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Nintendo Wii U review

What can that GamePad really do?

nintendo wii u review
2014 will be the Wii U's biggest test

The Wii U's UI has improved significantly since launch and it's set to get even better.

Upon loading up the console, the GamePad screen will display rows of icons containing apps and games in the style of the 3DS. You can also access Miiverse, eShop, the web browser, notifications and Nintendo TVii through the touchscreen.

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The app selection screen is also just like the one on the 3DS

As on the Nintendo 3DS, tapping the Home Button on the Wii U GamePad pulls up a hub menu that includes a battery life indicator, date and time, access to controller settings, and links to the Friend List and Download Management screen. As with most Wii U menus, what you see on the GamePad is also what appears on the TV.

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Miiverse is an awesome coming together of social networking and online gaming

Meanwhile on the television screen you'll see your created Mii character among friends' creations and a mass of other random Miis standing near floating apps and feature icons in the sky. Messages posted by those people on the MiiVerse forums will pop up above their heads (yes, it's also a clever way of advertising games too), but the whole thing is localised so if you're in the UK you'll only see European Miis in the plaza.

Nintendo has historically been pretty behind with online gaming, and though the Wii U hasn't quite caught up to the Xbox One or PS4, the Miiverse is a wonderful coming together of online play and social networking. Stuck on a particular title? Jump into one of the sub-communities and find the help you need.

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And here it is on the 'Pad

These Miis can also pop up in-game if you allow them to. Boot up Mario 3D World and you'll see random comments, and the Miis that posted them, scattered around the game's map. It really does add an enjoyable new element to the whole experience and is an element of the Wii U that deserves more celebration than it's getting.

Overall the UI is clean, inviting, and a lot faster than it used to be. Nintendo's been pushing out firmware updates to speed up the process of jumping between apps and menus, and there's plan to make it even faster with another big update this year.

And the best news is that Nintendo has abolished the friend codes and replaced them with your Nintendo ID to make things much more straightforward. If you want to post a screenshot to the MiiVerse during gameplay, you can do that too.

As far as core online multiplayer, the real test will come with the release of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros this year. So far, the signs are good.

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Netflix has been tailored for the GamePad - and it works beautifully

But in this age of vast multimedia options, Nintendo knows that the Wii U can't be all about the games. Therefore you've got a bunch of other entertainment options such as Netflix and Lovefilm to choose from.

They've all been designed to fit the Wii U's unique setup. Take Netflix - you can browse the library and select a title all on the GamePad touchscreen screen, which also works as a handy buffer tool when video is playing. Or you can switch it around and have the video playing on the GamePad instead if someone else wants to use the TV.

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Billy Bob is tired of waiting for Super Smash Bros

If you're in the US you'll also be able to jump into Nintendo's free television service, TVii, but the UK and Australia won't get it until later in 2014. TVii lets you find the program you want to watch and then select the source you'd like to stream it from. Right now, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus are all supported, as are cable and satellite channels.

With the Xbox One vying for the position of the living room hub, it's a shame that TVii's rollout hasn't been faster. But as it stands it's a solid service and we can't wait for it to expand more globally.