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Nintendo Wii U review

What can that GamePad really do?

nintendo wii u review
2014 will be the Wii U's biggest test

Our Verdict

By the end of 2014 the Wii U could be a four-star console. As for now, it remains a unique gaming machine with a lot of potential still waiting to be tapped into.


  • Innovative GamePad
  • Nintendo's finally in HD
  • Miiverse is great
  • Cheaper than Xbox One and PS4
  • A few excellent titles


  • Poor GamePad battery life
  • GamePad potential not being realised
  • Too few games
  • Basic set isn't a great deal

The Wii U is now over 18 months old, and as any gamer will know, a hell of a lot can happen in that time. Most significant has been the launch of the Xbox One and PS4, which officially fired the starting gun on the new-gen race.

Meanwhile the Wii U has been slowly building up its arsenal of titles and attempting to lure us over to its unique style of GamePad play. Now it's had time to settle in, we've gone back and taken another look at Nintendo's latest console to see how it's coming along, and whether 2014 is the year that will make the U an essential buy.

Most games consoles owe a lot of gratitiude to the ideas born by their predecessor. Not the Wii U. In fact, if the Wii U hates anyone right now, it shouldn't be the Xbox One or PS4. It should be the Wii.

You see, after the middling success of the GameCube, Nintendo seemed to be caught by surprise when the Wii became such a hit. So when it came to creating the next console, the company was in a conundrum: continue to cash in this newfound casual demographic or win back the hardcore market that had seeped through its fingers during the reign of the Wii?

"Why not do both?" was essentially Nintendo's answer. It wanted a console that you'd enjoy for the serious shooters, while gran could still get a round of Wii Sports tennis in. The Wii's name was meant to represent people playing together. The Wii U was about bringing back the more personal "You". The message was confused from the start.

And it's frustrating because the Wii U is a great console with some intriguing features and a lot of ambition. Some developers won't even acknowledge it as a next-gen console; with the more expensive Xbox One and PS4 now out the door the U sits in its own halfway place between two generations, catching the odd multi-platform game but ultimately still waiting around for the lineup of killer exclusives that every Nintendo console should bring.

Wii U

The power's in the console but the GamePad is an integral part of the experience

In a way, that was sort of Nintendo's plan - to pitch the Wii U as almost its own category entirely separate from Sony's and Microsoft's consoles. That worked with the Wii, but without anything as revolutionary as motion gaming to its name the Wii U was never going to be so lucky.

That's not to say the Wii U isn't powerful in its own right. It's certainly above the Xbox 360 and PS3 graphically, finally bringing Nintendo into the HD era. And lest we forget that power alone has never been a significant driver of any Nintendo console: the Wii was weaker than the 360 and PS3 and yet blew both out of the water in sales.

But at launch, the Wii U's lineup was lacklustre. And 18 months down the road, while there are some truly stellar titles on the console, they're few and far between. You'd expect that from two consoles that have just turned six months old, no from one that had a year headstart in the next-gen race.

But as I said, the quality games are there, most of them first-party. So whether you need a Wii U in your life will definitely depend on your history with Nintendo. If you love Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros and Donkey Kong but have been putting off a Wii U purchase, 2014 might be the year to change that.

Design and specs

The Wii U is available in two versions. The basic pack (£200 in the UK, $250 in the US) comes with a white console, a GamePad, an external power brick, an AC power adapter for the GamePad, a sensor bar, and 8GB of internal flash storage.

However, you're better of putting down a bit more cash for the premium bundle (£250 in the UK, $300 in the US). Not only because it comes with a more respectable 32GB of storage, but the black console is a lot nicer. It'll certainly look better sat next to your Xbox One or PS4.

Opting for the premium model will also get you a copy of Nintendoland, a minigame package that serves to show off how the Wii U GamePad can be used. It's the U's version of Wii Sports though it's not so much of a must-have.

Wii U

Bigger than the Wii but still smaller than its major rivals

Take away the GamePad and the core console doesn't look a world apart from its predecessor, just a little more rounded. At 10.6 x 6.8 inches, it's bigger than the Wii but extremely compact when put next to the PS4 and Xbox One. And with a height of just 1.8 inches it's a box you should have little problem fitting snugly somewhere under the TV.

Adorning the front is a power button and an eject button, both augmented by a small light. The white light by the eject button illuminates when a disc is in the system, while the power light changes from red to blue when the system is turned on. Below the disc slot is a hidden compartment with two USB ports and an SD Card slot for added storage.

Wii U

Aaaaand from the rear

Turn the box over and you've got additional USB ports to play with as well as a port for the sensor bar just like the Wii. External hard drives up to 2TB in size can be plugged into the system, though any hard drive will be formatted to work with the Wii U and cannot be used with other devices.

But as with any console, it's what's inside the box that counts. The tri-core CPU hasn't got a huge amount of might against the PS4's and Xbox One's 8-core AMD APUs, while 2GB of DDR3 RAM also pales in comparison to the 8GB on board Sony and Microsoft's consoles.

Wii U

The main unit is a lot more appealing than the squared-off Wii

That's why, as I previously said, the Wii U feels a bit stuck between gens, and it's the reason developer support hasn't been fantastic.

Because of that lack of initial support, the install base has been slow to grow - which discourages developers to jump on board. And round and round the vicious cycle goes.

Wii U

And to help give you some perspective...

But take the Wii U out of the context of the next-gen race and it's perfectly powerful in its own right, and a noticeable step up from the Wii. Seeing Mario in HD alone should get even get a grin out of the most hardened of videophiles.

Nintendo has stuck to its tradition of focusing on the fun over raw power, and it's attempted to achieve this with some unique hardware choices. Which brings us to the headline act: the GamePad.