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Wii U review: Gone, but not forgotten

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £120
inc VAT for 8GB Basic Pack

It may not be super powerful, but Nintendo delivers a fun and innovative new console that finally gets online right


CPU: IBM PowerPC 750, GPU: AMD Radeon High Definition, Dimensions (WxDxH): 135x259x23mm, Analogue sticks: 2, D-pads: 1, Video outputs: HDMI, AV Multi-out, Networking802.11n

The Wii U is officially dead, but its legacy lives on with the far-better planned and delivered Nintendo Switch. While the Wii U struggled to capture public imagination, the Switch got off to an incredible start, and has already sold more units after just a year on the shelf.

When I said the legacy lives on, I wasn’t kidding: many 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 short, if you want a Nintendo console, and can afford the extra, the Switch pretty much has the best of both worlds, with a few exceptions (no sign of a Pikmin 3 port yet.)

That said, while the Switch is hanging on doggedly to its £280 price, the Wii U is very easy to get on the cheap. Usuaully available for under £100 and with games going for low prices too, it makes for a great ‘first console’ – and for local co-op games, it’s still hard to beat. Combine that with the fact it runs games from the Wii’s huge library and there’s still a very compelling reason to buy Nintendo’s last console, even in 2018.

Katherine’s original review continues below

Nintendo Wii U01^ The console itself looks like a rounded version of the Wii – no bad thing given its compact size

So how does the Wii U shape up against other available consoles? Well, its IBM PowerPC 750-based three-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and AMD Radeon High Definition GPU pale in comparison to what’s inside the PS4 and Xbox One, both of which have eight-core AMD APUs and 8GB of RAM, but it still plays games in Full HD.

What’s more, as anyone who’s stuck by Nintendo will know, the heart of any Nintendo console has never really been about nitty-gritty numbers and processor clock speeds. Instead, it’s about packing as many fun and bizarre features into 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 in the middle of 2011, it rightly chose to show off the GamePad first, because it’s here where most of the magic happens. Measuring 259x135x23mm, it’s almost like a giant Game Boy Advance. Despite its size, it’s incredibly light to hold in your hands, and its contours have been perfectly moulded to the shape of your palms. Its four trigger buttons sit very comfortably underneath your index and middle fingers, and its smooth curves offer the perfect amount of grip.

Nintendo Wii U GamePadThe tablet-like controller is very clever and lets you interact with the action onscreen in several ways

Its most unusual feature, though, is its 6.2in touchscreen – which sits in between two clickable analogue sticks, a D-pad, four face buttons, an NFC reader for Nintendo’s amiibo figures and two small Start and Select buttons. The screen features the same resistive technology as the 3DS, so it needs a firm tap for your touch to register, rather than the merest brush of more common capacitative screens. It does come with a stylus which slots neatly into the back of the controller, though, just in case you don’t want to smear your fingers all over it. Its 854×480 resolution provides a crisp and vivid display, making it the perfect companion for the Wii U’s other unique feature, Off-TV Play.

Off-TV play

Not all games support Off-TV Play, but those that do allow you to play the entire game just on the GamePad. You don’t have to have the TV turned on in order to get started, as all the Wii U’s menus can be accessed through the GamePad via the Home button. It also means you can continue playing if someone else wants to watch something on TV, which easily makes it the most family-friendly console ever made.

We tried out the Off-TV Play feature on New Super Mario Bros. U, and the experience was just as seamless as playing it on the big screen. There’s no processing power in the GamePad itself. Instead, the console is still doing the work, and then wirelessly beaming the video to the device.

We had 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 could comfortably sit in the next room while playing on the GamePad, but the signal started wearing thin when we moved anywhere with two walls in between us and the console, and we barely made it to the top of the stairs before the signal cut out altogether. Still, we managed to get a good ten metres away from the console, so depending on the layout of your home you might just be able to get away 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 so you can still hear everything if you’re playing away from the console and TV. The speakers themselves were very good substitutes for the TV, but there’s also a headphone jack (and volume slider) on top of the controller if required.

