Missing The Mark: Nintendo Wii U Review

9 thumbs up
Nintendo's choice of CPU for the Wii U is somewhat puzzling. The company's published technical specifications don't reveal many specific details on the silicon that makes the Wii U hum, but a certain hacker cracked things open and discovered a lowly 1.24GHz IBM Power PC-based processor within. Plus, the 550MHz GPU isn't any faster than the GPU housed in the (now aging) Xbox 360.

So, what gives? Well, first off, Nintendo has never been one to push the envelope in terms of raw horsepower. If you're looking for next-gen, cutting edge hardware, a Nintendo console should never be on your shopping list. Secondly, many analysts are suggesting that since Nintendo's hardware choices appear to be evolutions of the original Wii, it should make it easier for developers to efficiently leverage what horsepower is available right away.


Regardless of all that, one thing is for certain: of the next-gen consoles, the Wii U will be the least powerful in terms of specifications. Still, one thing we can celebrate is the addition of high-def output. It's pretty sad that the original Wii didn't support 1080p, but at least the Wii U does. Better still, Nintendo included a standard HDMI socket on the rear, and even saw fit to throw an HDMI cable into the box. Kudos, Nintendo. For those who somehow don't have an HDTV with an HDMI port, there's a proprietary AV-out port that'll support composite and component output via optional adapters as well.

The Wii U ships in two versions: an 8GB Basic Kit for $299.99, and a 32GB Deluxe Kit for $349.99. Curiously, the former is only available in white, while the latter is only available in black. You'll notice a $50 price hike on the base unit compared to the base Wii, but you can attribute a lot of that cost to the included GamePad -- after all, including a 6.2" touch panel in a controller doesn't come without a fair amount of additional expense. Our test unit was the Deluxe bundle, which we'd highly recommend. Why you ask? because 8GB of onboard flash memory simply isn't enough. Once you download the ~4GB day-one update, you won't even have room to download Nintendo Land to the Wii U. Plus, the Deluxe Kit includes a disc copy of Nintendo Land -- think of it as the Wii U's version of Wii Sports -- as well as a GamePad charging dock, which is an extremely useful accessory that sells for $20 separately.

The Wii U itself is oddly long (nearly a foot!), but from the front, looks essentially like a more rounded Wii. While there's a slot-loading optical drive up front, it'll only handle Wii and Wii U discs. For some inexplicable reason, the Wii U will not double as a DVD or Blu-ray player. That's a real head scratcher given just how media-minded Nintendo has designed this unit to be.


You'll find Power and Sync buttons on the front, as well as a drop-down panel that conceals an SD card slot and two USB 2.0 ports. On the rear, there's an exhaust vent, an input for the sensor bar, an AV-out port, an HDMI socket, two more USB 2.0 ports, and a power jack. In more disappointing news, the USB ports here are only useful for connecting external hard drives, but for whatever reason, those drives can only be used to store downloaded games and save data.

Wish you could connect a drive full of movies and music to play through the Wii U? Keep dreaming. Thinking about streaming media to the Wii U via DLNA or a NAS? Dream some more. Nintendo has locked down the Wii U pretty tight, preventing users from enjoying other pieces of media. This methodology was forgivable in 2006, but considering just how friendly the PS3 and Xbox 360 are to external media, there's no excuse for the Wii U's restrictions in this regard.

There are no controller ports either, as the Wii U's GamePad is completely wireless. But here's something strange about that -- you can use up to two GamePads with a single Wii U console, but if you do, frame rates will drop to about 30 fps. One of the most alluring things about the Wii U is the GamePad, but you pay a performance penalty if using more than one controller at a time. For multiplayer games, you'll be able to use the same Wiimote controls or Wii Control Pro gamepads that were used on the last-gen console. So, that's a neat slice of backwards compatibility, but you'll really want one of the newer Wiimotes with Motion Plus to fully take advantage of most modern Wii U titles.


Just because it deserves a quick mention, you can also use the same Sensor Bar that shipped with the original Wii. We aren't quite sure why you would, but it is possible.

We can't talk about the hardware here without mentioning Nintendo's decision to add the thickest coat of mirrored gloss that we've ever seen on a consumer electronics product. Our black Wii U was coated in dust merely seconds after unboxing it. Calling this thing a "fingerprint magnet" is a massive understatement. It's actually impossible to keep the unit looking halfway clean. Even the glossy controller looks messy after a while out in the open. Yes, this might be a nitpick, but c'mon -- gamers generally take pride in how their setups look, and by choosing a mirrored, glossy finish, the Wii U will constantly be in need of maintenance.

