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Nintendo review: Migrating from Wii to Wii U is a cute but ridiculously archaic experience

Pikmin moving my data. Cute.

Now that the new age of console gaming has arrived with all the major players having presented their offerings to this generation of gamers, I recently decided to pick up a Wii U.   Many people have their reservations about the power of this system, but that is a topic for a different article.  The reason that I picked this up was the price was right, and now that the system has been out for a year, the games that actually take advantage of the hardware will start to arrive shortly.

Currently, there are relatively minor differences in these new generation of systems from the former when presenting graphics.  The huge leaps that we are used to from every other console generation upgrade are not as immediately apparent this time around.  While graphics will continue to improve to differentiate the current generation from the last generation with time, it won’t be by the leaps and bounds from the last 25+ years of gaming.

These days, companies stand out more by their features and ecosystems.   Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo all have cloud based ecosystems that gamers will invest to and that helps to keep them locked in.  Where Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft, and Amazon differ from Nintendo is how they treat their customers and the ease of use in their ecosystem.  For example, everyone but Nintendo has unified systems that use your log in and pull your cloud data from the internet to automatically restore your purchases to whatever compatible machine you’re using even allowing for multiple simultaneous devices. You simply log in, data is restored, and you continue with your day.  It’s a seamless, consumer friendly way of doing business.  After all, if you want people to buy intangible goods, it should be as fair and painless as possible.

This is where Nintendo gets it all wrong.  Just recently did they start to unify their “Club Nintendo” accounts and they do keep track of your purchases. Unfortunately, that does not mean that they automatically restore anything for you in terms of purchases.  For example, the Wii U is backwards compatible with the original Wii (yay) but the Wii mode is sandboxed and 99% separate from the Wii U operating system.  To transfer my Nintendo eShop purchases from my Wii to my Wii U I cannot simply log into my Club Nintendo account (even in Wii mode) and have my purchases auto restored via cloud even though my system is obviously connected to the internet and their eShop knows what I’ve purchased!

This is the ridiculous procedure that you have to endure to play games that you paid for:

  • Connect your Wii U to the internet
  • Connect your Wii to the internet
  • Log into the Wii shop and download the Nintendo Transfer Tool to an SD card.
  • Log into the Wii mode on the Wii U and download the Wii U transfer tool to an SD card.
  • Take the SD card and insert it into Wii.
  • Run the Wii U transfer tool software.
  • Wait….a long time while your data is transferred to the SD card.
  • Take the SD card and insert it back into the Wii U
  • Run the Wii Transfer tool.
  • Wait, a long time while your data is transferred from your card to your Wii U.

As you can see this is a cumbersome process, and at the same time you also need additional hardware (SD card) that is not provided by the Wii U or the Wii.   The Wii U gamepad is also useless throughout this process since it’s not fully compatible with Wii mode meaning that you have to sync your Wiimote to the Wii U.  If you only have one Wiimote,  you’ll be re-syncing back and forth while you go through this process.  You’ll also either be running between rooms as both Wii and Wii U MUST be on simultaneously and connected to the internet (go figure) or you will be constantly switching between your TV’s inputs throughout this process.

There is another caveat to this transfer process.  It is only one way.  Once you make the transfer to your Wii U, any data that was transferred over is erased from the original Wii.  For those of you that have games that are playable with the Gamecube controller, forget about playing them with that controller on the Wii U since it does not have the available ports for that particular hardware.  You have been warned.
While eShop purchases are restored, they are also not included in the Wii U main menu system.  You must go into Wii mode to play them.  Yes, you have to launch an emulator to launch another emulator of a game.  At this time your transferred data is sandboxed into the Wii mode emulator.  There is also another drawback to this system.  Nintendo recently updated the Wii U to let you play Wii games with the tablet controller and the games look surprisingly good on the small screen.  The issue is that it’s literally just a screen.  In a bewildering turn of events,  you must sync the Wiimote controller to the Wii U tablet controller to play Wii games on it.  Virtual console games are also played this way.  Yes, you read that correctly, your controller needs a controller to play games that you purchased.

As a gamer who has enjoyed Nintendo games since the eighties when they were still 3rd party developers for Atari and Colecovision, I have always admired the amount of care and dedication that they have put into their software titles.  When they released their own hardware with the original Famicon/NES, they were heavy handed with publishers but other than game prices, it did not affect the consumer.  As the decades have passed however, they have continued to make great software titles but have failed to keep up with the growing demands of the current age making some strange decisions that have kept them from achieving the success that they are capable of.

The ridiculous lockdown of your purchased software to one system should give you pause when looking at their eShop purchases.  These are not forgetable .99 cent purchases in most cases, they are $40+ purchases that are tied to your one particular system.

  • If your system is stolen.  You lose your purchases.
  • If you have multiple systems in your home, too bad. Games are tied to one system.

In the case that your system does get damaged or stolen, you can call Nintendo directly and plead with them to transfer your Nintendo account to a new system.  They may require a police report so your mileage may vary.

Overall, I would not recommend for anyone to buy from Nintendo’s eShop until they stop treating their customers as potential criminals by relaxing their hostile limitations as well as add some seriously usability upgrades such as adding virtual console titles directly to the Wii U screen.  If you must buy a game, buy it the old fashioned way on disc or cartridge.  This way you actually own your game and can play it on any system that you wish.