Wii U Off TV Play

It’s not just games you can use the GamePad for. It can also be used as an impromptu TV remote (even when the Wii U is turned off), and its front-facing camera can be used to call your friends in the Wii U Chat app. Nintendo haven’t yet revealed how many megapixels the camera has, but we were quite impressed with it during our tests. Colours were a little washed out, but we didn’t experience any connectivity issues 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, you can also add a dash of humour to your conversations by drawing on the screen with the stylus. Whether you want to give your friend a comedy moustache or write them a message, it’s a fun and quirky feature that livens up an otherwise pretty ordinary chat app, and it’s particularly great for filling in any awkward silences.

Unfortunately, the GamePad’s one flaw is that it doesn’t have a particularly great battery life. Nintendo claims it will last for roughly 3 to 5 hours of play depending on the brightness of the screen, but thankfully you can still use it while it’s charging.

Ports and connections

The main console also houses numerous new software features that make it so much more than simply an HD Wii. You might not think it from looking at it, though, as from the outside, it actually looks very similar to its predecessor. It’s 50mm longer and 9mm taller, but otherwise its overall design remains largely unchanged.

Apart from the newly added HDMI output, the Wii U still has a SD/SDHC card reader next to the disc tray, and it still has two USB2 ports round the back, although Nintendo’s now increased this to a total of four by placing two more USB ports in with the SD reader. Since the console is backwards-compatible with the Wii, there’s also a port for the Wii Remote sensor bar around the back, as well the same AV multi-out port.


While every Wii U shares the same fundamental hardware, Nintendo have opted for two different storage options this time round, with the white “basic” Wii U model having just 8GB of internal flash memory, while the more expensive black “premium” model has 32GB.

Neither amount seems very much when the PS4 and Xbox One both come with 500GB of internal storage, but just like the Wii before it, storage can be expanded by a USB flash memory drive or, unique to the Wii U, an external hard drive. You’ll have to format your external hard drive to be used specifically with the Wii U, but once you’ve configured it, you can have as much as 2TB of storage at your disposal if you plan on downloading all your games instead of buying physical discs.

You’ll have to spend some time downloading a crucial system update as soon as you turn it on in order to get the Nintendo Network and Wii U eShop (Nintendo’s answer to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live), an internet browser, and Miiverse (a kind of Twitter-esque social network where you can post messages to various communities tied to each game), but fortunately, it’s possible to download and install updates in the background when the console is in standby, and even when the console is switched off.


Nintendo’s clearly gone to a lot of effort elsewhere when it comes to giving the Wii U an online service worthy of an eighth generation console. The new home hub, for instance, is a vast improvement on the individualised TV channel-style layout of the Wii, and Nintendo’s new online strategy goes right to the heart of its new layout.

Wii U Mii PlazaThe Mii Plaza has been designed with the fan community in mind

When you first fire it up, a giant Mii Plaza appears on the TV where dozens of other European Mii characters are all huddled around ten individual game icons. Here you can read messages other players have posted to the MiiVerse, save their character to the Mii Maker app, and access their MiiVerse profile all at the touch of a button. You’ll see your fair share of French and German thrown in there, but doodles seem to be the most ubiquitous language in the Mii Plaza, so you shouldn’t have any trouble making your voice heard.

The GamePad, on the other hand, shows a much more traditional tile-based menu system that’s very similar to that of the Nintendo 3DS. Here you’ll find the usual buttons to access the games you’ve downloaded along with individual shortcuts to the eShop, MiiVerse, Mii Maker and Wii U Chat apps, but there’s also a YouTube app and apps for both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. We were very pleased to see these apps present from day one, as media playback is crucial to a modern games console, plus that we didn’t have to go rooting around for these apps in the eShop like on original Wii. That said, there’s still no DVD (or Blu-ray) playback from the device.

Wii U GamePad ScreenThe GamePad screen is much more practical, but you can switch to the Mii Plaza by tapping the button in the bottom corner

The June 2014 system update for Wii U also introduced a new Quick Start menu option. Once the update has been installed, turning the console on via the GamePad will let players pick from ten recently used games and apps on the GamePad’s touchscreen before you even get to the Mii Plaza. This lets you access your favourite games faster and cuts down on loading times, too, making it much easier to jump into a game as soon as you turn on the console.

