A Wii U beginners guide

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It's finally here! A year and a half after the announcement at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nintendo has finally launched the Wii U game system in the United States. It's pretty much sold out at most stores already, but if you place an order now, you may be able to start playing in time for the holidays. Maybe.

Whenever you get your system, here are the first things you need to know about the hardware, the must-have games and a few other features that make this Nintendo's biggest system to date.

The hardware

The main system isn't much different from the original Wii: a flat, rectangular box with a disc drive slot. The unique piece of technology is the GamePad. About 10 inches wide and featuring a 6.2-inch widescreen display, it provides a plethora of controls but still fits comfortably in your hands. Onboard are analog sticks on each side of the screen, a D-pad, four buttons facing your, two built-in cameras and four shoulder buttons.

The screen sits right in the middle, enabling you to interact with games in a number of ways, whether it's looking at an overhead map in "Mass Effect 3" or using the GamePad to look around the edges of the TV screen for clues in "Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition," by holding it up and moving it around.

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Two models are available. The basic 8 GB bundle sells for $300, and the Premium 32 GB system for $350. It's really no contest. In addition to far more storage for game downloads (a premium title such as "Nintendo Land" can require 3 GB), you get stands to hold the GamePad and console, the game "Nintendo Land" and discounts on software through the Nintendo Network.


Setting up your Wii U requires simply plugging in a few cables and navigating through a quick menu. After that, you're probably going to need to download a firmware update, which could take roughly 60-90 minutes. (That'll give you a chance to charge your GamePad unit.) The update should take about 5 GB of your hard drive space on your system.

If you’re upgrading from an original Wii, you can transfer over your game saves and classic Virtual Console games (from the NES/SNES/Sega Genesis era) and WiiWare purchases using an SD card (the bigger, the better). Some larger games, like the recently released "Nano Assault Neo," will need to be downloaded again. You can also download an update that will let you play original Wii games on the system, as it supports older software and peripherals like the Wii remote and Nunchuk.

Best Wii U games

Over 20 titles are already out, most of them going for $60. You can either purchase them at retail or download them digitally. Size ranges between around 2 GB to 3 GB, though some titles are smaller and offered exclusively through Nintendo's eShop, like "Trine 2: Director's Cut" and "Mighty Switch Force." Retail's the way to go with most games, as it saves you precious hard drive space.

One of the games you'll want to get is "New Super Mario Bros. U" ($50), which lets you and several friends work together to get through side-scrolling action stages, while a fifth player interacts with the touch-screen and activates platforms to help you reach new areas. The graphics look wonderful, and finding all the secrets will keep you entertained for quiet a while.

Also try "Nintendo Land" ($60, or included with the 32 GB model), a fun multiplayer party game where you partake in activities inspired by several classic Nintendo franchises, including "Metroid" and "Donkey Kong."

A great third-party title is "Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed" (just $40), Sega's latest kart racing game. Not only are there exclusive gameplay options with the Wii U version (like being able to steer with the GamePad, using the built-in accelerometers and gyroscope), but it also includes a number of familiar faces, like Sonic, Ralph from "Wreck-It Ralph!," and real life NASCAR driver Danica Patrick.

Other titles we heartily recommend include:

  • "Zombi U," a survival/horror game where you battle the undead.
  • Mass Effect 3," an epic space saga starring Commander Shepard.
  • "Assassin's Creed III," a continuation of the popular action series.
  • "Scribblenauts Unlimited," a creative game where you can conjure up items using descriptive terms, like "jetpack" and "duck" – yes, a "duck."
  • "Tekken Tag Tournament 2," a fighting game that features exclusive Nintendo content, like costumes and bonus modes.
  • "Tank! Tank! Tank!,' a thrilling multiplayer battle game.
  • "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," the latest chapter in the best-selling first-person military action franchise.
  • "Darksiders II," a captivating action game where you play as Death and try to restore the human race

[See also: Hands On with 11 Upcoming Nintendo Wii U Games]

Video Services

Unfortunately, the bulk of the video services, which run through the previously announced Nintendo TVii channel, won't be available until December. However, Netflix has been available from day one. Just download the app and start watching.

Other video services that are coming to the system include Amazon and Hulu Plus, as well as TiVo support, all of which will run through the TVii service once it launches.

Have fun!

There's an interesting new gaming world to explore with the Wii U, and chances are that you, your significant other, your kids and your friends will have a good time with it. That is, if you find one following the system's launch. You know how it gets this time of year.

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