The start of a new console’s lifespan is always an interesting one, as people look for a big step up in graphical performance and new games that take advantage of what the new hardware has to offer. With the Switch replacing the Wii U, the gap in performance is perhaps not so pronounced, and we can make direct comparisons, thanks to both consoles receiving The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
When Twilight Princess released on both GameCube and Wii at the same time, the entire game was famously flipped horizontally for the motion controls of the newer console, thanks to the fact that Link has always been left handed, while the majority of players are right handed. There’s no need to make such a drastic distinction here, and in fact, Nintendo have almost gone out of their way to say that both Switch and Wii U would be getting a practically identical experience, outside of graphical resolution.
Disappointingly, that also means that the Wii U doesn’t make use of the Gamepad for any second screen functionality. Given how the Sheikah Slate is analogous to a tablet of some sort, it would have been absolutely perfect for the Wii U to let you glance down at the Gamepad and check your inventory, switch weapons on the fly or check the map. You are instead presented with this:
There’s even a common lack of touchscreen support in the menus, which I find quite bizarre, given that both consoles have them and it would make inventory management just that little bit more intuitive when playing handheld.
So the only real and tangible differences are going to be with graphics and performance. On Wii U, the game tops out at 720p on TV, a resolution that’s shared with the Switch in handheld mode, but the Switch can push on further to play in 900p when docked and on TV.
There is a noticeable step up in clarity from this – or step down, as we played on Wii U after Switch – and the Wii U can look like a fuzzy mess in busier scenes with a lot of long grass and foliage on the Great Plateau opening area. That’s not to say that the Switch is perfectly clear, but 900p does add to the effect and there are some improvements to things like texture filtering.
Sadly, both consoles are prone to slowdown when playing on TV, and it is very noticeable. The Wii U does struggle more often and for longer, and once you reach areas more densely populated by NPCs or have a lot of visual effects the frame rate will drop, but it’s not necessarily down to action sequences and fights. Simply running through the fields can induce a noticeable drop on either console. That said, playing at 720p in the Switch’s handheld mode is practically perfect and almost my preferred way to play the game.
Despite the hiccups, both versions of the game still manage to shine thanks to the strength of the vibrant art direction, and it’s still an impressive showpiece for the Wii U. If you’re obsessed with getting the best performance in your games, then either platform will frustrate, but the Wii U will frustrate more often. However, with the rolling hills, the mountains, the deserts and this gorgeous open world stretched out before you, you’ll be getting the same overall experience on both consoles, and one that, despite some minor technical flaws, looks set to go down in history as one of the very best games of all time.