Nintendo Just Made the Wii U a Whole Lot Speedier

Here it is, Wii U owners: the performance boost Nintendo promised earlier this year to remedy those crippling lag times when loading into or out of the main menu.

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We had to wait roughly five months, but here it is, Wii U owners: the performance boost Nintendo promised earlier this year to remedy those crippling lag times when loading into or out of the console’s main menu.

It’s not clear how big the update is (Nintendo hides that info), but it took about 30 minutes to come down over my cable connection (not small, then) and a few more to install. Besides greasing the Wii U’s virtual wheels, Nintendo says the update improves system stability and adds a bunch of stuff we’ll go over in a moment. It also preps the system for the “imminent” Wii U Virtual Console and Wii U Panorama View features.

Let’s talk through the performance improvement, since that’s probably why you’re reading this. Other consoles have had slow user interfaces at launch, it’s true, but never one as slow as the Wii U’s.

Prior to the update, launching something like “System Settings” from the main menu took about 15 seconds; after the update, it takes just eight. Exiting back to the Wii U Menu used to take on average 30 seconds; after the update, it takes around 18. Loading a game like LEGO City Undercover still takes a godawful 2 minutes, 18 seconds to load (1 minute, 9 seconds to bring up the start screen, another 1 minute, 9 seconds to load your saved game — incroyable!), but backing out to the Wii Menu, which used to take over 20 seconds, now takes about 10.

All in all a respectable speedup, though still much slower than backing out of an application on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 (or, for that matter, an iOS-, Android-, Windows- or OS X-based device). The reason, presumably, is WaraWara Plaza: all those fake little Miis milling around, relentlessly pitching Nintendo products. I prefer just the screenful of icons without the faux-crowd myself, especially if it’d knock the load times down more. Perhaps an option to bypass WaraWara Plaza in the next update, Nintendo?

But okay, there’s plenty more to celebrate here. From Nintendo’s list:

  • The time required to start the Wii U console, launch built-in applications, exit software and return to the main menu, jump between applications, and jump between software and Miiverse has been reduced.
  • While the Wii U logo is being displayed during the system startup, users can directly transition to the Wii Menu by holding down the B Button on the Wii U GamePad.
  • Users can install games and applications from the Nintendo eShop in the background while other software is being used.
  • When powering off during a download, Wii U will go into a standby mode, then power off when all downloads and installations are complete.
  • Users can transfer and copy data between two USB storage devices in Data Management. This allows users the opportunity to upgrade or replace a current USB storage device that is connected to the Wii U Console.
  • Users can control the priority of their downloads when downloading multiple items at once.
  • Improved account selection when powering on the system now displays Nintendo Network IDs to clearly distinguish accounts.
  • TV screen size output can now be adjusted in the System Settings.
  • An Undo/Redo button was added to the Miiverse drawing input screen.

Nintendo says it’ll roll out the Virtual Console any time now: As expected, the Wii U VC library will let you play on the Wii U GamePad, customize controls and instantly save your games. The other new feature, Wii U Panorama View, will let you pan around tour spots like London or Rio de Janeiro using the Wii U GamePad to conjure a 360-degree “video guided tour,” though you’ll have to pay $2 each for the full versions of each destination.