Now, onto the GamePad. Without a doubt, this is the star of the show. It's big. It's weird. It's different. And there's a screen in the middle of it. It's absolutely the "wow factor" of the Wii U, and even the most jaded technology lover will have a hard time passing over this thing. It's just impossible to overlook, and it provides a unique feel when holding it. At 1.1 pounds, it's a little on the heavy side, but only when trying to hold it with one hand. When gripping it from both sides, the buttons are actually well-placed on both the front and rear. However, when popping out the included stylus and trying to touch the panel, the remote becomes a little unwieldy to hold with a single hand.


There are two analog sticks, a conventional D-pad, Nintendo's typical A-B-X-Y button layout, four rear triggers, a volume slider, 3.5mm headphone jack, a charging port on the top, and a front-facing camera that's useful for taking pictures of yourself and chatting with other Wii U owners via the Wii U Chat application. But here's the rub: the built-in battery isn't very good. In average use, you'll be hard-pressed to get over four hours on a full charge from the GamePad. On top of that, it takes a solid 2.5 hours to recharge it. And if you really want to rub salt in a wound, Nintendo has included a proprietary charging port. With the SIXAXIS controller on Sony's PS3, there's a simple, conventional micro-USB port; you simply grab any micro-USB cable and recharge it. Heck, you can recharge your PS3 controller with a laptop's spare USB port. With the Wii U GamePad, not only will you need Nintendo's proprietary charging cable, but it's a cable connected to a (relatively) huge power brick. Thankfully, there are already third-party USB charging cables on the market -- yes, they recharge slower than a direct wall outlet connection, but it's still a nice alternative.

While we're on the topic of limitations, it's worth noting that USB speakers won't work with the Wii U. And while we're on the topic of huge power bricks, wait until you see the one that powers the Wii U itself. It's an inline brick that is around half of the size of the original Wii. Nintendo boasts that the Wii U is all kinds of efficient, but the size of the power brick will make some think differently.


One more note on the GamePad hardware: the 6.2" touch screen has a resistive panel. That means it works with any old stylus, but we're still baffled that Nintendo would go with a resistive panel over a much more responsive capacitive touch panel, like the ones used on the vast majority of smartphone and tablets. Resistive panels are soft, mushy, and not always responsive to the swipes and gestures that we've all gotten used to.
 

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Are you kidding me? Spend more time with the system. I wont mention all the problems with your review, but for one thing, there IS a notification when you receive a call when you're not in the WiiU chat app. Use the system to its fullest if you're going to review it. It's reviewers like you who think power and face value make up an entire console that are killing Nintendo. You don't understand the deepness of the system. I'm sorry, but the only thing that misses its mark here is the review.

By the way, I wrote this comment from my gamepad.

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I think the title is spot-on for the state of the console as it exists today. If you're an early adopter and willing to bet on the come with this new system, the Wii U could offer differentiation and innovation as a general home entertainment device with future updates. As it exists today, it falls short in more areas than it excels, though the highlight features are standout to be sure.

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The Wii U Chat slip was a mistake in testing, and the text has been updated.

In no way did I say that an underpowered CPU made this system a dud. In fact, I spent hundreds upon hundreds of words talking about the positive points of the Wii U. But, it's hard to say with a straight face that a weaker-than-average CPU-GPU is going to help Nintendo.

This console will sell like hotcakes, if I had to guess. It's got that Nintendo charm that'll win over users who appreciate it. There's plenty of positive points to focus on as well, but on the whole, $299 is a lot to ask for a system that can't handle some of the higher-end gaming and multimedia tasks that are presently handled by consoles that have been on the market for years now.

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The Wii U is, hardwarewise, where the original Wii should have been on it's release. The Wii U is an entire generation behind and no gimmick is going to make up for it.... The Nintendo 64 was the last console from Nintendo that I was willing to shell out money for and was actually satisified with the purchase.

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People need to limit their expectations on new game consoles. The Wii U is a great piece of hardware with games like Nintendoland and it's Mario Chase and others offering truly unique and fun gaming experiences. Fun as we have learned from the Wii can't always be quantitated by the speed of a CPU or GPU (which in the Wii U's case are on the same chipset). The responsiveness of the Gamepad is pretty incredible. The initial system update is large, but it completely changes the functionality of the Wii U. It enables Miiverse integration into virtually everything, but if you choose to be offline the update doesn't need to be installed. Most new game consoles take time for great games to release and for the console to grow it's legs with full functionality.

