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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.

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37 comments

  • SpiritTemple - August 24, 2012 3:31 a.m.

    First *BLUE SHELL* ...Last
  • SpiritTemple - August 24, 2012 3:38 a.m.

    Lets just hope all the problems are fixed before release, I don't want the Wii U to be as bad as when the 360 was released (Red ring of death). Also the Wii U version of AC3 looked amazing, so I don't care if everyone thinks the PS3 version looks better, I'm still getting it on Wii U. Leave Luck To Heaven.
  • CurryIsGood - August 24, 2012 4:58 a.m.

    I want it to look better than the ps3 for Nintendo's sake. And not just a little bit better even, it should be clear before anyone in the world it is better.
  • Joco84 - August 24, 2012 5:07 a.m.

    worrying times
  • wingsdjy - August 24, 2012 5:55 a.m.

    It sounds like Nintendo once again is trying to discourage 3rd party developers from making games for their console. Why do they feel the need to keep everything such a big secret this late in the game? We still don't know: - Price of the console - Price of the games - Feature set of the controller - etc That is ridiculous for a console that supposedly comes out in 2-3 months.
  • A000 - August 24, 2012 6:33 a.m.

    What exactly don't you know about the controller? The controller is the one thing we do know about.
  • kolesrage - August 24, 2012 7:26 a.m.

    Add to that list - we also don't know the launch date. It could NOT be coming out in 2-3 months, especially if they're still doing hardware revisions. I find it pretty interesting how that speculative bit has stuck around so strongly. It's even reflected in the article.
  • A000 - August 24, 2012 6:41 a.m.

    "Should developers still be unclear whether the GamePad will feature rumble or not?" The GamePad does feature rumble. It was demonstrated during the GamePad overview during their E3 presentation.
  • Darkhawk - August 24, 2012 6:51 a.m.

    Pretty pathetic that Nintendo's "Next Gen" console is struggling to compete, at least visually, with the Current Gen. How is this acceptable?
  • A000 - August 24, 2012 7:08 a.m.

    PS3/360 = Consoles at end of lifespan. Wii U = Console not even at beginning of lifespan yet. Systems that developers have had over 6 years to learn and program for will look quite nice by now. The Wii U is brand new, and no one has had a great deal of development time for it, but it still looks pretty good. Also, if I recall correctly, everything on the Wii U is running in 1080p, whereas most stuff on the PS3/360 runs at 720p. Plus the Wii U is also outputting 480p to the GamePad at all times. Thats no small task. This type of graphical inconsistency between generations has precedent. When the 360 came out, there were a few games on launch day that also had original xbox versions, and the 360 versions barely looked any better. I don't think it's anything to worry about, yet at least. But we shall see.
  • ParagonT - August 24, 2012 7:24 a.m.

    I will say that its really early to see, but unlike most, I'm not here to see the "potential" and what could be of the console, but what it will be able to do. No way anyone I personally know is going to make an investment into a system in the hopes of "better" games, they should have made the line pretty straight forward of what will come from the system, not a dream of possibilities. That should have been their focus in the beginning, to show us what it can actually do, not "The controller will change the industry!". I'm unconvinced as of yet, but others may be. Fair enough, maybe I'll change my mind in the future.
  • chrisda - August 24, 2012 9:04 a.m.

    That is still no excuse for nintendo, this is supposed to be the Next generation. This is hardware 6-7 years newer than the 360 and the ps3. Video capabilities have exploded since then. There's very very few instances in which a succeeding generation looks worse than the previous generation. Take a look at today's PC games, this is what the next gen consoles for Microsoft and Sony are going to look like, what's nintendo's excuse?
  • A000 - August 24, 2012 9:39 a.m.

    I think their reasoning (rather than the word "excuse") is that they don't care about graphics. And quite rightly so. They also insist on not making a loss on their hardware. So they've got reasons, whether people like them or not. Video capabilities are always exploding. A graphics card or chip is out of date if its been out for more than a month. From the reports we've seen so far. The graphics chip of the Wii U seems to be very very good, its the CPU thats letting it down apparently. Personally I don't care either way. If the games look pretty, thats great. If they don't, but they're still fun, thats great too. We've known from the beginning that the Wii U wasn't going to be an absolute powerhouse. Anyone expecting the Wii U to be able to match up graphically with whatever consoles Sony and MS come up with next, are idiots and they're going to be disappointed. Still, I'll be disappointed if reports like this one end up being true across other games and becomes the general rule rather than the exception. But I don't think that will happen. This is one report, by 1 person of 1 play session of 1 ported game with limited development time. I still think we all just need to wait and see.
  • KnowYourPokemon - August 24, 2012 11:48 a.m.

    Exactly, I'll never really understand why people are using the "The next PS and Xbox will overpower the WiiU so bad" argument. Do they realize the gamecube had more power in it than the PS2? Yet the PS2 ended up being an amazing success even though it had the least amount of power for consoles that gen.
  • ParagonT - August 24, 2012 12:05 p.m.

    Graphics are not necessarily "everything" for some people, but I think that the reason Nintendo does not improve on this area is because of their demographic; Kids, seniors, ladies, weight concerned individuals, and some fans of the golden days of Nintendo (as a start). Graphics although are not only important in appearance as well, but by inferring what people mean (they mean system "power" I think), you can say that the power of a system includes things like: Available number cap for multi-player, AI, physics, draw distance, and much more that affects more than just the looks of the game, but core mechanics. So in all, I think than "not caring" as you've said is dead on the mark, but not what people assume their reasons to be. It's just that they don't care because they have a corner of the gaming market cornered (somewhat), so they have no need to tend to what people call "the core players". Not meaning that "graphics" (if you mean power) doesn't mean anything, because it very well does. Minecraft is a great example. It's "graphics" are very subjective to thought (I think it's beautiful haha) and its not very realistic in terms of other games, but it takes quite a bit of power to run it on decent settings without resource lag. Which shows that just because a developer takes a different artistic view of the world in their game doesn't mean that power is not important. I'm not sure what other point I was trying to make, because I had to go do my laundry, came back and was like "What the hell did I type? What was I even trying to say?" My bad.
  • dispatcher_83 - August 24, 2012 2:48 p.m.

    You do realize that developers have to make a game based on the lowest common denominator, and then polish/enhance/design up from there right? Did you honestly expect this game to look 100x better than either existing console? If so you are an idiot. Graphics aren't the only thing and to assume next gen consoles are going to look like high end pc's now means you haven't been paying any attention to the rumors about what next gen consoles are going to be.
  • Rowdie - August 24, 2012 10:42 a.m.

    hehe, No.
  • 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...
  • 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.

    *first

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