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Our Verdict: Australian Wii U Hardware Review

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We’ve had the Wii U here at Vooks HQ for dead on a week now, so it’s time to sit down and collect our thoughts on the system and where it will go from here. We would first like to acknowledge that it’s near impossible to cover every aspect of the Wii U both now and in the future, but we’ll try our best.

We find it intriguing how people review hardware, especially when it comes to gaming consoles. The physical composition of the system probably isn’t going to change much – but the games, built in system software and experience of the console are bound to change dramatically over the years.

So while we’ve only had the system for one week, it’s bound to change another week down the track. So, for now, here’s our snapshot of the Wii U.

The Hardware

We’re all at the point now where we expect a Nintendo system to be well made. Granted, there are exceptions, but Nintendo have been making hardware for long enough now to know how things are done and we are of the opinion that the Wii U again, delivers.

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The actual console itself isn’t much bigger than the Wii, however it is is significantly longer. It’s not something you would normally notice, but it becomes increasingly apparent as you put it next to it’s predecessor. it’s also a lot more curvier than the Wii, which had angles galore. Despite these subtle changes, the entire aesthetic of the Wii U isn’t that far from the Wii. While Nintendo has mainly shown the console lying down in marketing, it can be stood up with the stand that comes packaged in the Premium Set. The system thankfully runs fine in either position.

The Wii U comes in two colours, though each colour is exclusive to which set you buy. The Basic Set comes in white, while the Premium Set comes in Black. Both are glossy, shined finishes.

Piano Black, as they call it, is a dust, fingerprint and smudge magnet. The minute you remove the console from the plastic wrap it will attract any dust in the air. Touching it smudges it and this problem extends to the GamePad too. There’s no point trying to fight it either, once you’ve touched it, it’ll never be the same as it was before and you’ll just have to learn to live with it. I’m still struggling. Of course, the White console will be prone to the yellowing that some consoles and controllers may have seen with the Wii in the last few years, so it’s up to you to make the choice. Editors Note: Perth is one of the dustiest cities in the country, so your mileage may vary with regards to dust. Authors Note: I like my gadgets clean!

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Once powered up, the system itself generates little to no noise – we can safely say it’s about as quiet as the Wii. That soon changes, however, once you insert a disc the system begins to make a little bit more noise. Nothing like the high definition consoles (or the jet plane-like Xbox 360). The rear of the system features a new style power plug, while the sensor bar port and AV port remain unchanged from the Wii. The Wii U, of course, now features a HDMI port – and kudos to Nintendo for supplying a HDMI cable with the console itself, something that neither Sony nor Microsoft have done (for reasons that escape us)

The Wii U has a rather unique situation with it’s audio output. The console supports only LPCD, it doesn’t do any Dolby licensed formats like Pro Logic or DTS, nor does it have an optical out port. This means that unless your HDMI receive supports LPCM, then you might have a bit of trouble getting surround sound working. It also doesn’t support the use of both the AV port and the HDMI port at the same time, at least for now. For most people, this won’t be a problem as they will have their Wii U plugged into the TV, but for anyone who wants surround sound (and most of our readers, we surmise, will be in that category), you’ll have to have LPCM or you’re out of luck (hopefully this will be remedied in the future).

With regards to inputs, there are four USB ports on the system and an SD card reader. At the moment, the reader is used for transferring stuff from your original Wii to the system. The USB ports are used to expand the Wii U system memory with a hard disc drive (up to 2TB) to store digital downloads and purchases. Something people with the Basic Wii U set should definitely consider, if they plan to download almost anything from the eShop.

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Having the sync button on the front of the console is a real blessing now too, as it’s not only easy to access it now but also the on screen display walks the user through what they need to do. There’s no more blankly pressing buttons on either sides of the communication and just hoping they’ll eventually sync, the Wii U actually helps the user do it now. It’s incredibly intuitive and user friendly.

The actual console itself is easily the least remarkable of the entire package. It’s a little black or white box that’s going to power your fun, but you’re probably never going to touch it again outside of plugging in the odd accessory here and there.

