News: Wii U Is a Piece of Shit

Mario + Rob Halford + Metal Horns
“Our console could have had either proper components or rock ‘n’ roll, but not both. Never both.”

Wii U Hardware Is Dreadful, Broken

The Wii U launch has been a rolling disaster from a hardware point of view, and it should also be a marketing and public relations nightmare, though one harbours significant doubts that Nintendo will be made to wear their mistakes. In the broadest sense the Wii U console is not up to snuff, with a number of consoles arriving dead out of the box. Many an over-eager Nintendo fan got an early start to secure for themselves a launch unit, only to take it home, plug it in, and be met with a horrid flashing blue light indicating critical hardware failure! From this point there is nothing to be done but to ship it to Nintendo for repairs, or return it to the store for a refund.

It is not simply the build quality of the console that is garbage however, there are also several significant ways in which it underperforms the current generation of consoles, and fails to meet the needs of core users. For months now the Wii U CPU has been lambasted for being slower and more feeble than the computing power incumbent to the PS3 and XBox 360, and now 4A Games is just the latest developer to add their voice to the growing ranks of dissent. 4A’s chief technical officer, Oles Shishkovtsov, did not mince words in stating: “Wii U has a horrible, slow CPU”, in justification for the developer’s decision to drop plans for a Wii U port of their forthcoming title Metro: Last Light. His colleague, Huw Beynon, then clarified: “We had an early look at it, we thought we could probably do it but in terms of the impact we would make on the overall quality of the game – potentially to its detriment – we just figured it wasn’t worth pursuing at this time. It’s something we might return to. I really couldn’t make any promises, though.”

Following the criticism that the 4A staffers heaped upon the Wii U CPU, they received ample denouncements by uncritical Wii U evangelists, but also the vocal backing of the Battlefield 3: Armored Kill lead designer, Gustav Halling. Halling linked to a Kotaku article quoting the 4A guys, citing their experience with the Wii U CPU as a reson for regret at Nintendo’s short-sightedness: “This is also what I been hearing within the industry. Too bad since it will shorten its life a lot when new gen starts. GPU and RAM is nice to have shaders/textures loaded. Physics and gameplay run on CPU mostly so player count is affected etc. I don’t actually know what makes it slow, but enough ‘tech’ people I trust in world are saying the same things.”

Wii U Battery Life Confirmed
The road to irrelevance is paved with unnecessary cost cutting.

These developer accounts are borne out by initial observations of the system’s hardware. It has been confirmed that the Wii U CPU is currently being produced with the same fabrication process as the Xbox 360’s Xenon chip, yet Wii U console teardowns have shown that the surface area of the Wii U CPU is much smaller than Xenon [being roughly the size of one of Xenon’s three cores], which means that it is able to accommodate far fewer transistors. Transistor numbers do not share a linear relationship with CPU performance, but fewer transistors will incur an exponential decrease in performance with respect to the chip’s architecture.

It is not just the Wii U’s underpowered CPU that is proving to be a bottleneck though, as the console has also been found to contain two gigabytes of extremely aged DDR3 RAM [just one gigabyte of which is available to developers]. Nintendo and their insufferable evangelists have long been touting this higher numeric figure of RAM as an advantage for the Wii U over the seventh generation mainstays, yet the Wii U’s memory bandwidth allows for just 12.8GB/s data transfer, whereas the Xbox 360’s 512MB of GDDDR3 RAM coupled with ten megabytes of embedded eDRAM has a bandwidth of 22.4GB/s, and the PS3’s 256MB of XDR system RAM has a bandwidth of 25.6GB/s, while its 256MB of GDDR3 graphics RAM has a bandwidth of 22.4GB/s. The Wii U’s memory performance practically makes its CPU appear speedy by comparison, and goes to show that Microsoft and Sony’s six year old hardware is still more up to date in several respects. Not currently known is the effect that the Wii U’s thirty megabytes of embedded eDRAM will have on memory performance.

Finally, the cause of the Wii U’s abominable 2.5-3.5 hour battery life has been uncovered, literally, by removing the back cover of Nintendo’s Wii U Gamepad. The battery that ships with the Gamepad is rated as being 1500mAh, which is slightly bigger than the original 3DS battery, but is 250mAh smaller than the battery that ships with the 3DS XL. More interesting than this is the fact that the battery housing compartment is roughly twice the size of the battery that ships with the Gamepad, possibly hinting at a time when Nintendo were not quite so intent on shooting themselves in the foot by attempting to gouge every last penny from consumers.

