Nintendo is a brand that needs no introduction to anyone even vaguely interested in gaming and has produced a number of smash hit consoles and games over the last 20 years culminating with the Wii. A few years ago they announced its successor – the Wii U and this arrived as the first of the new generation of consoles in 2012.
On first sight you might be forgiven for mistaking the Wii U as a Wii. It physically looks very similar, is backwards compatible with Wii games and can use the same Wiimote controllers and add ons… and then you see the controller and that idea is blown out the water. The Wii U Controller can best be described as a tablet with controls surrounding it.
The Wii U is an evolution and expansion of the Wii. When Nintendo started developing it they tried putting an LCD screen on to the controller and the screen kept on getting bigger and bigger until the controller looked like a tablet with a controller wrapped around it. This second screen gives a couple of unique options: Firstly the controller can act like a handheld console for some games and operate independently with the TV switched off. This is usually for mini games, allowing a second player their own screen or media content.
The second use of the screen is as an extra information set. The most common use is as a map or inventory and I found it works very well once I’d gotten used to looking down for it. Some games also allow triggering of secondary abilities via the touch screen and I found this worked less well as it required moving my hand away from the controller and back.
Internally the Wii U’s specifications fall in an odd place part way in between the Xbox 360/PS3 and the Xbox One/PS4 generations. This was reflected in its 2012 release and in its lower price point. The most obvious reflection is in the graphics quality which whilst it outputs 1080 cannot do so natively without downstepping.
The most important part of a gaming console is usually the games and again Nintendo has tread its own path. The Wii U does have some of the major titles that are across the industry but most of the available games are Nintendo ‘homemade’ classics such as Mario, Wii classics, Sonic and a promised Zelda.
It should be pointed out that the Wii U is a gaming device with very few media abilities. It has Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Instant Streaming pre-installed as well as a non-functional (outside of the US) TVii app. The eShop does contain a couple of StreetView apps and a Crunchyroll anime app but those and the browser are the only ways to access media via the Wii U.
The Wii U comes in two different flavors. The Basic and the Deluxe. The most obvious difference between the two is the Basic has 8gb of storage whereas the Deluxe has 32gb although I’d recommend getting external storage either way if you want more than a couple of games. The Deluxe also includes a game – usually Nintendo Land, a charging stand as opposed to a cable for the controller and a stand to let you position the Wii U vertically. All in all the Basic is probably the better deal but it is less clear cut than you would think.
Size: 1.8″ x 10.6″ x 6.74″inches
Capacity: 8gb or 32gb
Colour: White – basic and Black Deluxe
USB: 4 USB ports, two front, two back
SD Card: SD cards up to 2GB and SDHC cards up to 32GB
Camera Controller :
Video Console: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p and 480i. Compatible cables include HDMI, Wii Component Video, Wii RGB and Wii AV.
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4Ghz) capable
Ethernet: Separately purchasable ethernet adaptor which works via USB available.
Audio: 6 channel linear output via HDMI or analogue via AV multi out connector
Battery Controller: 8 hours usage, 2550mAh
Like any modern game console the Wii U needs an internet connection to get the best use and for updates. It does not need an always on connection. By default it uses wifi, although a wired ethernet converter is available.
The controller’s physical buttons are in some cases labelled but none have any tactile or raised labels and hence if you cannot read them the only way to figure out which is which is via memory.
Color is not used as a single indicator anywhere in the Wii U operating system. Individual games may vary.
The menu system has a certain amount of flash with animations on load screens some of which conceivably might present a problem for some people but the chances of issues are small.
The Wii U console has a single LED on the front that indicates if it is on or in standby mode. The Wii U controller has a single LED in the bottom right of the screen that flashes red or blue depending on battery level. If this is annoying or an issue it could easily be covered with tape.
The Wii U has two ways of making sounds. Firstly it plays sound via the TV using the HDMI or aux audio cable. This is completely conventional and the quality will depend on the TVs audio setup.
