Wii U deluxe.
But hold on Super Mario fans. Before you get caught up in the Wii U excitement and slap down your hard-earned cash for a new console, there’s a lot more that you need to know about Nintendo’s Wii U. And it’s not all good news. Let’s look.
The basic $300 Wii U includes a console with 8GB of storage, a GamePad touch screen controller, a sensor bar, HDMI cables, and separate AC adapters for the GamePad and the console.
The $350 deluxe model features everything you get in the basic package, except you get 32GB onboard storage, plus a console stand, a GamePad stand, a GamePad charging cradle, and the Nintendo Land game.
What’s the GamePad?
The GamePad is a wireless game controller for the Wii U that is reminiscent of Sony’s original PlayStation Portable. The controller features a 6.2-inch touchscreen, dual analog control sticks, and the usual gaming buttons (directional pad on the left; A, B, X, Y buttons on the right).
Depending on the game, the GamePad screen can serve as a secondary display for game stats and other info or an alternative game display. The GamePad also includes a built-in camera and, similar to the Nintendo DS, a stylus. The GamePad is not a stand-alone device; it needs to be within 24 feet of the base station to work.
The GamePad can also double as a TV controller, but the aforementioned TVii enhancement won’t launch until December. TVii is a social television offering for the GamePad that lets you view a TV programming guide and interact with friends on Miiverse (an upcoming social network for Nintendo gamers), Facebook, and Twitter.
Only one GamePad comes with each unit, and the controllers are apparently too expensive at this time to sell separately. (Nintendo reps say that no games available at launch can use two GamePads; when a Wii U game comes out that could take advantage of two GamePads, Nintendo will offer additional GamePads for sale.)
Anyone looking for multi-user gameplay can purchase a Wii U Pro Controller for about $50 from retailers such as GameStop.
Is the Wii U backwards compatible with older Wii games?
Nintendo says the new console will be backwards compatible, but that functionality requires a system update that will be available on Sunday, according to IGN. The bad news is non-Wii U games will have to be played in what is called “Wii Mode” and will only work with old Wii controllers. The Wii U GamePad will reportedly not work with older Wii games.
Nintendo also will introduce several of its own games for the Wii U, including Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.
Nintendo says 29 of the games will be sold in physical form, the others will be available as digital downloads.
How much real storage space do I get?
A lot less than you would expect. The 8GB model offers around a measly 3GB for data storage and game downloads, with the other 5GB reserved for the system, according to Nintendo. The system space on the deluxe model is even bigger taking up 7GB, leaving about 25GB for your personal data.
How does external storage work?
Nintendo says the Wii U will support hard disk drives up to 2 terabytes in size. The Wii U cannot recognize drives larger than 2TB, but Nintendo says it is working on an update for December that will let the new console interface with larger drives.
The external HDD also needs its own power source; the game maker does not recommend trying to run an external HDD using power from the Wii U’s USB 2.0 port. Nintendo also advises against using SSDs and portable flash drives for external storage.
What about SD cards?
You can use SD cards to save limited sets of Wii U data such as an image of your Mii avatar or transfer data from a Wii to a Wii U, but Nintendo says you cannot use an SD card to store Wii U game data.
Do I need a specific HDD format?
No, the Wii U will format the disk to its own specifications once you connect the drive to the console. Your Wii U drive will apparently use a proprietary file system since the drive can’t moonlight as a back-up storage drive for your PC. It’s not clear if you can partition a drive and use just one side for the Wii U.
An external drive formatted for the Wii U is also tied to one specific unit. That means you can’t download a new game for the Wii U at home, store it to your external HDD, and then hook your HDD up to a friend’s Wii U console later to play your new game.
Does the Wii U support multiple external hard drives?
You can format multiple hard drives to work with the Wii U, but the console can currently handle just one external HDD at a time. Nintendo says it plans to roll out at a later date the ability to connect multiple external storage units on one Wii U.
What other features are included in the Wii U?
Wii U owners will get access to Nintendo’s Miiverse and, in the coming weeks, Nintendo plans to release an update that includes built-in access to Amazon on Demand, Hulu Plus, and Netflix. YouTube streaming will also be supported, and the Wii U has a built-in Web browser as well as its own chat client.
Nintendo has high hopes for the Wii U after the company’s 3DS mobile gaming system failed to capture the attention of many gamers. As IDG News reported in October, unlike competitors Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo’s income is heavily reliant on the popularity of its gaming consoles.
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Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.