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Wii U will appeal to many, but it isn't perfect
Wii U console one of hottest holiday gifts

 The Wii U gaming console sold out quickly after its Nov. 18 launch.
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Date published: 12/1/2012

THERE'S DEBATE about whether the new Wii U gaming console will help Nintendo blow past its rivals in sales the way the original Wii did six years ago.

But there's no question that it's one of the hottest holiday gifts this year, in part because it sold out quickly after its Nov. 18 launch, and there's at least a public perception that it's hard to get.

But you can find the basic white $300 8 GB Wii U at area GameStop stores just about anytime now. And if your timing is good, you can waltz in and pick up the more scarce black deluxe $350 32 GB version. The basic version is available online and the deluxe one back-ordered.

The main differences between the Wii U and the original are an upgrade to high-definition graphics and, more importantly, the GamePad controller built around a 6.2-inch high-def touch screen that provides an impressive level of motion control. There is only one GamePad, and they may not be purchased separately. Additional in-room players use a Wii controller and Nunchuk for the simpler games and a Wii U Pro Controller for the more involved ones. That will run you another $50.

A word of warning: If you get the Wii U for the kids for Christmas, you may be up all night Christmas Eve setting it up. Or trying to.

Right out of the box, an excruciatingly lengthy firmware update is required upon power-up.

Our test found that it took an hour to download the firmware update on a fast Verizon FioS Wi-Fi connection, which seems to be typical. But there have been reports of the download taking up to four hours. Nintendo has publicly apologized for this, saying the system should have been ready to go without the update.

Worse, there are nightmarish reports that if the console is turned off during the download, or if power or the Wi-Fi connection is lost, it becomes a useless "brick." It's under warranty and Nintendo will replace it, but what a pain.

Once it's up and running, the Wii U is a system most gamers will love, but it won't have the same kind of widespread appeal the original Wii did across generations. It lacks the simple interactive quality of waving a controller that gave the original such broad appeal.

Our 9- and 11-year-olds, who are Xbox 360 fanatics, were thrilled with Wii U GamePad and with Nintendo Land games that come in the box, including Metroid Blast, Pikmin Adventure, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest and Luigi's Ghost Mansion.

An M-rated $60 ZombiU game provided a visually impressive experience that allows the WiiU GamePad's sophistication to really shine.

The Wii U is backward compatible with games for the original Wii.

Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163
Email: mikez@freelancestar.com