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