So the wait is finally over and we can tell you all about the Nintendo Wii U hardware! As you very likely already know, the system launches today, November 18th, in North America and on November 30th across Europe. There has been much speculation, both positive and negative, about what the system will offer to gamers across the world, and we’re finally able to lift the lid on this year’s biggest hardware launch…Design and Build
While arguably the least important aspect of the hardware, we’re going to start by taking a look at the actual physical unit itself. It’s definitely a lot bulkier than the original Wii, weighing in at 1.6kg compared to 1.2kg. It also sports a larger footprint, measuring approximately 1.8” in height, 10.6” in length and 6.75” long. Our review unit is the black Deluxe model, which offers 32GB of storage space instead of the 8GB offered by the basic set. While those concerned with style will be happy with the glossy black finish, we found it to be a real fingerprint magnet. This thing gets seriously grubby with very little encouragement! Our recommendation is to give it a good rub down with a soft cloth once you’ve gotten it out of the box and set up beneath your TV.
Unlike the original Wii, the Wii U features a rounded finish which means you’re not going to be able to stand it vertically unless you use the console stand included with the Deluxe Set, or available to purchase separately. Those of you who buy the Basic Set may find this something of a nuisance, particularly if you’re tight on space around your TV, but it’s far from being a deal breaker.
The front of the device features a flip down cover, neatly hiding two USB ports and an SD card slot, as well as the system’s power button, eject button, synch button and front loading optical disc drive. At the rear you’ll find a HDMI output, power input, sensor bar input, a further two USB ports and a fairly redundant AV output. Since the biggest selling point of the console is the fact that it marks Nintendo’s HD debut, we can’t imagine there’ll be too many of you making use of that particular port – but it’s there in case you need it.
Overall it’s a very sturdy unit. We haven’t been inclined to drop test it, nor will we in the near future, but it does feel rugged enough to take at least moderate punishment. If anyone wants to test that out and fill us in on your findings, we’ll gladly publish them – but we’re not replacing your broken console!Check out our Wii U unboxing video!Specifications
This is one area of the Wii U that has remained shrouded in uncertainty since the system’s announcement at E3 2011. Is it as powerful as the PS3 and Xbox 360? Is it MORE powerful than them? Does it have enough about it to survive the inevitable launch of Sony and Microsoft’s next generation systems? Honestly, we have no idea. We do know that it features 2GB of system memory, split 1GB each for games and system applications, and that its internal architecture is much more versatile than the ageing PS3 and Xbox 360, suggesting that it should be able to outperform them in the near future, depending on how well developers get to grips with the development kits.
The Wii U also features a brand new proprietary optical disc system, offering 25GB of storage per disc. This is comparable with a single layer Blu-ray disc, and there have been (admittedly unconfirmed) suggestions that more layers could potentially be added if and when developers need access to more storage space. For all intents and purposes though, these look like regular optical discs; there are no custom sizes like we saw with the GameCube, and no funky colouring like Blu-ray.Performance
In terms of hardware performance, the first thing you’ll notice will be how quiet the system is. When compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3, it’s as if the machine isn’t powered on, which is obviously a nice surprise. While the bulk of the Wii U’s performance will come down to the operating system and games, we’re happy to report that ours has been on pretty much continually since we received it earlier this week, and there have been no overheating or disc read issues – both common problems with new gaming systems. It definitely looks as through Nintendo has nailed it, at least in the short term. Should there be any reported performance issues once the system has been available for a few weeks/months, we will, of course, keep you updated, but it’s definitely a case of so far, so good right now.Wii U GamePad Controller
The Wii U GamePad controller has been the main focus of the system since it was first announced, and that continues to be true once you’ve gotten it out of the box. The thing simply dominates the comparatively unassuming console with its huge 6.2”, 854 x 480 pixel touch screen display. Build quality is seriously high, with both a pleasing heft and impressive finish from its 5.2” x 0.9” x 10.2” frame. For gameplay, the GamePad offers dual analog sticks (both clickable), two shoulder buttons, two rear triggers, four face buttons, d-pad, + and – buttons, power button, TV button and home button.
The TV button is perhaps the most surprising, allowing you to turn your GamePad controller into a universal remote control for your TV. This will certainly come in handy when Nintendo TVii launches next month, but it’s already proving useful with Netflix here in the Click office. The home button serves as a quick access point for all the console’s main features, including notifications, the eShop and the Miiverse, which serves as the console’s main social hub.