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Where are the facts that the consoles power/capabilities are weak? I'm not an expert on cpu and gpu architecture but I think waiting till we see the true capabilities of the system or until Nintendo or another real qualified source reveals them theres no point in speculating rumors as fact. I agree with a few points but most of the downfalls are Nintendo's fault for pushing out an incomplete console, and the console should evolve over the years with software updates. By far this console outshines my PS3 and Apple TV in terms of ease of use for an entertainment medium, and gaming wise how much better do you think the other next gen consoles will really be? The jump from this gen to next gen is not going to be as big as everyone thinks; there are going to be a lot of disappointed people when the PS420 finally gets released.

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Dgskijiji:

Where are the facts that the consoles power/capabilities are weak? I'm not an expert on cpu and gpu architecture but I think waiting till we see the true capabilities of the system or until Nintendo or another real qualified source reveals them theres no point in speculating rumors as fact.

Whether you look at the Wii U's specs on paper or see it in action (which we did), it's pretty clear the platform is only on par with current generation graphics and compute horsepower.

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Despite having owned all of the primary Nintendo consoles dating back to the original NES, the Wii U had become the first release that I decided in advance I'd stay clear of. I had reservations about the original Wii, but I was a first-day buyer anyway. Then I proceeded to get almost no use out of it because I was tired of flailing my arms around or riding an invisible dragon just to go through a game. The graphics just added insult to injury.

The Wii U simply piled on more bizarre ideas that I had no interest in. I'm not even much of a console gamer right now, but I'm not opposed to them. When I do game, I just like to kick back with an ordinary gamepad and game. The Wii U is cool in some regards, but I know I'd just get burned again and never end up playing it.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I wish another console would come along that would capture me like the N64 or Dreamcast managed to. I don't think it'll ever happen. Any console nowadays needs to do everything, and nothing particularly that well compared to a dedicated machine.

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This article was another anti Nintendo troll attempt by a site that is obviously in love with Microsoft. Don’t get me wrong, MS was the choice in system last gen and might be this time around but only time will tell. But the Wii U is definitely next gen and in my opinion an amazing piece of hardware. What I find amazing is you guys missed all the actual flaws and focused on opinions, like the high gloss finish, the touch screen, the plug for the game pad. But all and all my absolute favorite part is where in the comments it was stated that from what you seen it was on par graphically with the XBOX 360 and PS3. So this statement means 1 of 2 things or even possibly both of them; 1 you are new to reviewing consoles and this is your first time dealing with ports during a generation change, otherwise you would have noted that PS3 games bared a striking resemblance to PS2 games and so did XBOX 360 games to XBOX games. 2 you are complete idiots. I am going with #2 on this one and basing this solely on the Article. As far as specs go… The WII U is built with new technology, at a minimum of 2011 tech as opposed to the XBOX 360 and PS3 being built on 2005 technology, your assessment that the WII U is on par with those two systems is saying CPU’s and GPU’s have not evolved in those 6 years, again a very foolish notion which questions your abilities to review technology based devices.

To be clear I am not saying the WII U is without its issues and I am not saying it will be the most powerful nexgen console, in fact to say spec wise it will be the weakest. BUT if Sony and Microsoft are smart they won’t go all spec crazy like the did last gen. Lessons have been learned and wounds need to be licked here, but for those who disagree let’s review.

PS3 MOST POWERFULL system was the lowest selling. Specs didn’t really seem to matter.

Wii the weakest system on the market and was impossible to find up to 3 years after release (not 1)

PS Vita MOST POWERFULL HAND HELD, utter failure

Lastly the scene has changed and people are hard pressed to spend 600 bucks on a new console with cheaper and comparable alternatives. SO where does this leave MS and Sony? If they go spec crazy and release a 400 – 600 console sales may be good for a bit but they alienate a huge segment of consumers, if the price match Big N they are going to sell at significant loses again. Truth be told there has to be a middle ground and I believe Nintendo is just at the bottom of that middle ground, and if Sony or MS go too far past Nintendo this time they will fail. Speculating again from a guy who has been intruiged by the video game industry since Atari days and no expert by any means. Then again if you look up my forum posts on some sites I have been pretty accurate at predicting console war outcomes. Not raw numbers mind you, just victors. I will concede I was wrong with the PS2/Game Cube/Xbox generation but I had high hopes for the Xbox and of course still do.

Epicrean

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The wii U is a great games system just needs more games, they have great kids games like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Bros, they done a great job remastering Ducktales and if they done that to more old nintendo games like Talespin,Chip and Dales, Friday the 13th and bring back others like Metal Gear,Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 like the xbox version's and Castlevania would help sales alot not to mention they could add to it with Paperboy, Double Dragon, and an updated version of excitebike,kung Fu and Contra would all be great to have added to todays collection.

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