To say the Wii Mini's announcement was something of a surprise is an understatement. Having just launched the Wii U you would have assumed that Nintendo would want to focus all of its attention on its next-gen system and not risk any other hardware-based distractions. Strange timing aside, the Wii Mini is now a reality - and we've been spending some quality time with one to give you some impressions.
Although the name suggests a reduction in size over the original Wii, the Wii Mini isn't actually a great deal smaller than its predecessor. However, for some reason it does appear to be a little dinkier than the Mark 1 console - which probably has something to do with those angled corners. The Wii Mini is almost half the weight of the original, tipping the scales at 724 grams (the previous model was a much chunkier 1200 grams). As a result it feels a little cheaper and less dependable; there's clearly a lot of empty space inside that shell. The matte-finish casing is a nice deviation from the super-glossy Wii and Wii U designs, and means it won't collect unsightly fingerprints in the same annoying fashion.
One of the cost-cutting measures Nintendo has employed is the introduction of a top-loading disc drive. This gives the console a similar appearance to that of an old-school portable CD player, and it lacks the premium feel of the original Wii's illuminated front-loading drive. When the disc is in place and being read by the system it can get quite noisy, but no more so than its forerunner. A fan is situated on the rear of the console to control internal heat, and that emits a low-level hum. There are no GameCube controller ports, which means the console has no backwards compatibility, and the SD card slot has also been removed.
As has been widely reported, the Wii Mini lacks online connectivity. If you go to the page in the settings menu where the "Internet" option usually resides, you're faced with a blank space. The USB port on the rear of the console hints at potential expansion, but don't get any ideas of hooking up a USB Ethernet adapter - while we've not tested it personally, we've heard reliable reports that it doesn't work at all. Strangely, Nintendo hasn't given the console a unique menu to reflect the absence of online features - you basically get the exact same interface that is present on the standard console. This means having your usual grid of channels, all but three of which are entirely blank on the Wii Mini.
The disc channel, Mii channel and Wii Guide channel are the only things you'll get to play with here, although the fact that you can edit channel data in the settings menu hints that there could to be some way of installing new ones via physical media in the future. Some games - such as Wii Fit - create their own channels, but these are few and far between. One would hope that Nintendo is preparing some disc-based compilations of popular WiiWare and Virtual Console games, but a more likely explanation is that it was just too lazy to overhaul the existing Wii menu for this new system. Transferring existing software is also impossible as the Wii Mini doesn't have an SD card slot.
The red Wii Remote and Nunchuk bundled with the console are a welcome bonus; the Wii Remote includes MotionPlus and comes with its own rather fetching red silicone jacket. Out of the box the Wii Mini ships with a standard composite AV cable, and the image quality afforded isn't fantastic. Visuals are fuzzy and colours appear washed-out, but unfortunately there's nothing you can do to remedy these shortcomings - the console is incompatible with component cables and therefore lacks 480p support. We tested it with our standard Wii component lead and couldn't get a picture to output to the TV. This drawback severely curtails the Wii Mini's appeal to dedicated players; having to endure soupy, ill-defined visuals makes enjoying many Wii games harder than it should be - especially if you're playing on a large-screen TV.
So there you have it - the Wii Mini is, as we were largely aware - a scaled-down version of Nintendo's best-selling system. The lack of online connectivity and removal of support for component AV are going to be insurmountable negatives for dedicated players, but you have to remember where this console fits in the grand scheme of things; it's unlikely that many hardcore Nintendo fans are going to be looking into buying a Wii now - what with the console being six years old and the Wii U being available - but for casual players who simply want to play all the popular titles, this $99 package makes a little more sense. Even so, you have to ask yourself if it's not a better idea to simply pick up a Mark 1 Wii on the cheap - with over 100 million systems out in the wild, it's not as if they're expensive or hard to come by these days.