In addition to the various buttons, sticks and triggers, the Wii U GamePad also features a a volume slider, front facing camera and built-in microphone, as well as a headphone jack and sync button. Syncing with your Wii U console is a piece of cake, and infinitely more reliable than the often fiddly Wii sync system (read: it actually works all the time).
Ergonomically speaking, the GamePad is a hell of a lot more comfortable than it looks on paper/screen. It’s not until you pick up the unteathered, final version of the controller that you appreciate just how good a job Nintendo’s design team has done in making this potentially unwieldy device a joy to use. It looks like it should weigh a ton, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In practice its exceptionally well balanced, with its weight evenly distributed for optimal in-game use.
The touch screen, being the main focal point of the controller, is fantastically realized. The resolution may seem a little low at 854x480, particularly when compared to modern smartphones, but the thing looks fantastic. As we mentioned in our New Super Mario Bros. U review, the action actually looks slightly better in terms of obvious anti-aliasing on the small screen than it does on your TV. We’re not fully sure of the technical reasons for that, but it’s definitely noticeable if you really examine the difference in output. The colours aren’t as vibrant, but things do look a lot crisper when it comes to edges.
Obviously this is a good thing, given that asymmetric gameplay is a key selling point of the Wii U. The ability to power up your console, start a game that supports the GamePad controller’s display for gameplay and dive right in from where you left off without even turning your TV on really is a joy! The sound quality is particularly surprising when playing in this manner, as is the range (we managed to get about 40 feet from our console before control issues started creeping in).
One aspect of the GamePad that’s not quite so pleasing is its battery life. While this was always going to be a problem given the specs of the controller, the 2 hours and 42 minutes we got from the GamePad while playing NSMBU was a little disappointing. Thankfully, we can only foresee this being an issue for the fussiest of gamers, as the provided AC adapter is long enough to accommodate even the most spacious of gaming areas, while being light enough not to cause any potential control issues. Due to the fact that it’s a standalone power lead, you’ll also have the luxury of being able to plug it in wherever is easiest for you, which could be a bedside outlet, or an extension lead running underneath your couch.
The touch screen is not entirely dissimilar to that found on the 3DS. It lacks the obvious “double layer” feeling, but it’s certainly reminiscent. Whether using your finger or the stylus that comes neatly tucked away in the rear of the GamePad, you’ll find that inputs are accurate and responsive, with far less missteps than you might have expected. The versatility of the touch screen is perhaps its most impressive feature, offering players a wealth of different uses depending on the software being interacted with, and the context of use. For example, using the system’s web browser is far less frustrating than that of the original Wii or Sony’s PlayStation 3 thanks to the fact that you can navigate and type by touch. It’s not the main point of the Wii U, obviously, but it’s definitely a refreshing change.
The main concerns about the GamePad in the run up to the Wii U’s launch were that it would be too cumbersome to use in gameplay, and that there would be unmanageable lag between the console’s output and the controller’s display. Neither of these have proven to be the case, which is most definitely a very good thing.
Overall the GamePad is a very impressive piece of kit. It’s slick, well built and exceptionally easy to use. It might look a bit ungainly, but the second you have it in your hands you’ll realise that it ticks just about every box necessary. The battery life leaves a lot to be desired however, and may cause issues for some, but those who choose to leave it plugged in all the time shouldn’t expect to be too inconvenienced in the long run. Chalk this one up as a definite win for Nintendo.System Software
While everything else we’ve looked at has been depended on physical qualities, the Wii U’s distinctly intangible system software will ultimately prove to be the most important part of the device. As we mentioned in our Out of the Box feature, the console ships with an extremely stripped down operating system, which needs to be supplemented by a 5GB download in order to activate the bulk of the device’s features. You can play games right off the bat, and we definitely recommend you do that, because once you’ve started the update you’re going to be spending quite a lot of time twiddling your thumbs waiting for it to finish.
