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The highs and lows of the Wii U launch

Huge demand results in national sell-out, but online problems rain on the parade

The trick, they say, is to ignore how exhausted you are. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime politely smiled his way through a merciless and chaotic work schedule over the weekend when hundreds of Wii U revellers lined up in New York City to be among the first to play the new console.

Between the meet-and-greets with diehard fans dressed as Link and other such iconic Nintendo characters, Fils-Aime was briefed by his entourage on interviews with the national media as well as the final details of a Hurricane Sandy charity campaign. Then there was the Wii U marketing strategy itself.

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On Friday evening, after appearing on the popular national talk show 'Late Night with Jimmy Fallon', Fils-Aime walked towards the Rockefeller Centre in Midtown Manhattan with games journalists Stephen Totilo and Geoff Keighley to provide moral support for the people lining up days early to get their hands on Nintendo's new console.

On the Saturday evening, after more interviews with the national press, Fils-Aime stood on a makeshift stage outside the Nintendo World Store to count down the final seconds before Wii U finally went on sale.

"Are you guys ready to usher in the next generation of gaming?" he shouted at the crowd, which by that point was as excited as an audience can get after queuing in the cold for hours.

But Reggie's work wasn't over. As the blue neon timer reached zero, Fils-Aime had a brief moment to personally cheer in a new era in his career, before announcing he was going inside the store to personally hand the first customer a Wii U.

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By the time he woke up the next day, it was clear that Nintendo of America still needs to work double-time to convince Japan that it has the aptitude and manpower to successfully launch new consoles.

Miiverse wasn't the first major problem, but it was perhaps the most punishing. Nintendo, already faced with an almighty task of convincing the world that has a grip on the internet, discovered late on Sunday that someone had accessed restricted areas on Miiverse. This breach was not achieved through hacker wizardry, but someone merely pressing a button at the wrong time.

The story was played down by Nintendo. The inadvertent master hacker only managed to access internal "mock" pages on the Wii U's online platform, though the company didn't elaborate on what he discovered while inside (such as a reference to a new Yoshi Wii U game).


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REVIEWS HAVE LIFTED the mood somewhat, with many critics' write-ups showing that Nintendo's new console already hosts worthy games such as its own New Super Mario Bros. U and Ubisoft's ZombiU.

CVG's ZombiU review claimed that the game "harks back to glory days of the slow-burning survival horror, but the GamePad gives it a modern edge", while New Super Mario Bros. U was praised as a "complete 2D package which will delight newcomers and old-hands alike".

There were also encouraging signs at retail and online. Major stores across America, from BestBuy to Gamestop, said there was more demand than they could satisfy with their stock allocations.

Another assurance for Nintendo is the escalating price of Wii U consoles on eBay, with deluxe editions going for nearly $500. Nintendo says it expects to shift 5.5 million units before March - a feat that will edge it ahead of the original Wii for at least the first few months.


THE PROBLEM WITH Nintendo's insistence on keeping quiet about the finer details of its new console is that it eventually runs out of room to hide. Facts build up and then, inevitably, they burst.

So on the same day it has transpired that the Wii U doesn't allow users to transfer their online account to other systems, it also has emerged that the hardware uses fairly cheap memory units that distribute data at around half the speed of the PS3.

Meanwhile, a one gigabyte firmware update is necessary for those who want their console to be online capable. While such instant demand to Nintendo's servers hasn't quite resulted in problems on the same scale as the infamous "Error 37" that plagued Diablo 3, there have nevertheless been well publicised complaints about it taking several hours to download the day-one patch. Others, meanwhile, have claimed that turning off the Wii U console during the system update could render the console useless.


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AS TECHNOLOGY GURUS strip apart the Wii U to discover its GPU and processor speeds, to fill in the gaps are regular complaints about the quality of third-party games ported over.

Jeremy Parish, a journalist for 1UP, said that Mass Effect 3 for the Wii U falls short of the standard set on Xbox and PlayStation.

"Without question, it has a few issues," he said. "This version of ME3 seems a lot less visually stable than, say, the Xbox 360 version - the frame rate is choppier, the animation seems rougher."

Meanwhile, BioWare has confirmed that its Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC will not be released on Wii U.

IGN's Ryan McCaffrey made similar complaints about the Wii U edition of Ninja Gaiden 3.

"Visually, this is hardly going to make your PS3 and Xbox-owning friends envious," he said.

"In fact, Razor's Edge is arguably uglier than its cousins, with bland textures and a bad case of the 'jaggies' combining to create a muddy look that would've been called out seven years ago during the Xbox 360's launch."

Gametrailers, meanwhile, has let the pictures tell the stories for themselves, posting a video of the Wii U version of Batman Arkham Asylum featuring a texture load delay that could be a foretoken to problems with early Unreal Engine 3 code published on Nintendo's platform.


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THE COMPLAINERS AND doubters, of course, were not around when Fils-Aime congratulated the hundreds who waited in line in New York to get their hands on their new Wii U system.

A new generation of consoles has begun with a cheerful and well coordinated launch event that brought together people who genuinely love Nintendo and what they stand for.

Nintendo executives may say its Wii U target market is "anyone" aged between five and 95, but those who queued for days are hardly like anyone else. These are the Nintendo loyalists who, while their actions may seem a tad peculiar to outsiders, nevertheless give a midnight launch that air of magic that few other industries can.

Fils-Aime may have faced this crowd in the middle of a painfully busy schedule, but considering the sobering amount of work that needs to be done in the weeks ahead, he might look back on it as one of the easier days.

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