Wii U Assassins Creed
This Assassin’s Creed III still could practically serve as a GIF animation of the Wii U port.

Wii U System Software Is Awful, Unfinished

Nintendo consoles launching with an incomplete feature-set is nothing new. The 3DS launched without an online shop, while even Nintendo’s much cherished 3DS ambassadors had to wait for an inordinate period of time before they were granted their boon of NES ROMS. More recently Nintendo all but confirmed that this would be the case for the Wii U when they announced that a wide-ranging laundry-list of their much touted features would not be available until mid-December, but then missing features does not automatically equate to incomplete software.

By almost any measure the Wii U is Nintendo’s most slipshod hardware release yet [forgetting for the moment about curios like the Virtual Boy]. Barebones does not begin to describe the Wii U system software out of the box, and thus in order for one to do aught but play physical game discs a one gigabyte software update must be performed, which has been estimated to take roughly one and a half hours to run its course. If that were not bad enough, it has been discovered to the [arguable] misfortune of early Wii U owners that if for any reason the system should lose power during the updating process the console will be bricked. The other platform holders have designed their firmware so that if power supply is disrupted then the console will still resume the update when it is powered back on; Nintendo on the other hand fancy themselves to be an industry trendsetter, and so new console suicide is just their latest innovation.

While the Wii U’s update woes probably constitute the most glaring software deficiency at launch, it was by no means the only such oversight in the running. One of the first big stories to come out of the Wii U’s launch day was the fact that a NeoGAF denizen by the name of Trike accidentally found his way into one of Nintendo’s Miiverse debug menus, from which he had the ability to grant himself certain administrator privileges, and gain access to a mock-up of [possibly] forthcoming Miiverse game message boards. Nintendo were quickly able to rectify this situation, so there was no harm done, yet it reeks of a software infrastructure which is not quite finished. Much the same conclusion can be drawn from one of the lesser stories of the week involving the fact that the Wii U appears to have a large overscan area, and yet no option to resize the system display from within the OS options menu in order to fit the television. This does not seem to be a huge problem, as it sounds like most of the Wii U’s launch titles have the option to resize the display from within the game software, yet it nevertheless speaks to system software that is as yet unfinished, but was allowed to ship anyway.

11 comments

  1. The fact that such junk can be shamelessly foisted on a cheering public is a sign of just how far the industry has fallen.

  2. It doesn’t seem like it’s selling all that well, even after the attempts to create demand via artificial shortage. There were still plenty on shelves here, even after Black Friday, nothing at all like past console launches. I doubt that it’s a situation unique to my location.

  3. There are enough people, especially spoiled childrenn, in this country who want the new thing just because it’s new. This may be enough to push the WiiU through Christmas, but as SN’s excellent articles have been pointing out, this console is just garbage. It can’t gain too much momentum beyond this shopping season, unless people are desperate for something new.

    By contrast, the 3DS seems like good enough hardware in the handheld markey along with a trickle of decent games to keep it going. But nothing has interested me, a life-long Nintendo fan, in the least about the WiiU. It would take God’s favorite Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games combined to change that, and with the exception of Super Mario Galaxy, none of the classic Nintendo series on the Wii were that good (though I haven’t tried Skyward Sword). Games like New SMB Wii, Kirby’s Return To Dreamland, and Donkey Kong Country returns weren’t as good as their SNES equivalents, IMHO.

    I don’t wish it upon them, but I can’t see Nintendo lasting beyond this oncoming console generation, if not self-destructing during it. And third-party games that play better on consoles made six-years ago does not help the WiiU. Nintendo first flourished by controlling such a large part of the video game market (NES, Game Boy, SNES), then survived on the strength of their own established series (N64 and Game Cube), and I don’t have a great explanation for Wii and DS (the latter had a great library of games though).

    It makes me wonder what is next though? Sony is in trouble across the board from what I hear, and Microsoft continues to make bad decisions. So if the three major console manufacturersing corporations have such issues…?

  4. It is great to sit back and watch the fanboys piss their pants in excitement over a current gen system that is being presented as a next gen console. All the crazed fanboys are raving about Batman: Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed 3 and Darksiders 2, yet all reviews show that there has been no improvements to the graphics and the only changes have been annoying Game Pad “improvements.”

