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Wii U review

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  • Recommended by TR

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Well-designed, unobtrusive hardware
  • Excellent exclusive games
  • Cheaper than Xbox One and PS4
  • Strong indie and retro line-up

Cons

  • Few third-party titles
  • Future looks bleak

Three years after release, has the Wii U redeemed itself?

At this point it seems unlikely that the Wii U will go down as one of Nintendo’s great success stories. Nearly three years after launch the console has only sold around 10 to 11 million units, putting it a very distant third behind the PS4 and Xbox One, and a long way behind the 100 million-selling Wii.

From EA to Activision to Ubisoft, the major third-party developers have long deserted it, returning, if at all, just to dish out a Wii U version of their latest family-friendly game. It feels like even Nintendo has lost faith. It’s no secret that its mysterious next-generation Nintendo NX platform is waiting in the wings, while this year’s Christmas line-up is unarguably Nintendo’s weakest for many years. Is it time to cry ‘Dead Console Walking’?

All this is true, yet there’s another way of looking at the Wii U. Throughout its life it has delivered strange, wonderful and distinctively Nintendo titles, plus an equally enjoyable run of weird third-party offerings and indie hits. It’s also a great console for anyone exploring the rich history of gaming, thanks partly to Nintendo’s own Virtual Console store. The Wii U might be on its last legs, but what a legacy it’s built in its short time.

Related: Best Wii U Games 2015

Wii U: The Hardware

Nintendo hasn’t built a console around performance since the N64, and the Wii U was clearly designed to be sold at an affordable price, to fit right into the average living room and to avoid Nintendo making losses on the hardware – never its chosen business model. The Wii U is very compact, very quiet and spectacularly unobtrusive, to the extent that when it sits in a TV cabinet with other consoles and media devices, you frequently forget it’s there.

True, there’s some fan noise and disc whine when you power it on using the Wii U Pad, but only at the same kind of level you’d get from a Blu-ray player or Freeview set-top-boxes. If only the PS4 and Xbox One were this discreet and quiet.

But then the PS4 and Xbox One pack some pretty powerful hardware, while the Wii U’s innards started out looking modest and now look grossly underpowered.

It’s based on a tri-core IBM Power PC CPU with a GPU, codenamed Latte, based on AMD’s R700 architecture; an architecture that’s now over seven years old. This, together with just 1GB of RAM (a further 1GB is reserved for the operating system), puts the Wii U somewhere between the last-generation consoles and the Xbox One and PS4 in terms of horsepower, and if you looked at many of the cross-platform releases that emerged during the Wii U’s first year, you’d struggle to agree with that.

Just as the standard definition Wii could never maintain the pace with the Xbox 360 and PS4, so the Wii U has struggled to deliver games with the photorealism and visual fidelity of the best on Xbox One and PS4.

Related: PS4 vs Xbox One

The surprising thing is that Nintendo has proved so adept at rendering this difference in power irrelevant. Play Splatoon or Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 or even Yoshi’s Woolly World and you won’t be thinking about the lack of high-resolution textures or post-processing effects; you’ll be too busy being stunned by the vibrant colours, the personality and artistry and the almost Pixar-like quality of the lighting. Nintendo’s games aren’t photorealistic, but they’re beautiful. And, as Bayonetta 2, Xenoblade Chronicles X or Rayman Legends show, it isn’t only Nintendo’s in-house teams that can pull this stuff off.

For a small console, the Wii U does pretty well on connectivity. It has two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI output, an AV Multi Out port and a port for the Sensor bar at the back, plus another two USB 2.0 ports and an SD Memory Card slot concealed beneath a flap at the front.

The USB ports are particularly useful because the base level Wii U still comes with just 8GB of built-in storage – not actually enough to hold some recent games – while even the Premium model has just 32GB, which will be gone in no time at all. Luckily, as Wii U games are much, much smaller than their Xbox One and PS4 equivalents, a cheap 500GB USB 2 drive will cover most gamer’s needs for some time to come.

Related: New 3DS vs 3DS

Wii U: The Controller

The Wii U Pad was the Wii U’s biggest, oddest selling point at launch, and time has only made it seem more of an oddity. With its old-school resistive 6.2-inch touchscreen, 854 x 480 pixel resolution, chunky moulded grips and plasticky feel, it’s closer in feel to a super-sized handheld than a modern tablet or smartphone. What’s more, surprisingly few games have really made much use of the pad’s potential – or its array of accelerometers, front-facing camera and gyroscope controls.

Where early titles like Zombi U, Rayman Legends or NintendoLand tried to harness it for new game experiences or innovative local co-op modes, most Wii U games have tended to use it as a map screen or for inventory management, and left it at that. Affordable Space Adventures is one of the few exceptions in recent memory.

