Interface and software
The Wii U runs a custom operating system that splits the user interface between the main TV screen and the Gamepad.
The Gamepad screen is the primary one, offering a gridded interface containing shortcuts to all games, stores, settings and downloaded apps. Each of the Gamepad display's windows features space for 15 icons. The main window comes with shortcuts to the Miiverse, Nintendo's e-shop, web browser, Nintendo TVii and Notifications pre-installed.
The main TV screen shows a dynamic meeting place of Miis. Miis work the same way they did on the original Wii, functioning as your in-game and social avatar. The interface shows your Mii as well as a collection of friends and random gamers, offering dynamic information on what people are doing in the gaming community. The updates include everything from what games people are playing to what they're watching on Youtube and Netflix.
The increased presence of the Mii's on the main TV display is symptomatic of a wider focus by Nintendo on the concept of community. Where before online gaming and community were fairly minor parts of the original Wii offering, Nintendo has really tried to push them on the Wii U, creating the Miiverse.
The Miiverse is a central hub that can be accessed by all Wii U owners. It lets users create and post on a number of forums devoted to everything from tips on how to beat a particular section of a game through how to make video calls on their Wii U to what films are good on Netfilx. One interesting touch is that if you opt in you can also send and see in-game hints and tips.
For example, playing the New Super Mario Bros U, when we opted to see comments the in-game map instantly filled with player comments. These included everything from victorious boasts to helpful tips on how to beat the challenge ahead of us. We found the in-game messages to be a really nice touch, making it so that while the Miiverse is still in its early stages, its online community still feels vibrant and engaging.
Nintendo has also chosen to increase its app offering for the Wii U. Where the Wii boasted a bare minimum of non-Nintendo apps, the Wii U promises to become an all in one media device on a par with Microsoft's Xbox 360. The Wii U already features custom Netflix and Lovefilm apps, and Nintendo has pledged to add to these. We're hoping that this means Nintendo will in the end secure deals with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five to offer a more complete entertainment package.
Next: Performance and games