We give you a guided tour of the newest addition to the Wii's featureset, the SD Card Menu.
Today at GDC 2009, Nintendo of America's Bill Trinen introduced the Wii SD Card Menu. This menu appears after applying the latest Wii firmware update (available now), and appears as an icon in the bottom-left of the screen right next to the Wii button.
This new menu allows you to load games directly from the SD Card, instead of having to constantly copy them over to the Wii's system memory and then run them from there. In addition to this frequently-requested functionality, the Wii can now handle SDHC cards up to at least 32GB in size (whether it can handle cards larger than 32GB has not been confirmed nor denied). It also expands the number of SD Card pages to 20, with 12 channel slots available on each page.
In addition to these change to the local Wii menu, Nintendo has also updated the functionality of the Wii Shop Channel. Players can now choose whether or not they want to download to the Wii's system memory or the SD Card. Download times are identical in either case, indicating that there is no lag when dealing with direct-to-SD Card downloads.
Here's what you'll see when you first access the Wii SD Card Menu:
What the SD Card Menu actually does is place a "phantom" copy of a game that's on the SD Card in your Wii's system memory. For example, World of Goo - a 320-block game - still requires 320 open blocks on your Wii. However, if you launch another game, like Onslaught (a 308-block game), the 320-block reserved space then changes to a 308-block reserved space. You can always delete this phantom image from the Wii's Data Management menu to free up the space entirely.
Even larger games like Onslaught launch rather quickly, with Hudson's shooter taking a mere ten seconds to load. As the game loads, a progress bar shows players how long it will take before the game is ready to play (loading will be longer if you let the SD Card Menu move files automatically, and the load times will also vary based on the read speed of your respective SD Card).
Virtual Console, WiiWare, and Wii Channel Applications (such as the Internet Channel and Wii Speak Channel) are confirmed to be launchable from the SD Card Menu. NWR has not tested installed channels such as the Mario Kart and Wii Fit channels, but it's probably safe to assume that they work as well.
A great new feature is the "Auto Manage" menu. If you try to launch a game from the SD Card without having enough room on your Wii for the placeholder data, the "Auto Manage" menu informs you that you need to move some games from your Wii system memory to the SD Card in order to launch it. It then lets you choose how you want to select which items are moved: by right-most position on the Wii Channel menu, by items with the most number of blocks, or by items with the fewest number of blocks. I selected Lots of Blocks, and Tetris Party and Onslaught were moved over to the SD Card and deleted from my Wii system memory accordingly. World of Goo was then copied over and launched.
There are a few caveats. When exiting out of Virtual Console games, it appears that you can only go back to the Wii Menu, not directly back to the SD Card Menu. You also cannot load save data or DLC from SD cards. Save data and DLC must be on the Wii's system memory, because it cannot access the SD Card. Furthermore, you cannot manage save data that's in your SD card with the SD Card Menu; to manage save data you still must use the Wii data manager.
Dragging games from the Wii Menu to SD Card Menu is also not an option, and must also be performed via the Wii data manager. The News and Weather channels are also bound to the Wii Menu, and cannot be moved to the SD Card in any way.
It's currently unconfirmed, but it also seems like copying games from the SD Card to the Wii system memory is a lot faster. Copying the 308-block Onslaught now only takes 22 seconds, whereas it used to take minutes.
The Wii SD Card Menu is a great addition to the Wii's SD card support, and will certainly all but eliminate having to "clean the fridge" for larger games. When fridge-cleaning does need to take place, it is now a LOT easier. It's a much-needed update to the Wii's functionality, one that will be appreciated by all heavy users of the Virtual Console service (which includes most of the staff here at NWR). Good job, Nintendo!