Released in 2012, the Nintendo Wii U was the first of the current generation of gaming consoles to hit the market and the successor to the popular Nintendo Wii. The console combines the intuitive motion controls and family-friendly game library of the original Wii with a new, tablet-like controller and more powerful graphics hardware. The result is a robust 1080p gaming experience and several unique features.
The system’s primary controller is the Wii U GamePad, which combines the traditional game controller with a 6.2-inch, tablet-like touchscreen. Each of the primary game controls includes a four-way directional pad, four action buttons, two shoulder buttons and two analog sticks. The Wii U GamePad is also packed to the gills with unique sensor inputs, such as a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope for motion controls, a camera and microphone for chat and game interaction, and an NFC reader that lets you use Nintendo’s popular Amiibo toys to unlock characters and abilities in a variety of games.
The wireless controller connects via low-latency Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth and is powered by a rechargeable battery. The whole package weighs in at 1.1 pounds, considerably heavier than any other game controller. Though the Wii U comes with only the one GamePad in the box, it can support up to two of them at once.
The controller’s tablet-esque screen has touch input and is a second display for games to use. It frequently provides game information and a second perspective for the player, opening up all sorts of options in multiplayer games. The controller can be held in both horizontal and vertical orientations, and the touchscreen supports stylus input. It can also be used as a standalone gaming device, letting you play full Wii U games on the built-in display, which Nintendo calls “off-TV play.”
In addition to the GamePad controller, the Wii U supports other controllers, including the more traditional Wii U Pro Controller and the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers from the previous-generation Wii. There’s also a Wii U-specific controller that uses the same design as the older Nintendo GameCube. Though the Wii U can only host two Wii U GamePad controllers at a time, it can support up to four Wii Remotes or Wii U Pro controllers at once.
The Wii U library includes popular franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham, and Skylanders. The system boasts more than 200 exclusive titles, with such recognizable Nintendo games as Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers, Zelda and Smash Bros. The system tends to be skewed more toward casual users, with an emphasis on family-friendly games. Sports fans will be disappointed by the limited availability of popular sports titles. For example, franchises like NBA 2K and Madden NFL only have a single title from 2013 in each respective series, while the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One get new games annually.
Aside from the Nintendo exclusives, the Wii U also has a library of more than 700 games, including all games released for the previous Nintendo Wii, with support for all Wii games, discs, and accessories. If you have the older Wii, you can transfer saved data and games to the Wii U, but the process is fairly convoluted, requiring an SD card, an active internet connection and a working Nintendo Network account. You then must go back and forth between the old console and the new.
The Wii U may be the most widely accessorized product of this console generation, with support for multiple controller types; adapters for even older Nintendo GameCube controllers; and game-specific extras like the Wii Wheel, the Wii Fit Balance Board for fitness games and the Wii U Microphone for singing karaoke. You can purchase stands and protective skins for a variety of controllers, screen protectors and a replacement stylus for the GamePad touch screen, and Wii U-compatible stereo headsets. On top of all these accessories, there’s also Nintendo’s Amiibo line of figurines, each equipped with an NFC chip that can unlock character costumes, abilities and more in a number of games.
Hardware specifications may not figure into your console buying decision, but the Wii U is powered by a custom multi-chip module developed jointly by IBM and AMD, with a Tri-Core PowerPC processor named Espresso and an AMD graphics chip called Latte. The combination of the two is more than adequate for the demands that Wii U games place upon it. Nevertheless, it’s significantly lower powered than the processing and graphics hardware in both the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One. All three offer gaming at 1080p resolution, but the Wii U does so with graphics that are significantly less detailed, lending itself to a cartoony look where competing systems go for realism.
While the Wii U does have an optical drive, it only reads Wii U game discs and does not support Blu-ray or DVD playback. Wii U Basic models have 8GB of internal storage, while Wii U Deluxe models have a larger 32GB allotment and are far more common on store shelves. The system also supports external storage via two USB 2.0 ports on the front of the console.
A standard Wii U package comes with the main console, one Wii U GamePad controller, a sensor bar for motion controls, an HDMI cable and an AC power adapter. You also get a cradle for positioning the console in a vertical position and a cradle and charging cable for the GamePad controller. Available in black or white, the Wii U has a glossy plastic chassis and measures 1.8 x 6.75 x 10.6 inches, making it the most compact of the current generation consoles.
Nintendo offers a variety of online and social capabilities on the Wii U and its online platform, Nintendo Network. The platform allows for online gaming in a number of titles and serves as the foundation for Nintendo’s eShop online retail service and Miiverse social community. It also includes Wii U Chat, which lets you video chat with other Wii U users using the front-facing camera built into the GamePad controller.
New games and extra content can be purchased through the Nintendo eShop, while older downloadable games for the previous generation Wii, along with other past Nintendo and Sega titles, can be played through the included Virtual Console app. Game demos are available for free but only for a limited number of plays.
Nintendo’s online social community, Miiverse, lets you create your own Mii avatar; share comments, in-game accomplishments and items with other players; and even share game screenshots and drawings made with the GamePad touchscreen and stylus. Communities built around specific games let you connect with fellow fans, as well as connect with others for online play. Miiverse is accessible not only to Wii U users, but also through the handheld Nintendo 3DS and online, and it has integrated sharing with popular social media services like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. As with other consoles, online multiplayer is limited to those using the compatible hardware – in this case, Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS devices.
While you can’t watch Blu-ray or DVD discs on the Wii U, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy movies and TV shows, with apps for Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus and YouTube. However, other popular media streaming services like HBO GO, Crackle and Plex are not available.
The Nintendo Wii U is an excellent choice of console for the family that wants to game together, with an assortment of casual games and kid-friendly titles. Media streaming options are more limited than on other current-generation consoles, and the Wii U’s graphics capabilities lag behind the competition. Still, if you’re not a die-hard gamer, that may not be a big deal.