In retrospect, it sometimes seems that the Wii U would have been better served by a more conventional controller and a lower price point. The twin analogue sticks, face buttons, triggers and bumpers are perfectly usable and comfortable, but as a straight controller the Wii U Pad isn’t in the same league as the Xbox One controller or the DualShock 4. You’ll feel that over long gaming sessions.

Related: 2DS vs 3DS vs 3DS XL

Surprisingly, the best thing the GamePad has bought to the Wii U is remote play. While the step-down in resolution from 720p to 480p is noticeable – and a serious issue in text-heavy titles like Xenoblade Chronicles X – the experience of playing Wii U games on the pad rather than the TV is mostly brilliant. The screen is dull and pixelated by modern smartphone standards but perfectly acceptable in isolation, while the speakers produce a reasonable sound – and you can easily plug headphones in anyway.

With the big screen and effective controls it’s a vast improvement on playing PS4 games on the PS Vita and a lot more convenient than streaming Xbox One games to a Windows 10 laptop or tablet. I’ve used it extensively for late-night gaming when you can’t be bothered to turn the TV on, not to mention bouts of gaming while the TV is otherwise occupied.

Sadly, battery life has never improved. Three to four hours is about as good as it gets from a charge, meaning the Wii U’s supposedly wireless controller spends a worrying amount of time plugged into the supplied mains adapter, or charging in the cradle supplied with the Premium packs.

Matt GB

October 1, 2012, 1:26 am

I'm just not convinced by this new Nintendo console. The tech is dated even before it is released.

I bought the Wii and unlike my Game Cube it spent most of its time gathering dust in my loft. Other than the Nintendo exclusives there seems very little to attract gamers to Nintendo's consoles nowadays.

krencey

December 2, 2012, 7:44 pm

Hey guys, could you please correct your misleading info about adding memory with SD cards? The fact is, you cannot use the extra space for Wii U content, only content meant for the original Wii software, Virtual Console, etc.

Also, the review says next to nothing about the infrared TV remote capabilities. You might want to update the review with that. It might be interesting to note how the web browser handles online content, videos on youtube, facebook...

Last but not least, you forgot to mention that the HD era Nintento is bringing is not always full HD. Many games run natively only at 720p and are upscaled in a similar fashion XBOX360 games are to 1080p.

sm1130

December 20, 2012, 2:36 pm

Zomibi u?

Jay

December 25, 2012, 1:09 am

Was not convinced by reviews to buy one, but as always I couldnt go without, let me put it this way the console isn't bad, I like the handheld game pad and the game are as the Wii should have been, I think the console has a lot to offer in the future, the verdicts still out as we need to see whats coming next from Sony and Microsoft, as it stands the Wii U isnt a bad machine, but maybe more expensive than what were used to from Nintendo, but I think the next gen from Sony and Microsoft are going to be £100 more.

So if you are looking for to replace your Wii and you want more but better then the Wii U has got what you are looking for.

8/10.

disqus_mEwrae7IIT

December 31, 2012, 8:14 pm

I bought the deluxe set on 12-2-12. I've had no end of weird little issues with it, along with the several hours of updates just to get going out of the box. I am not impressed; it appears to me that the system was rushed out the door before it was completely stable. 1/10

RetardedSpot

January 1, 2013, 1:56 am

I kinda like this console the only reason I would not buy one is because of the CPU but the gamepad games and mobility makes me like it.

Ssaqwe

January 1, 2013, 5:18 pm

You may be right, but you obviously didn't think much of the original Wii either and that ended up becoming the most successful console of its generation.

Jerome M Hobart

January 11, 2013, 9:29 pm

I have had the same results. It takes 9 minutes to load Mario every time I want to play it. I have an 8 year old, nothing says grumpy like a kid that has to wait to play! Who tested this in the factory an eighty year old in no hurry?

Jm5150

February 1, 2013, 3:27 am

the wii was succesful only because everyone wanted one...once they all had one they ALL collected dust

Marichka

March 30, 2013, 11:33 pm

We like our Wii. The only reason it sometimes collects dust is because there aren't enough great games for it and we get sick of the ones we've had for years.

Chris

November 15, 2013, 3:15 am

Sorry I wasted 350.00 on this. regular Wii much more fun. Not enough games at all

Matthew Bunton

November 21, 2013, 7:47 pm

I really liked the Hardware especially the controller but mine suffered from multiple game freezes and system crashes even after all the patches and updates. Sadly I had to return 3 of them all with this issue. Maybe I will pick up one again in the future.

Another major issue with this console was the HDMI's colour the gamma is way too high and often games had a blue hue and blacks looked washed out.

