Nintendo Wii U full review

Nintendo Wii U console and GamePad

It's almost unbelievable that Nintendo launched the original Wii eight years ago. A games console that changed the way people viewed gaming, one that meant anyone young or old could pick up a controller and play almost without instruction. Updated on 17/12/12.

So what has the Wii U got to offer? How do you follow such a popular console, keeping everyone still interested while fighting off the competition from Microsoft and Sony? Nintendo's Wii U hinges and revolves around the GamePad. See also: Nintendo Wii Mini announced

Nintendo Wii U: Design and build quality

The Wii U looks extremely similar to the original Wii, only more rounded and longer. It's designed to sit flat rather than upright, but you still have the option of which ever suits you. It looks better lying flat in our opinion.

On the front of the console is a slot loading disc drive, power, eject and sync buttons and a flap which hides two USB ports and an SD card slot. Round the back is the power connector and, for the first time on a Nintendo console, an HDMI port (cable included). There's two more USB ports, the same sensor bar connector and an AV port so Wii owners can use previous cables if they wish or don't have an HDMI port.

Nintendo Wii U console

A nice design touch that we like is that the game discs have a rounded edge – a small but charming feature. However, the real unique design point is the GamePad which is unlike any other console controller in that it has its own screen. It looks something like a bigger version of Sony's PlayStation Vita. The closest anything has come to it bundled with a console was the Sega Dreamcast controller with a VMU (visual memory unit) plugged in.

There is a white and black model but it's more than just the colour scheme that's different this time around. The former is the 'basic' pack and comes with no games and 8GB of internal storage while the latter is the 'premium' pack and offers Nintendo Land plus 32GB of storage and some accessories like a GamePad charging cradle.

Priced at £249 and £299, it's worth the extra cash for the nicer looking black model, the extra storage, a game to play and extra kit.

Build quality of the main console unit is good; it feels much more solid than the original Wii. The GamePad has slightly cheap and plastic feel, but not overly so.

Nintendo Wii U: Hardware and performance

Under the shiny exterior of the Wii U are an IBM multicore processor and an AMD Radeon-based GPU. As we've mentioned already, the console is able to output up to full HD 1080p resolution. It would have been a shocker if it didn't. We mentioned the flash-based storage and there's also built-in 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.

You would be forgiven for assuming the Wii U can play DVDs or even Blu-Ray discs via its slot-loading disc drive. Unfortunately this is not the case and a bit of a disappointment.  

Over the course of a week we had a lot of fun playing with the Wii U and we found a lot to like about Nintendo's new offering. The interface looks almost identical to that of the Wii; it's easy to navigate but things are frustratingly slow to load, even opening the system settings.

Nintendo Wii U GamePad

The GamePad is both an exciting and intriguing element to the Wii U setup. It has the kind of controls you would normally find on an Xbox or Playstation controller but with a 6.3in 16:9 screen in the middle.

It feels quite odd considering there's never been anything like it before but we got used to it fairly quickly. It's bulky but not as heavy as it looks.

There is a bit of a learning curve with the GamePad since different games use the second screen in various ways. Some games simply duplicate whatever is on the TV, while others use it to display additional content.

Taking things even further, you can play games entirely on the GamePad freeing up the TV screen for other uses. The console runs the game but you see and control it with the GamePad. We enjoyed being able to continue playing games like Super Mario Bros in bed.

Nintendo Wii U GamePad and TV

This is where the Wii U is quite different the original Wii. Anyone could pick up a Wii Remote a throw a bowling ball but hand someone the GamePad and it's not immediately obvious which screen you're supposed to use when.

The Wii U is backwards compatible with original Wii Remotes, which you will need for some games. In Nintendo Land multiplayer and co-op games are played with a combination of the GamePad and Wii Remotes meaning you can have up to five players at the same time. The GamePad player gets their own experience on the small screen while the others play on the TV. It might be a little bit hard to get your head round but it works well and it's easy to switch which player uses the GamePad.

At launch there are plenty of titles to suit different types of gamers. Super Mario Bros U and Nintendo Land are fun easy going games while titles like Zombie U, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 and Batman: Arkham City will appeal to the more serious gamer. For those not wanting to play the more serious titles on the GamePad, there is a Pro Controller which isn't far removed from the Xbox 360 controller.

Nintendo Wii U Super Mario Bros U

So far the games only support one GamePad but there is potential for developers to use more, but until then Nintendo won't be selling additional GamePads.

It's a bit difficult using the resistive touchscreen on the GamePad at times, especially if you're used to a responsive capacitive screen on tablets like the iPad and Nexus 7. Battery life lasted around 3-4 hours for us which isn't great if you want to play for a long session and we found the GamePad died during play a couple of times because we didn't notice the warning light. However, the charging cradle, which comes with the Premium pack, will keep the GamePad topped up when it's not in use or you can play with the power lead plugged in.

You can also play Wii games on the Wii U – Nintendo says nearly all of them - but for some reason you have to first launch into the old-style Wii menu which seems a bit long winded really. You can't use the GamePad with Wii games.

Aside from gaming you can also use the Wii U to access services such as YouTube, Netflix, Skype and Lovefilm in app form. There's also an internet browser and the GamePad can be used as a remote control for your TV – there's a dedicated button for it.

Netflix ran smoothly, but requires you to sign up for a free Nintendo ID. These services are a great way of getting access to content on your TV, you can watch on the TV or the GamePad. In addition there is the Miiverse which allows you to connect with other players and the Nintendo eShop where you can download demos and purchase games. Nintendo will also launch its own on-demand content service called Nintendo TVii next year.

See also: Nintendo NX release date, price and specs UK

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Nintendo Wii U: Specs

  • IBM Power-based multi-core 45nm microprocessor
  • AMD Radeon HD GPU
  • controller with built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, speakers, front-facing camera, microphone and 6.2in touchscreen
  • 1080p/1080i/720p/480p/480i video output
  • HDMI
  • SD
  • USB

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