Stand by your consoles, as the first of two large scale system updates for the Wii U is all set to drop sometime this week. Originally announced at the end of January, Nintendo promised two system updates would be on the way, one in spring, and one in the summer, to address a few of the more substantial problems the system's had since launch (namely, its god-awful loading times) as well as adding a few new features. Of course, Wii U owners are no strangers to downloadable updates, as the system required a particularly sizeable one right out of the box when it was released last year - but hopefully, the upcoming updates will be an altogether less painful experience.
One of the biggest irritations with the Wii U right now is the frustratingly long loading times when quitting a game and returning to the Wii U menu, or when switching between games and apps. With pauses sometimes lasting upwards of 30 seconds, even the now ageing PS3 is far nippier than the brand-spanking new Wii U, making the system feel clunky and old fashioned as a result. Thankfully then, the Spring Update promises to reduce these long waits, and Nintendo have even released a video demonstrating the improved loading times users can expect following the update.
But along with letting you switch between games and apps quicker, the spring update promises a whole host of new features too. For starters is the ability to copy and move data between two connected USB hard drives. This could well be very handy in the future, as the Wii U’s modest internal storage (either 3GB usable with the basic, or 27GB with the premium) has a tendency to fill up rather quickly. If you're a fan of downloadable games, or you're one of the masochists who's willing to pay more money to download a game than you'd pay to get it on a disc, the ability to move things around easier will undoubtedly come in handy - especially as games like LEGO City Undercover are so huge, you actually need an external hard drive if you want to download them.
That’s not the only tweak related to digital downloads either. After the system is updated, the Wii U will be able to receive game updates automatically, and even install them in the background while you play a different game. At the moment, things aren't quite so smooth, as if an update's been released for a game, you won't know anything about it until you put the disc in, and go to play it, at which point it'll automatically start downloading while you watch and wait. Seemingly keeping track of what games you've played on your console, and periodically, automatically downloading updates for them in the background, there'll be no more faffery when you come to play a game. You’ll also be able to switch the Wii U off (or into standby at least) and let it get on with downloading and installing software by itself while you make a cuppa. Pretty nifty!
But that’s not all! One of the more useful features of the Wii U is the ability to run in "Wii mode", which loads up the original Wii menu, and lets you play all your favourite Wii games, letting you fine tune your golf swing in Wii Sports or revisit Super Mario Galaxy. Currently though, switching to Wii mode is a fairly cumbersome affair, forcing you to start up the console in Wii U mode, log in, select the Wii option from the menu, and wait for the system to effectively switch itself off and on again to get to the Wii menu. Phew! Following the update, all you will have to do is hold ‘B’ on the GamePad when turning the Wii U on, et voila! The console boots straight into Wii mode. It’s a handy time saver, especially if you still have a pile of Wii games that need some attention.
As if that’s not enough, retro fans can breathe a sigh of relief, as the Wii U Virtual Console will also finally be available the day after the system update. The Virtual Console service was one of the best things about the Wii, allowing players to download classic games from past systems like the NES, Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 among others. The Wii U’s Virtual Console will be much the same, although, somewhat inexplicably, it looks as though only a select few NES and Super Nintendo games will be offered to begin with. Here’s hoping that other systems like the GameCube and Game Boy Advance will be added soon.
Players who've already bought Virtual Console games on their Wii (and can play the game at any time by going into Wii mode and launching the games from there) will also have the option of re-buying the games they already own from the Wii U Virtual Console at a 'reduced price'. Whether you're buying afresh, or "upgrading" a game you already own, though, each Wii U Virtual Console game will be playable either on the Wii U GamePad or the TV, which is great news for anyone wanting to play Super Mario World in bed or Kirby’s Adventure on the sofa while the rest of the family watch TV. Each game will also be given its own community area in Nintendo’s fledgling social network Miiverse, so that players can get hints and discuss the games with like-minded players around the world, while the inclusion of save states means you'll never have to worry about losing your place.
Rounding off the new arrivals, showing up a day after the update, is Wii U Panorama View, an odd app which lets you experience virtual video tours such as a rickshaw ride around Kyoto, or a flight through the air with a flock of birds without leaving your living room. Using the Wii U GamePad as a virtual window, you can look around in all directions by moving the controller around you, zoom in on places of interest, or switch the view to the TV screen to let everyone come along for the ride. There will be four titles available at first, each costing £1.79, released alongside a free demo. While apps like Panorama View and the recently released Wii Street U (a fairly basic but fun Google Maps app) could be dismissed as novelties, they do provide a reason for non-gaming family members to turn the Wii U on, and it’s likely Nintendo has some more non-game software planned.
So there you have it. While it’s arguable that most of these features should have been available at launch, and it’s a shame that Nintendo has become another company with a ‘release it now and fix it later’ attitude towards their hardware, at least they're taking steps to make things better. There’s no news as to what will be included in the Summer update, but this week’s additions certainly make the Wii U more user friendly and up to date, and the launch of the Virtual Console service is great news for anyone looking to replay the classics.