The GamePad

The first thing players will notice about the GamePad when it’s picked up is that not only is it light, but that it actually feels like a controller. This is might sound a little bit odd, but when you consider how little it actually resembles one, it’s nice to actually hold the thing and for it to feel like a natural controller.

The overally quality of the contoller is solid, both the quality of the plastic used and the mechanics of the buttones are well implemented. Despite this, our unit rattles and seems to have “loose” face buttons and a loose volume slider. While other writers on our team can confirm the “looseness” of the buttons, the volume slider issues may seem to be isolated in this case.

As we’ve eluded to with our description of the GamePad, actually using the controller feels much ilke any other controller. You’ve got nice clickable analogue sticks and a traditional (and somewhat iconic) D-Pad that has been enlarged to outdo the tiny one on the Wii Remote. The should buttons and triggers feel nice, but the triggers aren’t analogue which could prove troublesome later on in racing games that might require varying amounts of pressure. Some players may have to “re-adjust” to the placement of the buttons and the triggers and switching between the two during gameplay, others might get settled in just fine. Another oddity that baffles us is the stick placement, a symmetrical setup in which the ABXY face buttons appear below the right stick. This means that in games that require both sticks, you’ll have to get used to using X as the primary button (that’s Triangle or Y for you other console players) for most things. Games that don’t use the second stick, obviously, can be played as normal.

The touchscreen is one of the most controversial inclusions on the Wii U’s GamePad. It’s a resistive touchscreen, meaning single touch only and the more than likely need to use the stylus that comes with it. We honestly haven’t had any problems with the touch screen in all the games we’ve played, and we’ve never felt like it was doing wrong by us. The screen itself is 6.2 inches (roughly 15cm) and no where near the quality of screens like the Vita or the iPad, but still strong enough to bring games to life with rich colours and clear acuity, even if streamed off the console. The brightness is also nice and bright (and adjustable through the settings) although it has to be given how reflective the screen is.

The GamePad contains speakers, and they are of a reasonable quality. Don’t expect anything too dynamic or too much base out of these though, for that you’ll need a headset or headphones. The volume is loud enough for most games, however some games seem a little bit ‘softer’ than others.

The battery within the GamePad, to be blunt, is annoying. I’ve had the GamePad on the charger more than off it. It doesn’t last long at all. To be fair, the GamePad is doing a lot, streaming a Wi-Fi image from the console, powering the speakers, rumble and of course the touch screen mechanics. But if you’re a heavy player you’re going to have it in the charge quite a bit. Worth noting, however, is that the GamePad does come with a cradle in the Premium Set however it can just be plugged in directly using the charging cable if needed. Essentially, this means you can charge the GamePad and play without having interruptions.

The range on the GamePad is less than what I thought it would be, but my house is probably not the best example to test. We’re under a tin roof, with double brick walls and we’d argue there’s more radio signals in this room than the Channel 7 headquaarters. Your results will vary, so judging the range in this review is pointless. One of our writers, however, is able to play in all rooms of his top floor and even on his couch downstairs, where the console is not setup. As we said, your mileage may vary.

At any time you can hit the TV button on your GamePad to take control of your TV. This feature is configured during the initial setup of the Wii U and worked straight away on my Sony TV set. Again, your results may vary depending on the brand of TV you have – we know for a fact that some of our community members have been having trouble with Kogan brand TVs, so maybe research this a bit if the feature is important to you. It’s also worth noting that the GamePad also allows players to turn their TV on and off without the Wii U even being on, pressing the TV button brings up the screen with an option to “Play Wii U” if you wish.

Our biggest complaint isn’t really a problem with the hardware itself but worth mentioning. At this point, there is no consistent way to switch between playing a game on the TV and the GamePad. Each game seems to have it’s own way, with some requiring a TV to navigate menus while others simply requiring the player to hold a button. It’s a little bit annoying – please sort something out Nintendo!

The Power

It’s quite clear to everyone that the Wii U does some things great and other things, well, not so good. Where does it sit compared to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, though? We might never find out.