Secondly the Wii U controller has speakers and a 3.5mm headset jack built into it. The sounds from this usually sync up with the TV sounds producing a slight surround effect. The volume can be adjusted on the controller independently via a physical slider on the top of the device. This is easy to mute by sliding the slider to the left. The controller also has a microphone which together with the camera allow video calling using the WiiChat network.
Input and Touch
The Wii U is a very versatile piece of technology when it comes to input. The main controller can be best described as a 6″ tablet with a game controller wrapped around it. This allows for touch screen control or physical button control. The controller has two joysticks (one on each side), a D-Pad on the left, X, Y, A and B buttons, start and select buttons, two bumpers, two triggers, a power button, a volume slider a TV control button and a home button. It also has a built in player facing camera and microphone and a stylus stored in the back.
Internally the Wii U controller has accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers.
The buttons all feel responsive and properly clicky but the layout does take a little getting used to. Instead of having the two angled grips convention dictates the Wii controller is rectangular and so you hold your hands straight on a little wider apart than feels quite normal. After a while I adjusted to it and realised it is not a bad position just unusual.
Many controls in the OS are duplicated between the touch screen and the physical buttons – in other words I had a choice between tapping on the screen or pressing a button to make a selection. Some games also allow for this but it depends heavily on the game.
The controller is quite heavy at 491g but if tilted slightly is playable with the bottom edge resting on a surface to take the weight.
The console also accepts input from wiimotes, nunchucks, balance boards, conventional game controllers, a fit meter pedometer, a wheel, a microphone, a Wii Zapper (a plastic crossbow / gun), GameCube controllers and Wavebird controllers.
Ease of Use
The Wii U is relatively complicated to set up with a number of hurdles to be overcome. First the have Wii and the GamePad have to be synced similar to creating a bluetooth pairing. Select country, language, date and time then TV type and setup the TV control. Next I setup the sensor bar and connect to wifi. Install system updates and log in (or create) to my Nintendo account. Next we create a Mii avatar to interface with and link a Nintendo Network ID if you have one – note that this is not the same as a Nintendo account. Next we setup any parental controls and do another check for OS updates.
At this point the console is up and running, but storage is immediately an issue for the 8gb basic version – any full game needs more space than it has to install so an appropriate USB external storage device is needed which can only be plugged in if the Wii U is fully powered down.
If you have used Nintendo devices before many of these steps and their style will be very familiar and none of the steps are individually hard but it is a large number of steps.
Once the console is set up the Wii controller is by default always on in standby mode and can be activated by pressing the Home button at any point. This brings up a quick start menu that allows the most likely programs to be selected or for you to go on to the main Wii U Menu.
The menu system is a little quirky and there are several things that made me wonder why they were that way. For example I was trying to buy a game through the Nintendo eStore using my Visa Debit card. It refused to accept it on the grounds it was not a credit card but would let me use it to buy credit for the store. None of these quirks are show stoppers but they make me stop and think occasionally.
Nintendo has its own social network built into the Wii and Wii U systems. This Miiverse allows direct messaging with friends or strangers (adjustable in settings) and posting and following communities based on games and apps. The Miiverse can also be locked down completely if you are letting a child use the Wii U.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
The console itself has no obvious triggers and is generally aimed at a younger market. Individual games may contain triggers but will usually be rated.
Included In The Box (Basic Version)
- Wii U console
- Wii U controller with stylus
The Wii U is an odd duck. A console that does not fit in with the others control system and goes its own way in UI and game selection. The build and design quality is excellent but the lower specs make for a lot of waiting in between menus. I found myself thinking of it along the lines of a slightly odd younger cousin. Friendly, well-meaning and endearing, but not quite in touch with the rest of the world. Ironically, that actually makes it perfect for some people who want the escapism. With the fall in prices and the slow expansion of the catalog the Wii U is becoming a family friendly and increasingly viable console choice. Recommended for families and Nintendo fans..
The Wii U was released in November 2012. The review is based on the Basic version with some reference to the Deluxe kindly provided by Nintendo.