For those that prefer to let the console load the Mii Plaza and traditional Wii U menu first, you can also switch between each interface by tapping the TV-to-GamePad icon in the bottom corner, letting you zoom in on other Miis and the various game icons. Tapping these icons on the GamePad also gives you a variety of options to help you find out more about it as well. You can start the game if you’ve bought it or already have it in the disc drive, go straight to its eShop page and download it from there, or you can go to its respective MiiVerse community and see what other people have been saying about it.

MiiVerse is a kind of Facebook-Twitter hybrid where “Yeah” is the new “Like” and each game has a player-generated feed of drawings and messages. You can follow other players without having to trade tedious Friend Codes (which, thankfully, Nintendo has now done away with entirely in favour of your personal Nintendo Network ID), and there’s also the chance to post screenshots and ask other players for tips as well, all of which can be done while your game’s still running. Just hit the Home button during play and the MiiVerse button will take you straight to the relevant community, making it easier than ever before to get help when you need it.

This level of easy communal access is completely unprecedented for a Nintendo system, and it just goes to show how much Nintendo have embraced the online aspect of modern day gaming, as traditionally their online efforts have been unwieldy at best, and completely atrocious at worst.

Wii U eShop

The Wii U eShop is also worlds better than the Wii’s text-heavy Shopping Channel. You really had to know what you looking for in order to find anything on Wii, but the eShop is almost like Nintendo’s take on the Windows 8 Store.

Big, eye-catching icons dominate the front page with all the major recent releases splashed across the screen, and this picture-based approach not only makes it much easier to navigate, but it’s also much more attractive to look at compared with the white, clinical screens of the Wii’s Shopping Channel.

Previously, you could only use the GamePad to navigate the eShop, but thanks to Nintendo’s July 2014 system update, you can now use any type of controller to browse the storefront, including the Wii U Pro Controller, the Wii Remote or the Classic Controller.


Of course, a console is nothing without a great library of games to play, and until last year the Wii U had been struggling to make much of an impact in this department. Thankfully, the Wii U had a bumper crop of games over Christmas, filling its ranks with even more must-have titles. We have a full list of all the best Wii U games you should buy to go with your new console, but the games we’ve listed below are some of the system’s highlights.

Mario Kart 8 leads the pack of “must-own” games on Wii U, as this is by far the best entry in the Mario Kart series to date. Not only does it look stunning, but it also features some of the greatest tracks ever made. You’ll regularly want to stop and admire the sheer visual feast that’s going on around you, but sadly those grand prix won’t win themselves. The game also supports Nintendo’s amiibo figures, which unlock character-themed costumes for your Mii, and the latest update introduces a series-first ultra-fast 200c racing mode.

Mario Kart 8Mario Kart 8’s anti-gravity sections are truly mind-blowingly beautiful

More adult-minded Wii U owners should definitely pick up the action-packed Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 double-disc pack as well. Created by PlatinumGames, Bayonetta was originally released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2010, but now it’s been re-released alongside the Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2 so Nintendo fans can play through the full saga. Both are incredibly fun to play and have some of the best, and most spectacular, fight scenes we’ve ever seen. Fans of Platinum’s action titles should also play The Wonderful 101, a comic-book style brawler whose mad ideas need to be played to be believed.

For those that really want to get into the fighting spirit, Super Smash Bros for Wii U is another must-have title. While it features the same characters as the 3DS version, Smash on Wii U has its own set of stages, 8-player local battles and a whole host of multiplayer modes, event battles, and an even bigger soundtrack. Just like Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros is compatible with amiibo figures, too, which you can use as your own customisable fighters in-game.

Your next port of call should be Super Mario 3D World. Following in the footsteps of the 3DS’s excellent Super Mario 3D Land, 3D World combines the 2D platforming found in the New Super Mario Bros. games with expansive 3D worlds similar to those in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 64. It’s a joy from start to finish and there are so many ideas crammed in here that Nintendo couldn’t actually fit them all into the main story, as there’s almost another game’s worth of post-credits content ready and waiting after Bowser’s been defeated.

