The Wii U’s Messy Online Debut: What to Expect if You Just Bought One

The Wii U shipped missing most of its online functionality -- here's a list of stuff to bear in mind, in case you're hoping to nab a Wii U today (Black Friday) or in the near future.

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Color me a fan of the Wii U as a game machine, especially with launch games like NintendoLand — a clever carnival of games that showcases the new tablet-style GamePad, or New Super Mario Bros. U — old-school Mario in gobsmacking high-definition.

But as the lucky few who snagged one of Nintendo’s sold-out systems already know, it’s missing half its marbles out of the box. You have to download a monster update to add all the features Nintendo bragged about pre-launch, from Miiverse to eShop to Netflix. And even after you do, you’ll be missing promised extras, like Nintendo’s interactive live TV service — delayed at the last minute until some unspecified date in December.

Consider the following list of issues you’ll have to deal with at startup, in case you’re planning to hunt for a Wii U today (Black Friday) or in the near future.

(MORE: Too Late to Grab a Wii U on Black Friday? Not According to Nintendo)

The Wii U comes half-baked out of the box. Miiverse, eShop, the Internet browser and TVii are missing in action, as is functionality for Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon Instant Video. You’ll need to download a system update and separate application updates to get any of these features and services working.

The system update is both necessary and enormous. Rumors of just how big vary (I’ve heard upwards of 5 GB, to as little as 1 GB). Either way, it’s substantial — it took my system nearly three hours to download when Nintendo rolled it out on Nov. 18, then another 10 or 15 minutes to get it installed.

Word to the wise: Don’t turn your system off in the middle of the update, just to be safe. My Internet connection dropped while the update was downloading on my review unit, which thankfully had no impact on the process (when I restarted the update, it picked up where it left off, no problem), but an L.A. Times writer reported bricking his Wii U after stopping the update short.

Says Nintendo: “It may take an hour or more to perform the system update — the time required depends on the speed of your Internet connection. Powering off the console during the update may damage your system.”

Clicking Netflix or Hulu Plus will prompt you to download more updates. They’re relatively small, thank goodness, but you’ll have to update both of these popular streaming apps before they’ll work. Unfortunately Amazon Instant Video and YouTube still aren’t working…

(MORE: Nintendo Wii U Review: A Tale of Two Screens)

Launching games may also prompt for updates. If the game has an online angle, it’ll need an update. In short, the Wii U is patch-happy. Once you’ve downloaded these patches, you’re set, but the days of everything working out of the box are apparently past.

Hurry up and wait! (The Wii U’s operating system is crazy-slow.) The Wii U’s a champ at crunching gorgeous HD games, but it’s the slowest console on the block by a mile when it comes to menu load times. The average wait for the Wii U Menu to reappear when you’re exiting an app? Try 25 seconds, which is kind of insane for a process that ought to be instantaneous (consider how snappy a similar styled interface like Apple‘s iOS is by comparison).

Don’t lose the signal. For whatever reason, the Wii U’s GamePad-to-base-station range is limited to a couple dozen feet. That means unless your one- or two-bedroom is studio-sized, you’re probably not taking the GamePad out of the room. My office opens into my living room — my chair’s about 20 feet from the entertainment center with the base station — and I see consistent connection warnings (door wide open) if I drag the tablet in with me.

Break out the extensible power cables. The GamePad’s battery life is poor — three hours, tops, if you’re playing nonstop. The Wii U GamePad’s dedicated power adapter reaches a comfortable eight feet, so you’re probably covered for plugged-in play, but if you like to sit even further back, say you have a 50- or 60-inch TV screen, then the Wii U may be the first video game console where playing for more than a couple hours straight requires an actual extension cord.

MORE: Wii U Review Redux: Nintendo Adds Miiverse, Netflix, eShop and More

GaryRMcCray 1 Like

This thing is a truly great idea, sadly it is executed as Nintendo usually does sort of half (A**) er way.

If this had the same high resolution display as the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7 or the New Nook and if it had a properly thought out case and controller layout they would have a really interesting piece of hardware.

And if they actually could freely interact with your television, assorted Network and Cable stuff and had a decent adult level video game capability and maybe a good computer television interface capability, they would really have something.

Unfortunately all of the above is what isn't true about this device and is why unless you have a bunch of preteen kids you should avoid it.Next year or maybe the following, this type of device is going to be a major seller, when it incorporates the true broad range functionality I have described above.

This isn't really a game thing, this is a whole new way of interacting with every phase of your entertainment and computer systems.It just doesn't look like Nintendo is going to be the ones who actually do it.

Microsoft or Sony are much better equipped to do this.

The last time Nintendo did this was with a 3D stereoscopic head mounted (well sort of) display called the Virtual Game Boy.

That in the end you had to sit on a little post on your table and try to look in to it while operating the controller. 

The legal "suits" at Nintendo were worried about the liability if you actually strapped it on and ran headlong into something.

And if that weren't bad enough it was in 32 shades of red because they used a scanned red LED and were to cheap to put in green and yellow ones (let alone blue ones).

It failed spectacularly.

The original WII succeeded spectacularly due to it's more active controller in spite of being decidedly juvenile and graphically lame in the game department.

Nintendo really does have great ideas, it's just that by the time they release them they have removed so much of the value they don't have much left.

I was working for another company that was directly involved with supplying the most crucial part of the Virtual Game Boy to Nintendo and when I met US Nintendo Management and got to see the prototype Game Boys at their original Developer Conference for it I expressed to them the same thoughts I presented above and they were as appreciative of it as you can guess. (Not).

Upper management in Japan makes a lot of these decisions without due consideration of externally supplied information and it seems to me they haven't changed one bit.


I'm not really sure why any of this is unexpected, the system itself has been but less than a week so of course there will be wait times and updates. Buy a new PS3 and say you don't need to update it when you get it and I'll laugh. I'm just saying as someone who has multiple videogame consoles, updates are pretty normal to need and while I agree that some updates are long or app updates are a little unnecessary, this isn't something that's only on Wii U, these kinds of annoying updates have featured across the PS3 and 360 as well.


@DanielAlexanderNichols name another console that needs you to wait 3 hours to do an update, and needs you to wait 25 seconds for the menu to reappear, EVERY TIME.

GabeHoffman 1 Like

I think some of these issues are a little late. Amazon, Hulu, and Youtube are now all working on Wii U