    The big question is what will become of the system when the true next gen consoles are released? Developers are already abandoning proposed ports because of lack of CPU power, what makes Nintendo think that when developers are given even better hardware power they will downgrade their games visuals to port to the Wii U.

  5. I have yet to see a store in my area suffering a shortage of WiiUs. They have all been well-stocked. I also have yet to see anyone purchase one. So far, the only person I know who has done is Chris ‘Fine Now’ Privitere–but that’s because he is one of those hopeless causes who buys every significant new piece of technology made by Apple, Nintendo, and Sony.

    Matt’s comments are especially significant. I, too, am a devoted Nintendo gamer. However, since the Nintendo 64 they have been making unwise business decisions. Matt is right to say that they survived on first-party franchises through the Gamecube era. I own a number of games for Wii, but by and large the GC era was better (Metroid Prime and Wind Waker easily trump Other M and Skyward Sword, and I’d rather play Mario Sunshine that Mario Galaxy, frankly).

    The WiiU has yet to present one, single, tantalising piece of material for me. I have seen nothing that interests me. In fact, I have seen little that could be of interest to anyone. It is only purest arrogance which has led to Nintendo releasing a ‘NEXT GEN’ console that runs CURRENT GEN games worse than the other CURRENT GEN systems (which have been around for five years, and which cost less than the Wii U).

    The 3DS is at least a supported and fairly solid piece of hardware (though the Vita is absolutely better), though its gimmick (3D) is nauseating and stupid. It will probably be cheaper to make games for, though, and should therefore do better than the Vita in the handheld market (if there still is a handheld market in a few years).

    My earnest desire now is that Nintendo should absolutely collapse along with Microsoft, leaving only Sony on the field. Then, MS and Nintendo can turn their hands to making games for Sony’s superior hardware, given that their franchises are vastly better than Sony’s.

  6. It makes me wonder how the people at Nintendo can make a system like this and not foresee problems. I’m not even talking about the bugs, lets just pretend they didn’t rush this out the door and genuinely weren’t aware of them. But the system being this lacking in performance… Did they honestly think that would help their relations with third parties?

  7. @Lusipurr: A complete failure by Nintendo and Microsoft could be good, but at the same time it could be bad if Sony takes advantage of its consumers because of a lack of competition. Just based on rumors of the next consoles from Sony and Microsoft shows that they are going to try to destroy the used game market by tying a game to a person’s PSN ID or Gamertag. Imagine if Sony didn’t have to worry about losing a piece of the market share if they make bad decisions.

    Microsoft made a bad decision rushing the 360 to the market early, but people still bought it up like crazy. Nintendo made the same bad decision with the Wii U. The big difference is that the Xbox 360 was an actual hardware upgrade from what was on the market at the time. At the very least I hope Nintendo fails because Pokemon on a PS Vita style handheld would have the chance to be amazing.

  8. @James:The issue for Nintendo and developers isn’t even one of watering down graphical quality until games look shitty enough to run on the hardware. The fact is that the Wii U simply will not have the computational power to run next-gen physics and AI calculations, while the system’s one gigabyte of extremely slow RAM will not allow for the memory bandwidth to run next-gen engines, at least not in the ways that they are going to be running on the proper next-gen consoles. The next generation of games will be made for consoles which are capable of streaming over 100GB/s, while the Wii U will be barely capable of exceeding 10GB/s data transfer.

    The reason that I am so down on the Wii U actually has nothing to do with its underpowered hardware. No one should have expected the Wii U to be a technical showcase; it is just a console for playing Nintendo 1st and 2nd party games in 720p. I actually had every intention of buying a Wii U for Christmas, but cannot because of the poor battery life and unreliable hardware. I will probably buy one when these issues are resolved, if the system still appears to be viable by that point, that is.

    Also, if Sony attempts to lock out the used game market then I certainly will not be purchasing their next console.

  9. @SN – Exactly. It is definitely another Nintendo 1st and 2nd party machine and they should stop pretending otherwise. It is to their detriment.

  10. Meanwhile, according to Nintendo’s own numbers, the WiiU is underselling the Wii as yet more third party publishers reconsider their efforts for the machine.

    I wonder how much the 3DS’s rocky launch ate into the finished quality of the WiiU. The battery size thing looks pretty suspect in that regard.

  11. Correction, the WiiU is actually selling more than the Wii in the same time period. (400k WiiU’s vs 300k Wii’s in the first week)

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