Wii U Preview
IntroductionWe first went hands-on with the Nintendo Wii U at the E3 conference in June. While we had ample time to get a feel for the new Wii U Pad and a selection of games, a trade show is never the ideal situation to get anything more than impressions, and that first foray left us with as many questions as conclusions. Luckily, a visit to Frankfurt to go in-depth with the first Wii U titles has given us a chance to clear some of those up. Where Wii U is trying to be all consoles to all men it might struggle, yet its unique features and Nintendo’s ingenuity bring something new and different to gaming. As a family-friendly console, Wii U might create a bigger stir than you would think. And with a Nintendo Wii U release date of 30 November, it'll be here just in time for Christmas - shame the same can't be said of the Xbox 720 and Playstation 4.
Wii U - The HardwareWith consoles locked inside transparent boxes and specifications still short on supply, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the hardware. The demonstration consoles are slightly wider than the existing Wii with curved sides that means it won’t stand vertical without some kind of stand. We understand that the flap at the front beneath the optical drive – which supports a proprietary 25GB format – houses an SD memory card slot and two USB 2.0 ports, while we could see a power socket, HDMI socket, Nintendo AV output and two further USB 2.0 ports at the rear.
Inside? Only Nintendo and its third-party developers know for sure, and they’re not telling. We know there’s a multi-core IBM Power architecture CPU (probably a Tri-core) with 1GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon GPU (apparently a 7xxx series with embedded eDRAM). Current speculation from those that have spoken to developers is that the Wii goes beyond the Xbox 360 and PS3 in terms of RAM and GPU power, though the CPU is believed to be slightly less potent. Overall Wii U can match and exceed the PS3 and Xbox 360, with enough headroom to pull off more detail and lavish effects in the future. We’ve yet to see any cross-platform game that bears this out, mind, but it’s early days for the console, and we may have to wait for Nintendo to get the best out of Wii U, just as it has done with the Wii and the 3DS.
Wii U - The Wii U PadWe’ve had more time to get used to the Wii U Pad, and it’s a typically classy piece of controller design. It feels surprisingly large in comparison to a 7in tablet such as the Google Nexux 7 or PlayStation Vita, but it’s well balanced and feels relatively light, and the benefits come in the large 6.2-inch screen and a very comfortable control layout.
The twin analogue sticks fit neatly under the thumbs, with the D-Pad and face buttons below. The bumper buttons feel a little small and the triggers underneath have a lot of squeeze, but we didn’t find this slowed us down while playing games. If we have any criticism, it’s that you really need to rest the Wii U Pad on something during games that require a lot of stylus use. Otherwise, holding the entire pad level one-handed can become a slight strain on the arm.
We’re not sure what technology the 854 x 480 resolution screen uses. On close acquaintance it’s not as bright or crystal clear as the 1280 x 800 screens we’re seeing on the best 7in tablets, or even PS Vita’s smaller 5in 960 x 544 qHD screen. That said, while you’re playing games it’s perfectly vibrant and usable. Horizontal viewing angles are very good (with vertical angles slightly less so), but it’s surprising how well the quality of the sub-HD visuals on the Wii U Pad screen match the HD visuals on the TV. Switch between the two and you’re aware of some degradation, but not necessarily a massive hit.
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