How to backup Wii U save files

Difficulty: Lower medium. Terminology level: Rather heavy, especially in regards to gaming and harddisk terms. Price demand: From €8 and up.

The Wii U is a curious little machine, with many traits and quirks that really defines it as a machine. One of the places where this is visible, is with the system’s save files for its games, since things have become a bit more complicated than Memory Cards, SD cards, or even its present-day competitors’ allowance of USB sticks.

Now it requires formatting, compatible units, and workarounds for the fact that the Wii U file manager tries to tie all the data of a game together into one package.

For you see, the guy(s) who designed the Wii U had a rather aesthetic approach to how to design a videogame console in the year of 2013, so I can only imagine that their views of certain storage-related topics may not have been the most optimistic:

  • “NTFS hard disks? Our financial bosses in Tōkyō still have nightmares about how easy the Wii was to mod with those demonic things.
  • SD cards? The Wii Mode mandates that we have a reader, but we personally make sure to never use it.
  • Security backup? Stop with all your Chinese jargon!
  • Powering things with our four USB ports? Hell no, everyone knows that power conservation is the most important thing. Even more important than system processing power!
  • Copying save files individually? We still have Indiana Jones on our hitman target list because of the save files for his LEGO games. We’ve looked in all of the US and A for him, but we can’t find him anywhere!”

As a result, the act of copying save files onto another storage unit contains more steps than usual. You’ll need:

  • 1 ≥16GB USB hard disk or stick, preferably freshly bought for the occasion.
  • If you use a hard disk, it must be DC-powered. The Wii U cannot consistently power a USB hard disk with its USB ports at all, resulting in whitescreen and very common softlocks during loading.
  • If you have a digital collection of only a limited size, you could be able to make due with an 8GB stick instead. But do not go as low as 4GB!
  • A willingness to format the stick/disk to a new format, so that you cannot read it in Windows, Mac or Linux.

If you have a big USB-based hard disk plugged in already as your de facto main hard disk, you’re probably familiar with all of this, except that you can also use a USB stick. Now here comes the list of steps:

  1. When the system is turned off (Power light being red or not lighting up at all), plug in the USB storage that you want to backup to.
  2. Turn on. If you have another USB storage plugged in already, you will receive a note after some seconds that you have two or more storages plugged in, and will need to head to the file manager to handle the files. If you normally rely on the Wii U’s internal storage, I do not have first-hand experience of the following, but I can imagine that you will get a notice asking you to format the new storage to be able to use it on Wii U. If you don’t get the message, go to System Settings → Files. One of the blue folders in the settings, and not the black, red or purple ones.
  3. Drag out any other USB devices you have plugged into the machine, and select Format. After some button presses, the system will now prepare the storage unit for Wii U use.
  4. Now choose your main storage place on the system, possibly after plugging it back in again after the formatting, whether it’s “Wii U”, “USB Storage Device 1” or “USB Storage Device 2”. If you’re uncertain, you can easily judge them based on the size of their capacities (16GB v 32GB v 3TB, for instance).
  5. Pick a number of games to copy over the files of. Now this is where things get odd, but to copy over any files from one storage place to another, you need to download the whole set of files for the game, consisting of the full game (if downloaded from eShop), update files, personal save files and combined save files. Therefore, you will probably not be able to copy over everything you want in one go. Press the button for Copy and NOT the one for Move! Start with the big ones, but you can also add some small files from disc games if you’re confident in your math skills.
  6. The copying may be a bit slow, about 500MB or less per minute.
  7. Now you will have entire games on your stick/disk, and that’s a bit of an overkill when you have access to the eShop, right? Now you shall go back in the menus to choose the USB storage device that you were copying to, to do a bit of cleanup. Make also really sure that you’ve actually selected the recipient of the backup; this will save you some nervous feelings during step 8.
  8. Now go to any of the game folders there, preferably of any of your eShop games. Tap the “Game data” button inside it, which is essentially the whole game itself except for updates and your precious save files. Now you will see a large button in the middle of the GamePad that says “Delete” on a white background. You may probably be afraid, but as long as you remembered to press Copy and not Move in Step 5, you can go ahead and delete it. The original file won’t disappear from your main storage, so don’t worry!
  9. After doing this with the eShop games you copied over in the first copying, now you have a lot of space on your stick to copy over more games and thus more save files! Repeat from Step 4 until you have all the save files you were wanting to copy over.
  10. Success!

And that’s all you need to know. You can’t further copy the save files over to a PC-readable harddisk or SD card, but you can stuff away the USB stick well aware that your save files won’t completely vaporize when your system or main storage unit dies.

How to backup Wii U save files

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