We've been playing a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, mostly on Nintendo Switch. Yet not everyone is buying into Nintendo's latest hardware yet, and there have been plenty of fair questions around how this game shapes up on its original home - the Wii U. After all, this title was announced for Wii U and was primarily developed for the system, with Nintendo making a relatively late decision to port to the Switch with a 3rd March release date. Promises have been made that, some performance features and 'dynamic' sound aside, these are the same games - we've been putting that to the test.
First and foremost, let's be clear in saying that unlike for our Switch review we have not played through to completion once again on Wii U. What we have been doing is playing through multiple areas and parts of the Wii U entry, while also playing through a similar amount in a fresh save on Switch. That's a lot of Zelda, but ultimately what we've been doing is trying to answer one key question - does the game stand up on Wii U, and does its quality shine through on the system?
In terms of what this game does to revolutionise this series, much of that was covered in our original review - consider this a much shortened summary. It's one of the bravest and conversely most confident Nintendo projects in a long time, arguably echoing the all-in mentality seen in early Nintendo 64 titles like Super Mario 64 and - of course - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo has leapt into the open-world genre with a genuine systems- and physics-driven environment. You can run off in any direction you want and, as has been proven by particularly skilful speedrunners, even dash straight to the end in about an hour. The reality, though, is that most will spend dozens of hours exploring the world, gradually unlocking its secrets and Link's capabilities in the process.
From our own multiple saves and conversations with fellow gamers, what shines through in this game is that it's not a pretend approach to this genre, nor is it compromised and giving an illusion of freedom that is overblown. This is an experience that will be different for everyone, in terms of the order in which they discover and tackle problems, to how they explore and perceive the world. Even simple environmental puzzles can have 3-4 solutions, some of which only became clear to this writer from talking to others. Even on multiple playthroughs for the process of our content and reviews, we've found ourselves playing in different ways each time, pretty much by accident.
The development team achieved something special in creating not only the mechanics to pull the world together, but in what it achieved with this depiction of Hyrule. You'll see strange and unexpected things happen, and you'll even be able to observe enemies behaving in very individual ways - at one point on Wii U we actually saw a group of Bokoblins sat around the fire having a nice chat. We're not even kidding, they were talking and expressing themselves as if they were bumping gums about a fun weekend hunting wild boar.
So what about this Wii U version? Well, for one thing it's worth repeating that the game was originally developed with this system in mind - as the Sheikah Slate attests - but Nintendo has indeed adjusted it so that both iterations have the same content. As a result there's no dual screen gameplay - when using the TV the GamePad has a simple graphic telling you to tap the screen to switch to off-TV play; the effect is instantaneous, at which point the TV then tells you - via a similarly plain graphic - to tap the screen to switch back. That's it, there's nothing fancy going on here, and the GamePad screen's modest colouring and resolution doesn't do the game as much justice as the TV output.
What the GamePad does offer is the same control flexibility as seen on the Switch, understandably as Breath of the Wild was originally intended to showcase the pad. You can enable motion control aiming as an accompaniment to the conventional right stick option, while scanning amiibo for goodies is also built in. The Wii U's Pro Controller - unlike its Switch sibling - doesn't utilise either of these functions, but is supported by the game.
Visually the game comes across well on Wii U - it's a softer image due to a lower core resolution, and the lack of full RGB support is noticeable on some TVs; in other words the game has deeper colours on the Switch. That said, we still found ourselves getting happily swept away on the Wii U; the art style comes across nicely, and this represents one of the best looking games on the system. We think a few other games on the Wii U top it in pure beauty, especially as it lacks that colour depth and extra sharpness from the newer hardware, but we should acknowledge the strain the game puts on the hardware. With that in mind it's a hugely impressive achievement from Nintendo's development team.
It's clear that the Wii U is labouring to deliver a solid performance, but for the majority of playtime pulls it off. Drops are a little more frequent, and a few chokepoints - primarily in low-action villages / towns - see a consistent dip. In a few relatively rare instances the game even paused for a split-second when we landed a decisive blow on an enemy, almost as the system was calculating the final strike. This happened at a small number of specific points and didn't harm our play as such, and wasn't particularly frequent. All of that said, when exploring the bulk of the world the performance is solid, and we've fought plenty of battles big and small without hiccups much more notable than on Switch.
From a small delay coming out of the HOME menu to instances like those above, this comes across as a true stretch of the Wii U's capabilities. Yet infrequent dips to the 20fps range don't prevent the overall experience from being majestic, especially as the bulk of play is handled well by the hardware, ticking along at 30fps or very close. The absence of dual-screen functionality - seen briefly in showcases in late 2015 - is a pity, but Nintendo has nevertheless successfully delivered one of its greatest games to the Wii U.
Some will say, not unreasonably, that as the Wii U iteration can't fully match the Switch version in visuals and performance it should be docked a point. We understand and appreciate that perspective, but this is nevertheless a fully functional and still entrancing iteration of one of Nintendo's greatest ever games. Across dozens of hours it blends innovative ideas with established tropes, and unfolds in a manner different for everyone. The freedom, the spontaneity, and the outstanding charm and craft of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild isn't lost on Wii U.
The best version of the game is on Nintendo Switch, but Wii U owners need not despair - this incredible game still has a worthy home on Nintendo's 'last-gen' system.