You might assume that because the Wii U is now on the market, Nintendo is ready to sever all ties with its six year-old Wii system. After all, when you’ve shifted almost 100 million units worldwide, it must be difficult to find anyone in the developed world who hasn’t got one by now.
However, Nintendo is no stranger to making odd commercial decisions (remember the ill-fated Virtual Boy?) and has delivered a stunning curve ball in the form of the Wii Mini. Announced in the wake of the Wii U’s North American launch, it’s a pared-down version of the insanely popular waggle-based console which features a revised case design, a top-loading disc drive and reduced functionality. It’s also exclusive to Canada, but there’s a chance that it could reach other regions in 2013.
Although its moniker may suggest a significant reduction in size, the Wii Mini isn’t actually that much smaller than its predecessor. It’s certainly lighter - it weighs about half what the original Wii did - but if you were hoping for some drastic shrinkage in terms of footprint, you’re going to be disappointed. In fact, because the Wii Mini utilises a cost-cutting top-loading disc drive, it feels like it takes up more room than the original system because you can’t stack anything on top of it or slide it into narrow gaps underneath your television. The drive has a pop-up lid which means you need quite a bit of clearance to operate it.
Compared to the glossy original, the Wii Mini looks like a child’s plaything - something that is almost certainly intentional on Nintendo’s part. The Wii Mini’s casing has a matt texture to it and the two-tone black and red styling is sure to appeal to youngsters. To round off the look, the console is bundled with a gorgeous red Wii Remote , complete with matching silicone jacket, and a red Nunchuk attachment.
On the side of the Wii Mini casing you’ll find the sync button (for pairing the console with Wii Remote controllers) and a small panel secured by a single screw - these contains a user-serviceable battery which helps the system retain save data.
Around the back there’s the usual array of ports, including power, AV, sensor bar and a single USB socket. You’ll also notice the outlet for the console’s cooling fan, which generates around the same amount of noise as the one on the first system did. Taken as a whole, the Wii Mini certainly can’t be described as ugly, but it arguably lacks the understated sophistication of the Wii’s original iteration.
It’s not just the outward appearance of the Wii that has been altered here - in terms of pure functionality, the Wii Mini is aptly named. It lacks any kind of online connectivity whatsoever - there’s no Wi-Fi and no Ethernet port to link to your router. The aforementioned USB connection might suggest expandability, but don’t get any bright ideas about hooking up a USB Ethernet adapter - it doesn’t work. Browsing the settings menu reveals that the option for configuring your online access is entirely absent, which essentially means this console isn’t going anywhere near the web.
This of course makes online multiplayer on titles like Mario Kart Wii impossible, but it has wider ramifications too. No internet in the Wii Mini means no access to Nintendo’s online store, which offers hundreds of downloadable “WiiWare” games (like World of Goo and La-Mulana) and retro “Virtual Console” classics, covering titles from the days of the SNES, NES, Mega Drive and much, much more.
It also means you can’t download apps for services such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube, and - possibly most serious of all - it prevents patches from being applied to existing software. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword shipped in 2011 with a game-breaking bug that was eventually remedied by a downloadable update - but there’s no way of applying fixes such as this with the Wii Mini.