The Nintendo Wii U is four days old now and and with Black Friday coming, I thought it'd be interesting to check in on the buzz. That's not to say that finding one on Friday is going to be easy. The consoles don't seem to be 100% sold out but they're pretty rare, though rumor has it a fresh batch might hit some stores today. If you're hunting for one, the only advice I can offer is to be persistent and keep checking in with local Walmart, Target or Best Buy stores.
The reaction to the console seems to be guardedly optimistic. People seem to be really enjoying the two-screen experience and more than one reviewer has admitted to just using the tablet screen and ignoring the TV altogether! The launch library is large enough that you should find something that'll make you smile, NintendoLand, the game that comes with the Wii U Deluxe, is getting pretty good reviews and of course everyone seems to love New Super Mario Bros. U.
The social layer of the online experience, MiiVerse, seems to be making people happy, once some launch day downtime issues were resolved. Kotaku's Stephen Totilo did a nice long walk-through of the system and shows how (among other things) you can reach out for help from fellow players without quitting your game:
The biggest issue I've been hearing about is the load/unload time as you move between applications. It can take as much as 15-20 seconds to get in or out of an app. Everyone is hoping Nintendo can speed that up in a firmware patch.
Speaking of patches, this initial run of Wii Us will require a pretty lengthy patch download when you get it home. Some folks have run into problems when this process has been disrupted via power loss, so make sure your Wii U isn't plugged into an outlet with a wall switch that might get accidentally flipped halfway through the update. Later batches of Wii Us will presumably have up-to-date firmware installed at the factory.
The last major issue I'm hearing is that your Nintendo Network account is tied to your hardware. If you for some reason need to replace (rather than repair) your Wii U, you'll have to create a new Nintendo Network account, which means a new Friends list and perhaps more importantly, all your purchases will still be associated with your old account.
Nintendo has stated that in future you'll be able to access your Nintendo Network account via other devices such as a PC; in order to do that they'll be have to 'de-couple' the account from the hardware. As long as they get this done sometime in the next year (in other words, while the first batch of Wii Us are under warranty) it shouldn't be a huge issue. Any busted Wii Us in that time period should be repaired by Nintendo anyway.
These all sounds like early adopter issues that should get polished out of the system pretty quickly. With a full year (at least) before the Xbox 720 or PS4 (if Sony survives long enough to produce a PS4) arrive, Nintendo has an opportunity to win back the hard core gamers. Whether a second screen is going to be enough to do it remains to be seen, but my early sense is that the Wii U is something of a diamond in the rough; a console that'll get better over time.
So is this the gift to give this holiday? At this point it's probably best for more serious gamers who are more likely to overcome minor adversity to get to the good stuff. For those casual gamers who loved the Wii and Wii Sports, the Wii U might still be a little bit too fiddly. Best to give it some time to mature before unleashing it on the casual gamers.