Nintendo's first Wii U system update was issued as promised on Sunday, and with it some of the new consoles online capabilities now active. All told, the console's firmware – complete with update – takes up seven gigabytes of hard drive space, which means that buyers of the basic 8 GB version won't have much left over.
1. Miiverse now works, it's essentially Nintendo's version of Facebook: a social network devoted to the console and its games. Players can "friend" and "follow" each other, check out forums devoted to specific games, post messages and even "like" those messages, although in Nintendo parlance, these are instead called "yeahs." Perhaps the neatest thing about the Miiverse feature is the ability to post drawings done on the GamePad.
2. The system update also adds access to Nintendo's online store, where full versions of games can be bought and downloaded, as well as the Wii U's web browser. The browser is actually pretty cool and perhaps the best such effort on a game console yet. Web pages can be viewed on the GamePad or TV screen, with zooming in and out and scrolling done accomplished via the two thumbsticks.
It works fluidly and has the added bonus of insulating Nintendo from any potential lawsuits from, ahem, companies owning pinch-and-zoom touchscreen patents.
3. Video chat has also been enabled, with conversations taking place on the GamePad, TV screen or both. For extra kicks, you can use the stylus to draw on your screen while talking, although why you'd want to do so beyond the simple novelty of it is a good question.
4. The only video service that has so far been enabled is Netflix, with even YouTube likely waiting till another system update in December. The bonus here is that you can watch Netflix either on your TV or on the GamePad, and it looks good on either.
Put together, the online features give the Wii U much of the same functionality already found on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the most part, they're well-implemented additions, but few deliver experiences that can't already be found elsewhere online, in better forms.