Super Mario 3D WorldSuper Mario 3D World features a host of new power-ups, including the Double Cherry which splits Mario in two

Rayman Legends is another excellent platformer, and one that we think actually utilises the Wii U’s unique features far more effectively than Mario. It’s an absolute master class in asymmetric gameplay (when two players have completely different experiences when playing the same game) and few other games cater so well for single and co-op play. Those looking for a real platforming challenge should also check out the excellent Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Rayman LegendsRayman Legends’ multiplayer is riotous fun and the musical levels in particular are absolutely sublime

Other Nintendo essentials include Pikmin 3, a real-time strategy game that sees you take control of hundreds of tiny plant-like aliens to help ferry fruit back to your spaceship to save your starving home planet, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, a gorgeous HD remake of the classic GameCube game.

Pikmin 3 actually shares most of its DNA with its Wii predecessors, as the game’s controls are far more suited to the Wii Motion Plus Remote and Nunchuk than the GamePad. This might mean you’ll have to buy an extra Remote if you don’t have one already, but that shouldn’t detract from the game’s overall charm and character.

The Wind Waker HD is another breath-taking title that makes an already timeless game look even better than it did ten years ago. You play as Link who must sail across the Great Sea in search of the Triforce to help save Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf. It’s comparatively short compared to other Zelda games, and notably easier as well, but this HD version isn’t just a pretty face-lift. It’s also been refined to improve on the original’s faults, making it even more sublime to play.

Zelda fans should also take a look at Hyrule Warriors, which combines Zelda with the Dynasty Warriors series. It’s a mad idea on paper, but there’s simply nothing more satisfying than ripping through hordes of moblins with Link’s signature spin-attack, Zelda’s light magic, Impa’s huge samurai sword, or Sheik’s magical harp to name just a few of the many playable characters on offer. It’s combat is completely over the top compared to traditional Zelda games, but once you see all your favourite Zelda characters letting loose with their signature attacks, you’ll never want it to change.

Wii U eShop games

There’s also a fantastic selection of cheaper, downloadable eShop games on offer, too, including the excellent top-down shoot-’em-up platformer Scram Kitty and his Buddy on Rails. Despite being one of the most difficult games you’re ever likely to play, Scram Kitty’s satisfying mix of arcade bullet hell shooting and rock hard platforming is intensely addictive, ensuring players will keep coming back for more as they strive to save the world’s cats from their new mouse overlords.

There’s also the Mexican-infused Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition. Recently ported from PS3 and PC, this stylish action game features some of the most dextrous and ingenious platforming outside of Mario and the Donkey Kong Country series. The Wii U edition also features Off-TV Play and shows the entire map on the GamePad, making it easier to keep track of your progress and seeking out hidden passages as you punch, kick and uppercut your way through each level.

Other top platformers include the quirky Stick it to the Man, an entertaining puzzle platformer whose obsession with brains and mind-reading almost position it as a kind of spiritual successor to DoubleFine’s Psychonauts, the randomly-generated Cloudberry Kingdom and the high fantasy adventure Trine 2.

For RPG fans, Ubisoft’s Child of Light is a must-buy. Easily one of the most beautiful games ever made, this watercolour fairytale features an innovative take on the Active Time Battle system popularised by the Final Fantasy series and its twelve-hour running time also makes it one of the most substantial download titles currently available on the eShop.


The Wii U may not have the same ‘wow’ factor as the original Wii, but it still represents a matured take on home consoles that we haven’t seen from Nintendo before, both in its approach to online gaming and its hardware design. It’s the perfect blend of a home and handheld console, mixing power with portability while still retaining that unique Nintendo charm and all-important low price of entry.

It’s also a great budget option to the considerably more powerful and expensive PS4 and Xbox One, and its game library is really starting to come into its own, making it our go-to console for family-friendly fun.

CPUIBM PowerPC 750
GPUAMD Radeon High Definition
Storage8GB / 32GB
Storage expansion2TB
Dimensions (WxDxH)171x269x46mm
Analogue sticks2
Face buttons8
Triggers and bumpers4
Other features3.5mm headphone jack
Controller powerN/A
Accessories providedStylus, charging stand
Audio outputsNone
Video outputsHDMI, AV Multi
Video inputsNone
USB ports4
Memory card readerSDHC (up to 32GB)
Multimedia Features
DLNA serverNo
Blu-ray/DVD playbackNo
3D Blu-ray playbackNo
CD playbackNo
TV tunerNo
Buying information
Price including VAT£170 for 8GB Basic Pack, £240 for 32GB Premium Pack with extra game
WarrantyOne-year RTB
Part codeN/A

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