A Lament on Backwards Compatibility

I’ve had a little time to use the Wii U more and I think it’s most sloppy features have to do with backwards compatibility. The original Wii did backwards compatibility right. You used all of your old accessories and simply inserted a Gamecube disk and you were ready to go. Not so with the Wii U.

The Laborious Process

Although the Wii U is fully compatible with the Wii’s accessories, it technically has absolutely no software backwards compatibility. You cannot just pop a Wii game in and start playing. First, you have to boot the Wii U. Next, you have to select “Wii Menu” from the main menu. The causes the Wii U to reboot again but this time boot up into essentially a Wii emulation. Tick tock, tick tock.Then you can put your game in and use the antiquated Wii menu to get it started in another two clicks. Same process with any WiiWare or Virtual Console games.

Moving Data From The Wii

But before you get to any of that, you want to move your data from your old Wii console, right? Well schedule at least an hour to do that. It’s not pretty. First, you need your entire Wii system and a spot to hook it into your TV. You also need an internet connection on both consoles. Although the wait time pain is dulled by the fantastic loading animations of the Pikmin moving your data, it takes FOREVER to move only 512MB of data. Plus there is the confusion of swapping your SD card back and forth and back again. Plus, your WiiWare and Virtual Console games are not moved over. Saved your games to an SD card? Too bad. That SD card full of games is useless. You’ll have to go to the Wii Shop on the Wii emulation to wait some more redownloading each of your purchases one-by-one.

Online and Accessory Problems

But wait! Not only do you not have the benefit of using any Wii U controllers in this Wii emulation, you have the added inconvenience of online incompatibility. Want to play Super Smash Bros. online? You’re out of luck! All online capabilities of Wii games are incompatible with the Wii emulation. Want to send a message to a friend still using a Wii? Sorry! Your address book, all its entries, and the capability to send messages are gone. Want to check the weather or vote in Everyone Votes? Nope. All Wii Connect24 capabilities are gone.
And on top of that, while you are in the Wii emulation, you do not have access to any of the system settings including sensor bar position, etc. If you want to change those, you have to reboot back into Wii U and call up settings from the main menu.

In Conclusion

Bottom line? Using backwards compatibility on the Wii U is messy, slow, and inconvenient. It’s completely inelegant.  And although I understand it could be worse; there could be no compatibility at all, I expect better of the company that brought us the seamless compatibility of the Wii. I’d hope that this aspect of the Wii U would be improved in the future, but with the Wii well past its swan song, I’m not holding my breath. The Wii U is a great system, but for loyal customers switching from Nintendo’s previous console it’s a nightmare. What a disappointment.

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