When Nintendo announced the specifics about its new Wii U console back in September—the surprisingly high $300/$350 price tag, the November 18th release date, and multimedia services like Nintendo TVii—it left myriad questions unanswered. There were big conundrums waiting in the wings, like how its Miiverse social and online gaming network would function, but even more small technical details. For example, would purchasers of the $300 basic Wii U package need a USB hard drive out of the gate for downloading games or would the 8GB internal flash memory be enough? With days to go before the Wii U’s release, these questions are being answered, and not all the news is happy news, particularly for those that come away with the Basic set.
The 8GB of internal storage memory is actually not 8GB at all. As explained in an eccentric informational video from Nintendo itself (via Kotaku), when you turn on the Wii U for the first time you will need to set up an online account, format the system’s memory, and other basic adjustments to make the device usable. Following formatting, the Basic console only has 7.2GB of memory available, while 29GB of the Deluxe Set’s advertised 32GB are available.
After that, though, the account data on the console takes up 4.2GB of the internal storage. For Basic Wii U owners, that leaves just 3GB of memory, which doesn’t even leave enough room on the console to download a digital copy of the signature launch title for the machine, NintendoLand. Even New Super Mario Bros. U at 2GB will take up the majority of what remains of the console’s storage, meaning that any other games you might want to purchase through the new eShop will require an external hard drive.
This isn’t an uncommon strategy in the modern console market. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has always come in a variety of models. When it first released in 2005, an Arcade model was available with no hard drive or internal storage at all. When Microsoft redesigned the Xbox 360 in 2010, the Arcade model was replaced by a version with 4GB of internal storage.
Even in 2010, though, digital distribution wasn’t as prominent a business on consoles as it is today. Nintendo is only now starting to grow a competitive digital business, and with signs indicating that the Basic Wii U will be more readily available than the Deluxe set for some time, it’s troubling to see the company limiting what its audience can and can’t download.