The Wii U is officially dead, but its legacy lives on with the far-better planned and delivered Nintendo Switch. As the Wii U struggled to fully capture public imagination, the Switch got off to an unbelievable start, and has recently sold more units after simply a year on the shelf.
When I said the legacy lives on, I wasn’t kidding: most of the Switch’s best-selling games are direct ports of Wii U titles. Mario Kart 8, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and Bayonetta 2 have all been ported, while Splatoon has seen a sequel. In a nutshell, if you need a Nintendo console, and will spend the money for extra, the Switch just about gets the best of both worlds, with a few exceptions (no sign of a Pikmin 3 port yet.)
That said, as the Switch is hanging on doggedly to its £280 price, the Wii U is quite simple to can get on the cheap. Usuaully designed for under £100 and with games choosing low prices too, it creates for an excellent ‘first console’ – and for local co-op games, it’s still hard to beat. Combine that with the actual fact it runs games from the Wii’s huge library and there’s still an extremely compelling reason to get Nintendo’s last console, even in 2018.
Katherine’s original review continues below
^ The console itself appears like a rounded version of the Wii – no bad thing given its compact size
Just how does the Wii U condition against other available consoles? Well, its IBM PowerPC 750-based three-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and AMD Radeon HI-DEF GPU pale compared to what’s in the PS4 and Xbox One, both which have eight-core AMD APUs and 8GB of RAM, nonetheless it still plays games completely HD.
Also, as anyone who’s stuck by Nintendo will know, the heart of any Nintendo console hasn’t really been about nitty-gritty numbers and processor clock speeds. Instead, it’s about packing as much fun and bizarre features in to the hardware as possible – and if anything truly exemplifies this, it’s the Wii U’s controller, the Wii U GamePad.
Wii U GamePad controller
When Nintendo first revealed the Wii U back the center of 2011, it rightly thought we would showcase the GamePad first, because it’s here where almost all of the magic happens. Measuring 259x135x23mm, it’s almost just like a giant Game Boy Advance. Despite its size, it’s incredibly light to carry in your hands, and its own contours have been correctly moulded to the condition of your palms. Its four trigger buttons sit very comfortably underneath your index and middle fingers, and its own smooth curves provide perfect amount of grip.
^ The tablet-like controller is quite clever and enables you to connect to the action onscreen in a number of ways
Its most unusual feature, though, is its 6.2in touchscreen – which sits among two clickable analogue sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, an NFC reader for Nintendo’s amiibo figures and two small Start and choose buttons. The screen features the same resistive technology as the 3DS, so that it requires a firm tap for your touch to join up, instead of the merest brush of more prevalent capacitative screens. It can have a stylus which slots neatly in to the back of the controller, though, for those who don’t want to smear your fingers around it. Its 854×480 resolution offers a crisp and vivid display, so that it is an ideal companion for the Wii U’s other unique feature, Off-TV Play.
Not absolutely all games support Off-TV Play, but the ones that do permit you to play the complete game just on the GamePad. You don’t need to have the TV fired up to get started, as all of the Wii U’s menus could be accessed through the GamePad via the house button. In addition, it means you can continue playing if another person really wants to watch something on TV, which easily helps it be the most family-friendly console available.
We used the Off-TV Play feature on New Super Mario Bros. U, and the knowledge was just as seamless as playing it on the silver screen. There is no processing power in the GamePad itself. Instead, the console continues to be doing the work, and wirelessly beaming the video to these devices.
We’d no lag whatsoever between inputting our controls and having them fired back at the GamePad display, but we did find its transmission reach to be slightly restrictive. We’re able to comfortably sit within the next room while playing on the GamePad, however the signal started wearing thin whenever we moved anywhere with two walls among us and the console, and we barely managed to get to the most notable of the stairs prior to the signal cut out altogether. Still, we got an excellent ten metres from the console, so according to the layout of your house you might you need to be able to escape with the all-important ‘playing it on the loo’ test.
Off-TV Play isn’t the GamePad’s only party trick. There’s also built-in rumble, a microphone, 9-axis motion sensors (a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis gyroscope, and a 3-axis geomagnetic sensor) and internal speakers in order to still hear everything if you’re playing from the console and TV. The speakers themselves were very good substitutes for it, but there’s also a headphone jack (and volume slider) along with the controller if required.
It’s not simply games you need to use the GamePad for. It can even be used as an impromptu TV remote (even though the Wii U is switched off), and its own front-facing camera works extremely well to call friends and family in the Wii U Chat app. Nintendo haven’t yet revealed just how many megapixels the camera has, but we were quite impressed with it during our tests. Colours were just a little beaten up, but we didn’t experience any connectivity problems while trying it out, and our conversations were clear and lag-free.
Wii U Chat isn’t some run-of-the-mill Skype rip-off either, as in true Nintendo style, also you can put in a dash of humour to your conversations by drawing on the screen with the stylus. Whether you wish to give your friend a comedy moustache or write them a note, it’s a great and quirky feature that livens up an otherwise pretty ordinary chat app, and it’s particularly ideal for completing any awkward silences.
Unfortunately, the GamePad’s one flaw is that it generally does not have an especially great battery life. Nintendo claims it’ll last for roughly three to five 5 hours of play according to the brightness of the screen, but thankfully you can still put it to use while it’s charging.
Ports and connections
The primary console also houses numerous new software features which make it so much more than an HD Wii. You will possibly not think it from looking at it, though, as from the exterior, it actually looks nearly the same as its predecessor. It’s 50mm longer and 9mm taller, but otherwise its overall design remains largely unchanged.
In addition to the newly added HDMI output, the Wii U still includes a SD/SDHC card reader next to the disc tray, and it still has two USB2 ports across the back, although Nintendo’s now increased this to a complete of four by inserting two more USB ports in with the SD reader. Because the console is backwards-compatible with the Wii, there’s also a port for the Wii Remote sensor bar around the trunk, aswell the same AV multi-out port.