Wii U: The good news and bad news after more quality time with Nintendo's new console at Gamescom

The Wii U is supposed to be out this year. It's never going to launch post-Christmas, so that means we're four months at most from launch. But having played it at Gamescom, I'm not convinced it's all coming together as coherently and convincingly as you would hope for a console so close to being released into the wider world. So let's look at a few key areas and the good and bad examples seen at Gamescom.

Graphics compared to PS3/360

The good news:
Everyone wants to know how the machine's shaping up against its peers. I can confirm visual quality has improved tangibly in ZombiU. Having played the E3 demo at an event in London a few months back, the difference is evident in the new Buckingham Palace level. The edges of the characters are no longer razor-sharp, movement seems more fluid and the game now looks about on par with a modern Xbox 360 title.

Above: ZombiU may still have relatively simple geometry, but it's looking slicker now

But a cross-platform comparison is what you want, right? Well get this: Assassin's Creed III is up and running on the Wii U. I watched a PR rep play the Battle of Chesapeake Bay section (the one with the ships from E3) and was initially impressed. Dynamic shadows and wave effects make for a very organic game world. It's busy, dramatic… the console runs it with relative ease. At least on first glance…

The bad news: The PS3 version was playing beside it – and the difference is night and day. Right now, PS3's version of Assassin's Creed III is, simply put, better. Even gamers without my robot eyes would be able to see the difference.

Above: Assassins Creed III looks better on PS3 compared to Wii U thanks to softer edges and better textures

Smoother edges, better frame-rate, more detailed textures… it's akin to the kind of difference we used to see in multiplatform games when the PS3 version would look shaky in comparison to Xbox 360 release. It could change before release of course, but that's how it is right now.

The hardware

The good news:
It seems that the GamePad's screen doesn't need loads of processing power to get it working in tandem with the on-screen action. Case in point: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, which will apparently feature a five-player mode, with four players on the TV in split-screen and another on the GamePad. That's mighty impressive and we can't wait to see it in action.

Above: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing runs just fine on Wii U and will have a 5-player mode

The bad news: We saw Wii U units crash more than once during the show. Granted, we're looking at unfinished and therefore unstable code, but we saw the hardware freeze up during Rayman (which was rock-solid and finished-looking last time we saw it), to which the PR rep said 'it's been doing this all day – I think it's overheating or something'. That's a little concerning – it wasn't even that hot in the room. Assassin's Creed also locked up and had to be reset. Could just be a pre-release bug, of course. Could be.

More bad news in the shape of controller lag. I played Rayman Legends with the new Pro Controller (the one that looks like an Xbox 360 pad) and it was fine – as good as you'd expect...

Above: Rayman Legends looks superb on Wii U and will likely be one of the best games at launch

...yet for the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed demo, I was told that the hardware keeps being revised. As if to prove the point, the Pro Controller I used to try the split-screen two-player mode was reportedly a new wireless version, although it was being powered by a cable running from the machine as it doesn't have on-board power yet.

To make matters worse, this new controller iteration only works within about three feet of the console right now – and the input lag on it was dreadful. The GamePad's input response was fine – so there's something wrong with this version of the Pro Controller. It will not be like this at launch, I'll tell you that for nothing, but why is it still like this now?

How finished is it?

The good news:
The Assassin's Creed 3 demo ended with the PR rep saying "That's the Wii U version, you can play the PS3 version on the showfloor and the Vita game is at the back of the room. Release date is October 31 for all versions." So I asked: "Is that Wii U as well?" to which he replied: "Er… that one's TBA, I think". What do you reckon - a little tongue slip revealing an October release for Wii U, or just a flustered PR forgetting about a staggered release schedule?

The bad news: If it is meant to be launching in October or even November, there's a lot to be done if it hasn't been fixed already. Any of the above can be put down to unoptimised code running on hardware which hasn't had its specs set in stone. No problem, that's the way pre-release gaming is. But surely things as fundamental as the hardware would be tied down by this late stage? Should developers still be unclear whether the GamePad will feature rumble or not? Sonic Racing dev Sumo Digital still don't know. They told us so.

Above: This was the hardware a few months ago - its features have changed since then

This was admittedly a collection of third-party showings instead of super-slick, ultra regimented demos from the Big N itself. But in terms of how the Wii U is being presented to the press so close to launch, the overall impression I took from the show is that the machine isn't quite there yet. And at this late stage that's a bit worrying.


Wii U

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  • RedOutlive. - August 27, 2012 3:38 p.m.

    Terrible, terrible news. If what you said is completely on point, the Wii U is the Wii 1.5, not as powerful hardware compared to other consoles and with a gimmick.
  • newarkd - August 27, 2012 2:20 p.m.

    It's on Par with everything else? The current Gen has been out for 7 years... Nintendo's brand new technology will be comparable with 7 year old tech. When the next gen does arrive it will be faster, prettier AND will have gimmicky interactive gaming as well. Magbey Sega and Nintendo should team up and corner their part of the market and then let Sony and Microsoft tear it up for the big leagues..
  • Smash_Bro - August 24, 2012 8:33 p.m.

    This is a bit worrying, but I have faith in Nintendo, as I always have. I'm positive that polishing the Wii U is #1 on their current priority list. Having said that, I'm quite impressed that this unfinished, buggy version still looks up to par with current 360 titles. And that's just from third-party graphics! It can only get better from there. But what's most that I still don't know what colour(s?) will be available at launch!
  • LordZarlon - August 24, 2012 8:10 p.m.

