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Wii U GamePad Can Render GamePlay Faster Than Your HDTV

Posted on June 17, 2012 AT 10:48am

Nintendo’s Wii U may be more current-generation than “next-generation,” but the GamePad is still advanced enough to stream HD gameplay faster than your thousand-dollar HD television. Moreover, streaming content between the GamePad and the console itself works much faster than the wirelessly connected Remote Play system used by the PS3 and PlayStation Portable.

Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry put the upcoming console through its technical spaces at a closed-doors session in London, testing out the system’s graphics and rendering capabilities with several first- and third-party games.

By far, one of the biggest positives for the system is that the Wii U GamePad can render gameplay about 116 milliseconds ahead of what the console streams to an HD TV. While testing New Super Mario Bros. U and Rayman Legends Origins on a 50-inch LG screen the gameplay proved to be seamless, while the only question was whether that feedback speed was naturally supported via the wireless connection, or a tethering method with the demo stations.

In general, the testing and analysis team found that the Wii U is very much an HD ready device, even though some of the games aren’t currently particularly performing up to the standards one might expect from a new gaming console:

It’s worth noting that neither [Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge] looked particularly appealing – and certainly not the great leap over current hardware we may have been hoping for. For starters, while Armored Edition uses the GamePad screen in some briefly entertaining ways, by letting you scan an area in detective mode through its screen and switch weapons from his Bat-belt by touch, the game looks woefully unoptimised. Unreal Engine 3 relies on streaming textures, where low-resolution tiles subtly fade out for the higher-quality ones as you draw closer. Unfortunately, no big switch is occurring in the build we tried for minutes at a time, if ever.

This makes for some astoundingly blurry looking enemies and floor patterns, which prompted some passers-by at the event to question whether the Wii U unit was connected via HDMI. The hiccups to the frame-rate indicate that in this build at least, it’s running unlocked, with some of the most glaring hitches popping up in front of masses of enemies. But again, this is an early build, and Batman looked suitably highly detailed and reflective.

Regardless, all of Nintendo’s first-party games looked sharp and crisp to Digital Foundry, as they did to the EGM crew at E3 2012. In particular, Pikmin 3 especially stood out as a visual treat, as the shiny textures on creatures like the Rock Pikmin and a glass-covered centipede boss showcased a dramatically-improved graphics engine.

One general worry that most people have about the Wii U is the concept of looking between two screens at once, particularly in action-centric titles like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge and Assassin Creed 3, which both house features like item selection, radar, and maps. To be blunt, it doesn’t really work—at least, not with some games we played at E3. Trying to divide your attention between the TV screen and the Wii U GamePad isn’t easy, and in cases like Project P-100, the gameplay tries to train you to draw on the touchscreen without looking at it. Easier said done.

But if you’re mostly worried about visuals, Digital Foundry notes that games tailor-made for the Wii U naturally look and perform better than titles that are downgraded from Xbox 360 or PS3 architecture:

The stellar third-party support on show from the likes Ubisoft and Platinum does give us a lot of hope for the prospects of the Wii U’s starting line-up. We notice a pattern forming here, where many of the titles being made exclusively for the format seem nicely custom tailored to the capabilities of the hardware, not just in terms of using the dual-screen dynamic imposed by the GamePad, but also at a fundamental level where the console’s CPU and graphics chip setup are concerned.

It remains worrying that direct ports of games currently optimised for the 360′s architecture, which also boasts a tri-core IBM processor and AMD GPU, show only minor improvements or none at all. However, if the Wii U’s release schedule can keep up the tempo with games like Project P-100 and Rayman Legends – both of which match Nintendo’s line-up in terms of creative uses for the second screen – then it’s set to have a very good run indeed.

Findings like this pretty much confirm the general consensus that the Wii U is roughly equivalent to the PS3 and Xbox 360 in terms of processing power, but it’s comforting to note that minor improvements can still be made with direct ports of third-party games. As developers get familiar with the Wii U’s architecture, though, we should see higher-quality gaming experiences down the road.

Source: Digital Foundry

McKinley Noble, Contributing Editor
McKinley Noble has been writing about video games for seven years as a blogger and journalist, with each job adding to his painstakingly alphabetized collection of retro gaming memorabilia. When not cracking jokes about the gaming industry, he's a talking encyclopedia when it comes to mixed martial arts and anything MMA related. Follow him on Twitter: @KenTheGreat1. Meet the rest of the crew.

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