No name

November 30, 2013, 9:30 am

No you sould have given it 9.8/10. PS4 and xboxone are rubbish compared to it. it is the best console to date and can people just stop giving it a bad time cause its nintendo.

Skbwolf

December 3, 2013, 2:39 pm

I just got WiiU yesterday, first Nintendo system in decades. i have to say i am very impressed, especially with the controller and its features. Bravo Nintendo, cannot wait for the big hits in 2014

<3gamez

December 11, 2013, 8:31 pm

I just got a Wii U two days ago, as an early xmas present from my girlfriend, for me and my 4 year old daughter. My daughter is just starting to really be able to grasp some of the simpler video games i own, and she has taking a real liking to Super Mario Galaxy 2 the past few weeks, she loves playing as player 2 and helping me collect stuff and kill the baddies. i am extremely impressed by the Wii U so far.. This review talks about lag in the interface and stuff, but i have not experienced any of that.. i think they may have patched it since release. It runs smooth as butter, and the graphics on Super Mario 3d world are absolutely beautiful.. I am really looking forward to all the nintendo staples on this new console, HD Zelda? Yes please.

Mike

December 15, 2013, 9:02 pm

Just wait until Smash comes out. I'll buy a $300 console just to play it and I bet a lot of other people will to.

David John Leach

January 1, 2014, 4:11 pm

I just ordered the Wii U 32GB Deluxe. Waiting for it in the mail. This will be my first console since the Sega Genesis! From what I read it looks good but we will see. I have a 46 inch LED 1080P TV and so I hope it looks good...

CutieLover

January 11, 2014, 9:28 am

Tell it to Nintendo. Mine was corrupted a bit and they returned it with Earthbound pre-installed ^.^

Colin

January 31, 2014, 4:03 pm

Video games is something I've grown up with and have no problems letting my kids enjoy. Unfortunately it seems as though all the other consoles offer is adult titles. I can't in good conscious (I think I'm in the minority in this one) just let my kids play Assassins Creed or COD or Grand Theft Auto. Nintendo has always done a great job offering a variety of kid friendly titles in addition to the adult titles. The parental features are great, still allows me to enjoy the titles meant for older crowds without worrying about the kids getting into them. Even the Nintendo store can be locked down so that only kid friendly content can be seen. I'm sure the other consoles have these capabilities and I know they are superior pieces of hardware. I just feel like Nintendo always goes out of there way to accommodate a wider audience. We've had the Wii U now for over a year and I'm really impressed with all the features it offers. Great system, solid as a rock, quiet a great addition to any home entertainment system, I encourage any family who is looking for a gaming system to seriously consider the Wii U.

Juss Sheena

May 29, 2014, 12:52 pm

The wii u sucks. Have had mine for 3 months exactly and the game pad dies while my kids aren't even touching it while watching netflix. The gamepad alone costs 189 bucks. Thankfully I have a warranty. PS the xbox 360 is great and a great buy. Dont waste your money on a wii u.

Juss Sheena

May 29, 2014, 12:54 pm

Hope you bought a warranty. You will get to enjoy 3 months of game play before the game pad dies. PS dont invest in a lot of games

Daniel

June 8, 2014, 6:31 am

I've had my gamepad for a year and it works fine and I get roughly 3 hours out of it. You cannot purchase another gamepad at retail for $189 so I'm not sure what you're talking about. Also, no game requires the use of a second game pad, and the cost of the gamepad is factored into the console package. If your gamepad died, then it should be under warranty and get them to replace it. The Wii U is the best console out at the moment compared to the PS4 & XBOX1 which both have few exclusive titles and not many quality games to choose from. If you want an entertainment hub, get an xbox or PS4. If you want a games console, get a Wii U (especially if you have kids).

Zakk Kaye

July 21, 2014, 10:43 am

Don't be so narrow minded! Just because your unit broke quickly does not mean every single wii u in existence will. In fact the vast majority of them won't! David can do whatever without some woman he probably doesn't know dictating what he does.

Miyako O'Conner

October 23, 2014, 12:48 pm

Thanks for the article Stuart. Just want to inform all folks who live outside US that Nintendo Wii is a great media Player. If you want to access Netflix and other streaming stations on your Nintendo Wii you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

AHYL88

January 29, 2015, 5:56 pm

I totally agree actually; I'm only in my 20s myself and even I think that a lot of games these days are being far too serious and realistic for their own good. I'm so sick of the number of FPSs, zombie post-apocalyptic setting games and such that have been released lately, cos they're all pretty much the same as each other anyway. It made me ask the question: what do we play games for? For fun? Or to be so serious? It's why I went for the Wii and will go for the Wii U soon, cos the games on there, while colourful, look so much fun while still deceptively challenging.

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