    Nintendo is my favorite gaming company period. Unfortunately it may be time to admit that maybe the Big N is not as technically savvy as it used to be. I'll reserve judgement for the final product but I agree with Justin, this is the time that we should be blown away with incoming hardware from Nintendo. And don't say, "That's not what Nintendo does!", because I remember being blown away by the Gamecube demos before it launched. The Metroid demo alone made me pre-order a Gamecube and that wasn't even a confirmed title at the time. We should be getting totally psyched, not worried, at this point.
  • scottyD - August 24, 2012 7:27 p.m.

    Thank You Justin for a informative article, lots of good info in there to consider. I know i won't be a day one customer, normally I would but I'm gona wait this one out for a year and see where this console is at then. I lost a lot of confidence with Nintendo and the severe lack of third party ( and i mean top selling games, not shovel wear) titles, good online, the choice to use a normal controller if i wanted. Yes I'm a little jaded so We'll wait and see. PS for the haters, I do want Nintendo to do good, so talk shit about my little comment if u want IDC! GR u just got a new follower :)
  • komicturtle - August 24, 2012 5:08 p.m.

    What if the WiiU just doesn't like YOU, the person who wrote this article?
  • Hobogonigal - August 24, 2012 9:38 p.m.

    On all occasions with different developers and different games and different times. I say that would be the coincidence of the year.
  • Fuzunga - August 24, 2012 4:04 p.m.

    You know, I went to a "Wii U Experience" even back in July and had ZERO issues with anything. Played a few games, watched some being played... no issues. There were no pro controllers, but the pads they had were fully wireless and working beautifully. This thing had games from everywhere, too, ranging from Zombi U to P-100 to Pikmin.
  • dispatcher_83 - August 24, 2012 2:43 p.m.

    I don't mind reasonable comparison between the WiiU and the existing consoles, but bare in mind they were developing a game on a console they have years and years of experience with compared to probably porting it on a new one. Porting it, okay some issues sure. Designing it fully for the WiiU? Then I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of minor differences. Time and experience both play a factor and I may have missed it, but were these final products being played? Usually demo's that aren't final products aren't the build reflected at the time of playing, which is really a shame you seemed to bash on the WiiU version for differences that could be very minor to glaring - since we aren't there who knows, but there also wasn't a mention of the 360 version of AC3 compared to the WiiU. Was it not shown? Just because the tech is newer doesn't mean it is going to look 10x times better than the 360/ps3, at most just more polished or less glitchy. Why on earth do people think this means the console is going to suck when right out of the bat it is on par with everything else?
  • MangaAddict - August 25, 2012 9:24 a.m.

    You need to also realize that by the time Nintendo's graphics catch up to PS3's and 360's, their respective new consoles would be out, eclipsing and effectively making WiiU outdated within 2years....
  • dispatcher_83 - August 26, 2012 5:01 a.m.

    Nintendo has never been about being the beefiest, prettiest or most advanced when it comes to tech, they have been about fun games, innovation and reliability. If your argument is about "graphics" then you don't even know Nintendo.
  • robotdickens - August 24, 2012 12:16 p.m.

    Thanks for the information, though I wish we could have seen the comparison of the Wii U version v. the PS3. I would really like this to come out soon. I can't tell you how many times I've been kicked off the tv because someone else wanted to use it. Even if it's just like the Gamecube's extra screen attached to the console, I have high hopes for this.
  • Galgomite - August 24, 2012 12:08 p.m.

    When I think of these Nintendo consoles with last-gen internals, I picture everything running ice-cold. I'm excited for this console (well, the Nintendo games it will run, really), but I hope they'll delay if it isn't ready.
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 9:58 a.m.

    I think yall seem to fail to acknowledge that the Wii U is new hard ware, of course the PS3 version is going to look best at this point. For all we know they created the game for the PS3 from the ground up. Once Nintendo bust out their best looking games and Capcom shows a Wii U version of RE6(Capcom/Resi and Nintendo have a great history) I think yall will be rethinking future similar articles. The thought of the consoles over heating is scary though, I hope this is ironed out. The controller thing isn't even a worry for me, that is the fist thing they make sure is perfect before release. Nintendo would postpone the release of Wii U if they felt the controllers weren't working perfectly.
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 10 a.m.

  • mbavalo - August 24, 2012 11:18 a.m.

    Hmm.. RE, That game has a nature which is, have good looks and sacrifice gameplay, or the converse. RE5 looked so good but the gameplay was shit, cosidering dumbass AI. I would not have much faith in the Wii U... yet
  • RonnyLive19881 - August 24, 2012 1:26 p.m.

    RE5 is also the only Resi that hasn't been on a Nintendo console.(not counting the original RE1 but the remake more than made up for that and it and RE0 are still Nintendo exclusive. The crappy games like Outbreak, Survivor, Operation Raccoon City don't really count imo Lol) I kind of hope to see a RE5 port to Wii U with new features and updated graphics and controls!
  • supermage65 - August 24, 2012 7:22 a.m.

    Interesting. I somewhat doubt that the Wii U is 100% finished at this point if it's having issues like that. Although it's unlikely, there may be a chance that Nintendo will be forced to delay the Wii U until 2013 in order to fix some of those issues...