Missing The Mark: Nintendo Wii U Review

Article Index

Summary and Conclusion

The Wii U is somewhat difficult to summarize. Whereas prior consoles could be judged almost entirely on their graphical prowess, controller design and list of launch titles, we're at a point now where home consoles are only partially targeted for gaming. The rest of the time, they're also expected to be entertainment devices, serving up films and TV shows from pay-TV providers as well as Internet streaming services.

Nintendo has been the slowest of the main console makers to adopt new technologies, in terms of social and video content, and the fact that the Wii U is an Internet-connected console at all is a step forward for the platform in general. The included GamePad is an impressive control device (resistive touch panel notwithstanding), and when used properly as a second screen, it enables a viewing and gaming experience that's presently unmatched in the console world.

But the hardware has its limits. The system's 1.24GHz processor is comparably slow, and if you use two GamePads at once, you'll see an immediate performance hit. While it's potent enough to stream Amazon, Netflix and YouTube in HD without stuttering, the operating system feels somewhat bloated and sluggish. Simply entering into the TVii or Miiverse applications from the Home screen takes around 15 seconds, and it takes equally as long to exit those programs and return to the Home screen. Simple confirmation menus also take a few seconds to load, and after a few minutes of use, it becomes rather annoying. This is a subjective area of course; these response times may not seem appalling to you, but in daily use, the Wii U just feels slow.

It's 2013, and when a next-gen console ships, users will expect menu transitions to be almost instantaneous. If a free-on-contract Android phone can transition between apps and menus in an instant, shouldn't a home console be able to as well? While certain apps, like Amazon Instant Video, show some promise in quickly sifting through watch lists, but anything Nintendo coded is just painfully sluggish. We hate to say it, but the system lag that's so pervasive may be too much to overlook, though it could possibly be remedied in future firmware revisions.

Nintendo's own president Satoru Iwata has promised a software patch that will supposedly address the slow menu issue, but there's no time table being given. And moreover, the issue just magnifies the truth of the matter: the Wii U wasn't really ready for launch just yet.

When initial units shipped on November 18th, TVii was nowhere to be found, despite promises from Nintendo that it would be. Even Amazon's Instant Video as well as Hulu Plus streaming had to be added via a software update post-launch. While it's nice to live in a world where software updates can improve products even after they ship, it sets a bad precedent to ship such an important product before it's ready for prime time. As it stands, those picking up a Wii U right now will be forced to download around 4GB of system updates right out of the box. Even on a 30Mbps cable connection, the update + installation took around 1.5 hours. On a slower connection, this day-one process could easily take multiple hours. That's simply not a very good "out-of-the-box" experience.

To make matters worse, you'll have to download additional updates the first time you run Amazon Instant Video and YouTube as well. it seems that the majority of your initial time with the Wii U will be spent downloading updates -- what fun is that? It may seem petty, but it'd be wise of Nintendo to push an advisory to the Wii U that apologizes for the sizable day-one update, and perhaps even offer a few points to use in the eShop for the trouble.

It's one thing to add free features to a console after launch. It's another thing to promise select features from the factory, and then ship a console with essentially none of them installed. That's what has happened with the Wii U, and it's undoubtedly one of the most half-baked console launches in recent history.

In the end, the Wii U's luster is tarnished not by one major flaw, but by many tiny blemishes that add up to something more significant. HD gaming on a Nintendo product is outstanding, and the company's use of the GamePad's second screen on titles like Nintendo Land and ZombieU, add an element to home gaming that simply hasn't existed before. TVii, once installed, shows tons of promise for second screen use while watching television and streaming media, but the inability to control your DVR, audio receiver, or other A/V components with it, prevents the GamePad from truly being the "Harmony" of game remotes. As it stands, it's a half-finished solution that'll probably go unused given that it can't stand on its own just yet.

The front-facing camera on the Wii U GamePad would be outstanding for TV-sized video chats, but given that there's no Skype to be found, you're stuck calling only other Wii U users. Plus, the GamePad's woeful battery life (under four hours on a full charge) means that you'll quickly have your fun extinguished unless you religiously remember to recharge it… using a proprietary charging cable, no less.

Beyond the areas that Nintendo has bungled right out of the gate, the lackluster hardware within makes us wonder if the Wii U has the horsepower to compete with whatever Microsoft and Sony cook up next. As it stands, the graphics here are about on par with an Xbox 360, but how bad is the Wii U going to look when placed alongside the rumored Xbox 720 or PlayStation 4? Unlike a custom gaming PC rig, you can't just swap a new GPU into a home console.

Gaming is a strong suit right now on the Wii U. If you're after that typical "Nintendo charm," you'll find oodles of it here. Nintendo Land is a highly addictive launch title that can bring families together as no other console can, and the unique use of the GamePad's second screen only serves to bring the gaming experience to a level that cannot be matched by other input systems available at present.

The reality is that the GamePad isn't just a gimmick. It's a great tool, and when software is written to take advantage of it, it should bring plenty of fun and entertainment. But for all of the things that the Wii U gets right, it leaves us wanting. For $299, you can get a Wii U base unit -- or, you can buy a PlayStation 3 with 320GB of onboard storage, a built-in Blu-ray drive, support for a myriad streaming services, support for viewing Facebook photos, and support for playing back your own photos and videos. And over on the Microsoft side, you can get arguably as much pizzazz for even less money and a whole lot more content in movies and gaming.

$299 can buy you a lot of home entertainment these days, and for our money, the Wii U falls a bit short to recommend.


  • Great second screen experience
  • TVii shows great promise
  • HD streaming is flawless
  • Full 1080p / HDMI support
  • Glossy hardware attracts dust
  • Massive out-of-box updates required
  • Sluggish UI navigation
  • Weak CPU / GPU combo
  • No support for playing your own videos / photos

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