The Wii U outputs most games at 720p, and they look on par with what we can play on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 today. The majority of the games on the system have been on other consoles, so it’s easy to compare too. Being from other consoles, they’re bounded and limited by the original systems on which they are built, especially as launch titles. There’s some games that run worse than the other consoles too, whether this is the console itself or the quality of the port is up for contentious debate throughout the community.

The Wii U for most games is streaming the entire game again to the GamePad, if not it’s streaming something else to the GamePad, all of which requires overhead. How much? Well, the OS has over 1GB of RAM (half of the system’s actual RAM) allocated to running it. As time goes on, we might see Nintendo make their software more efficient and reduce the overhead, like the 3DS, and allow games more RAM but at this point we can’t say for sure.

I have to say, I am pretty satisfied with how games look on the Wii U. We haven’t seen what’s next, however, and whether or not the Wii U will be able to keep up with the new generation of consoles that are on the horizon. This will be the true test for the system.

The Wii U Menu

The main screen you’ll see when you boot up the console consists of two screens (obviously). There’s a simple menu screen on the GamePad, but also the Wara Wara Plaza on the TV. The Plaza is a cogregation point for Mii characters from all around the world. It gives your system a feeling of liveliness, seeing the general mood of game players around the world, and perhaps even learning something new about other games you’ve not even played. It’s a shame that the Plaza cannot be interacted with on the TV, as the only interactable area during this is on the GamePad itself.

The main screen works simply enough and is easy to understand, although the most annoying aspect so far is the general speed that the system works at. Moving from app to app and game to game at times has been almost torture. When this review was beginning to unfold, I thought I would speak about this a bit more but it has, overall improved. There’s obviously a dynamic factor to this, as the console is constantly connected and retrieving heaps of data from the internet. This may be attributed to some of the slower load times, but even apps that don’t require the internet aren’t that fast.

The user account system is simple and streamlined as well. Following creation in the system setup, players can upgrade their account to a Nintendo Network ID. This is the basis of your online experience and your unique key ID to use with all services going forward.

Check out more about the Wii U menu in this video we put together.

MiiVerse

The MiiVerse is one of the killer features of the Wii U and will be for all Nintendo systems moving forward. For lack of a better term, it’s a “social network”. Each game has it’s own community, which players can post to either to ask for help or just comment on different aspects of the game. You can even post screenshots too (but remember to mark them as spoilers if needed!). Drawing or texting are available at the moment, with a 100 character limit on texting. Friends can also be messaged privately if you wish. When Nintendo said they had something different for online, they weren’t kidding and it’s pretty great.

But I could write for ages about how good it is, how about I show you?

eShop

The Wii U eShop, thus far, is off to a great start. There’s a wide selection of retail games too (that are more expensive than boxed retail copies, but that’s a problem for another day). The range of indie games on the shop so far are quite good too, and with Nintendo’s recently found openness allowing patches, updates and DLC, expect to see a lot more titles finding their way to the Wii U in the future.

There’s still the issue of eShop purchases being tied to the hardware and not the Nintendo Network ID. At the moment if your system was to get stolen you would be up a particular creek without a paddle (unless you record you serial number), hopefully this will change in the future. While we consider it a benefit that all your games could be loaded on your Wii U without requiring physical media, we don’t feel this offsets the risk that at any moment your Wii U could die or be stolen and said titles would be subsequently lost. At least, that’s how it might go down under Nintendo’s current setup.

To continue the theme, how about we show you a quick video walkthrough of the eShop.

Conclusion

There’s probably a handful of things I’ve missed in this review, as it’s nearly impossible to cover all aspects of the console, the launch experience and beyond in just one article. That’s why we plan to spend the next few years exploring the Wii U along with everyone else, and continuing to report how it goes.

At this point, the Wii U is a great system and has potential to be even better in both hardware and software aspects. Nintendo will, hopefully, fix most of the complaints we’ve mentioned in this review in due course through firmware updates. What Nintendo can’t fix, aside from it’s own titles, is the future of games on the system. Third parties have come to the table at launch with a wide variety of games, both new and old, and we hope it stays this way going forward.

