The Wii U will be an offline machine when it leaves stores the day Nintendo's new console goes on sale.
All Wii U consoles will require downloading a patch to add support for a laundry list of online, gaming and entertainment services. That patch is about 5 gigs. According to early reports, including our own two tests, the patch takes from 45 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes to download and maybe ten minutes to install. Of course the time will vary depending on any number of variables, including connection speeds and the number of people try to download the patch.
The services unavailable without the free download include YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Wii U Chat, the eShop, online gameplay and even the ability to play Wii titles on your Wii U.
The need for a day-one patch led Nintendo president Satoru Iwata to apologize to gamers during a video stream earlier this month, but the out-of-box experience for the Wii U is not nearly as bad as that apology might make it sound.
You can still play games, mess around with your cute Mii avatars and even fiddle with your television a bit.
But before you hop into the gaming, patch or no patch, you're going to have to run through a bit of setup. Fortunately, hooking up the Wii U is surprisingly painless.
One great discovery we made is that the Wii U supports the Wii's composite and component video cables or any off-the-shelf HDMI cable. So if you find that the six-and-a-half-foot HDMI cable the system comes with is too short, you can hop online to buy a longer replacement.
While the Wii U comes with a shiny new sensor bar for placing above or below your TV, you can use the bar that came with the Wii — if you have one — and store the new one as a backup.
If you're in a multi-television home, you might want to think about where you're going to set up the system. This is a console meant to be at the center of your entertainment, not just your gaming. It's designed to control your TV and other AV equipment and it even supplements some television watching. Add to that the fact that some games allow you to play on the GamePad while someone is using the TV to watch a show, and you've got a system destined for the busiest TV in your house. Setting up the system in a central location also has the added benefit of potentially extending the range of your GamePad. You're going to want to try and make sure you can swing occasional trips to the bathroom, dinner table, and bedroom without losing signal, just in case you can't stop playing.
Don't forget that wherever you set up your system you're going to need at least two accessible power outlets, one for the console and one for the GamePad's charger.
Once you're set up, even if you skip the update, you can hop straight into creating a Mii. The Mii creation tools are going to feel very familiar to anyone with a Wii or 3DS. As with the portable, the Wii U includes the ability to take a picture of your face. The console uses the GamePad's camera, then auto-creates a Mii. You can also opt to create a Mii manually, or to import a Mii from your 3DS or through a QR code.
The console's pre-patch user interface is also going to feel very familiar to Wii and 3DS gamers. The interface is a large white screen broken up into a number of squares. Those squares fill up to show different games you've played and downloaded, non-gaming apps like the Mii Plaza or your settings options. Even before you update your system you'll notice that the home menu is packed with some online apps and options. You'll see apps for YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu Plus and even one for original Wii games. None of those will work without the patch. Selecting any of them will pop open a window asking your to download and install the update.
But the one thing you can do on the system is play games. While a lot of games include online options, none of them require an internet connection.
Nintendo Land is a great introduction to the system, especially considering it comes packed in with the $349.99 Deluxe version of the console. The title is a collection of minigames that get you used to some of the more unusual aspects of the Wii U and its second-screen GamePad.
You also might want to check out New Super Mario Bros. U, which allows you to play the entire game on the GamePad's screen, without the need for any television.
Another neat trick we discovered is that the system doesn't need to be plugged into a television to turn on. So if you're playing a game like New Super Mario Bros. U, you can do so without any television at all, as long as you're within range of the console.
You're still going to want to patch your system to fully realize the potential of the Wii U. We've asked Nintendo when it will start shipping consoles with the new firmware built in, and if the update will ever be available on a disc for those gamers without the ability to get online or with slow connections.
Officials told Polygon they were looking into both questions. We will update this story when they get us those answers. Our review of the Nintendo Wii U hardware will be available in the coming hours.