Once the update is out of the way though, you’ll be able to create your Nintendo ID, link it to your Mii and get stuck into the more advanced functionality the Wii U has to offer. There has been plenty of talk about the media capabilities of the system, but you’re unfortunately going to have to wait a little longer to get the most out of that side of things. Right now only Netflix is available on that front, but it’s a fine performance from the streaming software. You have the option of seamlessly swapping the video output between your GamePad and TV, so even if you need to leave the room, or someone wants to watch something on TV, you’ll be able to continue your viewing uninterrupted. As we move forward, additional services will be added, territory dependent, including the likes of Hulu Plus, YouTube and Amazon Video on Demand.
As all but the most ardent of Nintendo sympathizers will admit, online functionality is something that the company has really struggled to come to terms with over the past decade or so, seeing them lose serious ground to both Microsoft and Sony in that regard. Thankfully, and somewhat necessarily, the Wii U goes a long way to fixing those issues. Out go those ridiculous friend codes, and in comes a brand new account based system.
Once you’ve added your chums, you’ll be able to interact with them (or players you’ve met online) through the Miiverse. Acting as the central social hub for the system, Miiverse is a living, breathing ecosystem of Wii U players from across the world. Here you’ll be able to chat with friends, boast about your in-game accomplishments, and discuss tactics, post screenshots, send handwritten messages and more. It’s a doddle to use, and there are big plans for it in the future, so it’s definitely worth familiarizing yourself with right off the bat.
The Wii U eShop is where you’ll find an assortment of digital lovelies waiting to make their home on your system. The interface definitely does need some work, with finding anything that’s not plastered all over the shop’s main screen far more difficult than it needs to be (those of you who have used the eShop on the 3DS will know exactly what we’re talking about here), but the actual process of purchasing games is reasonably pain free. To try out the service we bought Sonic & All Stars Racing: Transformed, which required us to enter our credit card information, postal code and accept the terms and conditions.
All in all, the process took but a few seconds to complete, and our credit card details are now stored alongside our account for easy access, though this is optional if you’d rather not go down that road. Unfortunately, download speed for the game was far from optimal, with the system dialogue telling us that it should take around seven and a half hours to download the 5ish GB of data required to install the game. We’re willing to write that off as simple first night server load issues, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on it over the next few days.
Those of you who fancy hitting the interweb with your shiny new toy will be a touch disappointed. The browser is far from perfect, with plenty of sluggish response times and jerky scrolling. Loading times for pages, however, is superior to any other console based browsers we’ve used, and it does offer a certain degree of HTML 5 compatibility, opening up some options for how you consume media outside the offered apps.
The overall Wii U system interface is definitely going to be familiar to those of you who have used the Wii, which isn’t a bad thing. The additional real estate offered by the higher resolution video output means that everything feels a lot less cluttered, while still offering you a lot more information at any given time. Launching an app is just a case of giving it a nice firm click (sometimes two) and going from there, while at any time you can exit back to the main Wii U menu by hitting the home button. There’s certainly nothing revolutionary here, but as the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – instead Nintendo has clearly been focusing its attention on the things that were broken, like friend codes and shoddy online play.
Once again, it’s hard to fault anything here. We’ve had a few instances where the system crashed, requiring the power to be pulled from the rear of the device, but they both seemed to be related to us mashing the home button while getting impatient in the eShop, so we’re not too concerned yet. If it’s something that continues though, we’ll let you know about it.The Verdict
While the Wii U will, by definition, succeed or fail based on the quality of the games on offer for it, the hardware itself is definitely impressive. It might not be the super powerhouse that some had been hoping, however ignorantly, for, but it does offer gamers a genuine next generation system with fantastic build quality, low noise pollution, superb advances on the controller front and scope for a huge amount of innovation.
The Wii U is an exciting system, and if developers can harness what it has to offer there’s a huge amount of potential here. While the original Wii promised a revolution in the way we play games, but instead delivered a deluge of sub-standard party games, occasionally broken up with a genuinely impressive (usually first party) release here and there, the Wii U actually feels like it can deliver on its promises. The raw materials are definitely there, now it’s a case of seeing who can make the best use of them.
We’ve been asked now countless times whether or not it’s worth the money, and we’re happy to finally have an answer: yes, it is. Based on the hardware, controller and operating system, the Wii U means business. It’s a great piece of kit that will be sticking around for quite a while, and we’re delighted to have another platform to add to our collection. Where we go from here is now firmly in the hands of the developers, but Nintendo’s hardware development team has ensured they have every opportunity to succeed!