Nintendo is finally having a decent online experience, thanks to Wii U. It does have rough edges, but it still is a big step.
Network Experience, WaraWara Plaza, Wii U Home Screen
Wii U is the biggest push of Nintendo to the online space. Part of such is replacing the frustrating, game-specific, inconvenient Wii Friend Codes with Nintendo Network ID, an infrastructure online. Signing up takes a few minutes; and it requires personal information such as an email address. The ID is password-protected and such password is required every time it is used.
Once connected to Nintendo Network, the Wii U home screen shall fill up with Miis from around the globe, and large icons are gathered which represent apps and games they have played. Formerly known as WaraWara Plaza, this screen is filled with Nintendo robots talking about features such as system settings. Then, it has real people gathered around games and icons. Maybe Nintendo uses this plaza for retail games ad space, not just for social networking.
Yes, Wii U has many people, whom you can converse! After all, it is a players’ community. Clicking on the Miis and seeing what these people have to say about certain games is quite fun. Many give comments, while others give negative. Not so obscene on that last part though as the Nintendo police is doing a good job. You may add nice-looking Miis from the local Mii Maker or click some messages to learn more about other players in Miiverse.
Playing with complete strangers is a cool experience. Nintendo Network ID can place each ID in a friendly match pretty fast after quick matchmaking.
Miiverse looks like a basic cross between a message board of Nintendo and Facebook. It has threads for each app and game, where people post messages. There is a system that flags contents that seem inappropriate. You can also show approval for a note with a “Yeah!” that is similar to Facebook’s Like.
Threads are usually more polite, focused and less-cynical. Many talked about ZombiU than Ninja Gaiden 3 for example. Anyone can also leave a message. It looks like a creative writing class for freshmen, but is more interesting!
Setting up real-world friend is quite complicated albeit it is still easier than on the Wii. You can send them a friend request using their ID, or by using the Miiverse “search”. The other party shall be prompted to accept or decline the request on their next login.
Video Chat and Online Friends
An extra feature of Nintendo for Wii U is video chat via the built-in microphone and camera of GamePad. Skype and iOS FaceTime users would most likely not impressed. It is still susceptible to audio / image issues and video freezes. But your ability to draw on the live video image with your stylus, is fun for playing quick games of tic-tac-toe for example.
Once connected, you can see friends who are online, and what they are playing. You may send messages and video chat requests too.
Wii U eShop and Browser
The Wii U eShop’s Indie Game Section under the fold has bits of game information that can be useful. The eShop is a huge step from the digital storefront of the Wii. It is easy to navigate, loads faster and has a cleaner layout. The most necessary and obvious change is that credit cards can be used as purchase payments, instead of points.
The eShop offers more downloadable games, with prices similar to what is found in physical stores. YouTube runs perfectly on the Wii U browser, as well as Gmail, Facebook and Twitter. A curtain of virtual privacy can be set so others would not know what website you are viewing.
The Netflix app functions just the same. The videos look good on the GamePad but the built-in speaker are not so loud enough. Games using online features require one-time downloads to be updated which can run even when a game is ongoing. Text entry with the stylus is more convenient than any keyboard.
Even with some roughs, Wii U raises Nintendo close to Microsoft and Sony in terms of online functions and graphics. It offers new well-built touch screen GamePad which is so promising with gameplay experiences. It is still hard to predict its future, but it surely is a legitimate competitor in contemporary console environment.