The Wii U Experience is something fresh, new and exciting. It’s a blast to play with friends in your loungeroom, or in your bed with the TV off. We can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.

Disclaimer: Vooks was provided a retail Premium Wii U set from Nintendo Australia in order to review Wii U games.

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About The Author
Daniel Vuckovic
The Owner and Creator of this fair website. I also do news, reviews, programming, art and social media here. It is named after me after all. Please understand.
9 Comments
  • cd2
    December 5, 2012 at 5:25 am

    They need to create a Wii u community so we can discus aspects about the machine and any tips we have for it, freinds list needs to be increased, allow messages to be sent to multiple friends not just the one, a track option if you want to follow a particular post someone made. they are my miiverse grippes. now for the wii u menu, why no folders? why do i need to hit the home key to get to my friends list when miiverse and others have a button at the bottom of the menu. thats it for now i have zombies to cure.

  • Davey
    December 5, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Personally I am not a fan of the character limit. I can understand having one in community posts but you also get restricted when sending messages to friends. Seems a little unusual.

    Also cheering that my posts showed up in your activity feed in the video ūüėõ

  • Tinky
    December 5, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Awesome! My Mii has a starring role in the MiiVerse video ūüėÄ

  • December 5, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I’m loving mine so far. I had some issues with the LPCM audio format – took me even longer to troubleshoot until I learned that Nintendoland, Mario and Just Dance 4 are all strictly stereo – Tekken is the only game I own at the moment that uses surround sound.

    Also had some overscan issues with my older LCD tv – I was losing about 10% of the picture due to the older format tv… what it called “720p” was in fact “768p”.

    But I really love the hardware. I’ve been using the gamepad by itself quite a bit, for playing Mario while my wife is watching tv and as an ad-hoc tablet for browsing the internet… perfect for recipes in the kitchen, that sort of thing. In fact the browser is far better than it has any right to be – the ability to send flash video content to the main screen makes it the perfect youtube viewer, much better than the dedicated youtube app.

  • OzHuski
    December 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Love the review Vooks! While LPCM may be an issues for some people, I personally welcome it. Its nice to have the uncompressed audio featured on the console. Sadly had Nintendo gone with DTS or DD I suspect it would have ended up with just the original and not the HD formats to save a bit more cash on licencing – and decent amps featuring those 2 formats are still very much pricey. Overall I think they made a good call on this one and the audio sounds incredible in surround! Cant wait for MH3 and Pikmin3.

    Of note also – I found my gamepad’s wifi range decreased when my 2nd gaming rig was turned on with wireless N in the house. Without it on I could play in my bedroom perfectly. Once the 2nd rig was turned on playing in the bedroom became problematic with it skipping at times and having large lose of chunks of gameplay (This PC is in between my Wii U and bedroom though). Using other wireless devices doesn’t seem to impact its range so far – was streaming videos to my iPad last night and downloading a few apps on my phone and the gamepad was fine in the bedroom still!

    Its to be expect, the more wifi signals the worse range you get – So if people want to get a bit more range, try turning off a wifi device or if you can move its position you may have some luck.

    PS: Bloody love the gamepad gaming!! Best thing since sliced bread being able to get up and walk around with your game in your hands when you need too.

  • Sabri
    December 5, 2012 at 8:59 am

    You can interact with the menu on the TV with a Wiimote pointer. Not that it’s practical or anything, but it’s possible.

  • Leiigh
    December 5, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Look ma IM ON TV.

    Pretty in-depth stuff here, Vewks.

    I can watch HTML 5 videos HD movies on this thing, just one of the little hidden features I’ve found.

  • Leiigh
    December 5, 2012 at 11:51 am

    What of the Wii(zard)? (LOTR reference).

    Have you changed your tune on transferring your Wii library? I tried DKC Returns in the Wii mode and it was _okay_ but thought I best use it for games I own but have not played yet – No More Heroes 2 for example.

    Might even try and grab Last Story now.

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