The Nintendo Channel has long been a mixed bag: it provides Nintendo with a gateway into player's play habits (though you'd have thought this would be possible from the basic system given that the Wii has built-in networking capability) and also provides players with game trailers, short video features (most heavily leveraged in Japan) and downloadable DS game demos. Confusingly a good deal of the Nintendo Channel's content has been hidden behind the "Find Titles for You" button, which allows players to add ratings to their most-played games as well as check upcoming DS and Wii software releases and view additional marketing assets for them (where available).
It's long seemed as if Nintendo didn't really know what to do with the Nintendo Channel and its actual purpose was unclear. After the appearance of the Wii no Ma Channel it seemed possible that the Nintendo Channel would be sidelined, however this week Japanese Wii owners were provided with an updated Nintendo Channel which shows Nintendo still does consider it a valuable proposition. It's largely just a facelift, but it addresses problems with the existing Channel and helps make it more relevant to Wii owners.
The Wii Shop entry for the Nintendo Channel remains unchanged; the release date is the same and there is no separate update as with Photo Channel 1.1. Launching the Nintendo Channel causes a prompt to appear which gives the user a choice of going back to the Wii Menu or downloading the update which is performed through the Wii Shop channel and provides the option to simply download the Nintendo Channel again.
After the download completes the new Nintendo Channel automatically launches. You're again presented with the disclaimers to assent or decline to receiving contact from 3rd parties and to share your play data with Nintendo. You're also prompted to select whether you want to view videos in standard or high quality video output; all of these options can be changed later via an options icon at the top of the screen.
After your choices are made and the channel starts properly the difference from the old Nintendo Channel is readily apparent. Instead of playing a random video in a small window and listing the latest videos as single-line text descriptions, recent videos are now displayed at the top of the screen six at-a-time with a thumbnail of the video and then text description next to it which aids in quick browsing -- especially for non-Japanese speakers! Sadly you cannot quickly scroll through videos using the -/+ buttons, but the display does wrap around through 10 screens so you can click a left or right on-screen arrow if you want to go through them in chronological order of appearance as opposed to the old newest-to-oldest method.
Instead of the "Find Titles for You" button, there's now a range of icons at the bottom of the screen which resemble those found in the Internet Channel. Clicking the "star" icon brings up a choice of browsing the latest videos in a list format or browsing the most recent game releases in all formats including disc, WiiWare, Virtual Console and DS/DSiWare. As with the old Nintendo Channel you can filter this list to cover only Wii releases or DS releases and further filter to only include WiiWare, DSiWare or Virtual Console games and related video/image content.
All list-presented data has hidden buttons which are revealed when moving your cursor to the right side of the screen in a style reminiscent of the Mac OS X dock or Windows status bar when auto-hide functions are enabled. This will provide quick browsing via buttons that take the user to the top, bottom or middle of a list or jump a few entries at a time in either direction (you also have the Internet Channel option of holding B to "grab" the screen and use the pointer for scrolling). Here you will also find buttons for bookmarking game data pages or playing attached content where appropriate.
There's a pretty robust search function accessed via the "magnifying lens" icon which allows you to search for games by format, publisher, genre and ranking (more on that in a bit). You can also search for game titles via text as with the Wii Shop title search function. Both of these suggest a more comprehensive game database is now included with the Nintendo Channel than was previously the case and will make this a better resource for people looking for information on games. Games found using a search will usually have photos of box art, publication information, genre, number of players, media assets like screen shots or videos and ranking information based upon user-supplied ratings. Titles of interest can be bookmarked for viewing later in a separate list.
Clicking the "envelope" icon will allow you to create your own game ratings based upon games you've played on your system as was possible previously. I've not checked whether the same minimum play time of one hour is still a requirement before they appear in this list, but I would expect that to still be true. You can also review ratings you've submitted previously. Games that garner a sufficient number of ratings will have medal icons visible of bronze, silver, gold and platinum reflecting the overall user ranking of the title and these can also be used as search criteria if you wish to restrict searches to the most highly rated games (as of this writing the Sega "Video Adventure" title 428 is the sole Platinum-ranked game). The noteworthy addition to the ranking function is the ability to download play data from your DS and supply game rating information for DS titles. Next to the ranking icon is the DS Download Service icon, where DS owners can uplink their DS to download game demos for the DS/DSi.
Clicking the "crown" icon will show released games and Nintendo Channel videos according to user rankings and views respectively. The "notepad" icon next to it appears to contain a list of games played on your system ordered by length of time played and a list of bookmarked titles and/or recommended titles of interest depending on whether or not you've bookmarked anything.
This much-needed facelift should improve uptake of the Nintendo Channel as it now makes it easier to use and a more obvious resource for game information than it was previously. It's very likely this update will be rolled out worldwide in the near future so watch your Wii slot for the telltale blue light and be sure to download it when it becomes available.