Nintendo has seen no shortage of hatred from the mainstream gamer community in recent years, some of which is deserved, and most of which isn't. One such criticism that is frequently leveled against them is that their hardware is "underpowered". And relative to the other current generation systems, the Wii U certainly can't compete on their level. However, some critics have gone a step further and dismissively asserted that the Wii U is a relatively weak system even when compared to the last generation of consoles, which is a claim that I immediately found dubious. Looking over what we know about the Wii U's hardware, the specs certainly don't suggest that it should be underperforming when stacked against its last-gen counterparts. Take a brief look at a comparison between the systems for yourself.
As can be seen, the Wii U boasts a similar tri-core processor to the Xbox360, clocking in at 3.0 Ghz. However, the Xbox's processor clocks in at 3.2 Ghz, giving it a slight edge. This does at first glance seem to suggest that the Wii U is still lacking, but now let's analyze this a bit further. 0.2 Ghz is only a 6% difference, and any PC gamer worth their two cents will tell you that the processor is rarely the bottleneck for performance in a gaming system. Consider GameSpot's gaming PC on a console budget challenge as a reference. Even Peter Brown's build running on a low budget dual core Intel Pentium processor was still able to push stable 40+ framerates at 1080p with current-gen games. That's a weaker processor than what's currently in the Wii U, and yet his PC can compete on the level of a Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
And once we factor in the Wii U's memory which dwarfs the competition with a full 2 GB of RAM compared to the Xbox360's 512 MB and the PS3's 256 MB, the Wii U should theoretically be able to offer higher resolution textures and improved load times. The biggest determinant of gaming performance overall though lies in the graphics card, better known as the GPU. The Wii U utilizes a similar-performance AMD Radeon GPU compared to its other competitors here, but it's based on a much newer architecture from AMD, which should again give it a slight edge in performance.
That's all fine in theory of course, but the naysayers are quick to point out that in practice the numbers don't add up, and they have the benchmarks to show for it, citing disappointing results from multi-platform titles like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty. I decided to investigate this for myself, and the first example I encountered was an Assassin's Creed IV framerate test. Check it out for yourself. Now here we see that it looks like the Wii U is underperforming with consistently lower framerates than the 360 and PS3 by a margin of 5-10 FPS, so that must settle it, right? We can sit here and crunch numbers all day long, but at the end of the day the actual results just don't add up. Or do they? See, it's not that simple.
I immediately suspected that something was still amiss here. Indeed, while it's true that plainly before my eyes the Wii U is still underperforming despite what should be a fully capable hardware set, there are still a lot of other factors to consider here before just jumping straight to the conclusion that the Nintendo hate wagon would like you to reach. For one, it is very possible that given the Wii U's new architecture, developers have not been fully acclimated to it yet and don't know how to best optimize for it. It could also very well be possible that they were just lazy and not given enough time to finish optimizing for the system. And finally, there is the possibility that the developers over-estimated the Wii U's hardware and made it shoulder more graphically intensive tasks than it can handle; more so than even the PS3 and Xbox360. To that last speculation, I found another comparison that might confirm this, which you can view here.
In this latest comparison, we see that the PS4 obviously has the best visuals, with sharper, more detailed textures, better lighting, and more special effects such as thicker rainfall and more reflections. The differences naturally start to become harder to notice when we limit ourselves strictly to the PS3/360/WiiU combo. However, we can quickly make one further elimination within the first pause at 20 seconds into the video. It is quite obvious that the PS3 screenshot has virtually no visible rainfall whatsoever, while the 360 and Wii U shots in contrast have at least some noticeable rainfall effects. Therefore at the very least, we now know that the Wii U is being expected to shoulder more graphical effects on its hardware than the PS3 is pushing, and had the developers scaled back to the same as the PS3's level, it could be argued that the Wii U would perform equally or slightly better than the PS3. But now it's a contest down to the Wii U versus the Xbox360; is there any noticeable difference between the graphical detail of the Wii U shots compared to the Xbox? I'll be honest here. I tried my hardest to look through every single pause point in the video for an obvious difference, but couldn't find any to the best of my ability. The only difference that can be noticeably observed is that the Wii U seems to have a very subtle edge with lighting, allowing the player to perhaps see slightly more detail in the textures, but it isn't anything that can really definitively say that the Wii U is being pushed harder. Thus, at best we can only conclusively gather here that the Wii U is being worked harder than the PS3, but not necessarily the Xbox360. That's still slightly problematic though, because the Wii U's specs suggest that it should be able to do at least a little more than even the Xbox360.
But we're not done yet. Now things get really interesting once I discovered Need for Speed: Most Wanted. In various articles discussing Need for Speed with developer Criterion's Alex Ward, he remarked that not only does the Wii U version of the game feature higher resolution textures based on the PC version of the game, but it also maintains more stable framerates than its PS3/Xbox360 counterparts, thanks to Criterion's decision not to do a straight port and instead take the time to properly optimize the game. That's quite a statement, but is it just empty hype? Well the framerate tests are in for this game too. Lo and behold, there's no doubt about it. It turns out when you actually take the time to do a proper conversion, the Wii U performs even better than the other last-gen consoles while outputting higher resolution textures to boot. Of course, some might remark that during this framerate test the Wii U version was missing shadow effects from the metal beams, and the texture difference can be a bit hard to verify because of the cramped spacing in the video and all the fast movement going on. To the first point, this is actually because the game features day-night cycles, so playing the same course at a different time of day will affect where the shadows are projecting, but they are in fact still there. To the second point, we have another video for closer inspection. Pause it at 3:20 to see the most obvious difference. The texturing on the spiral concrete structure is quite inarguably more blurry and has inferior lighting on the PS3 version compared to the Wii U. And would you look at that at 2:57? The shadows from the metal beams are indeed still present in the Wii U version.
So there you have it. The Wii U does exactly what its hardware should be capable of doing when third party devs actually optimize for the system like they're supposed to. Now, it is true that regardless of this point, the Wii U's hardware is still significantly inferior to both the PS4 and Xbox One, so if that is the only point that Nintendo hecklers want to get across, they are technically correct. But don't try to bite off more than you can chew and claim that the Wii U is an inferior system even when stacked against the last generation, because it's just not true. The Wii U not only matches the last-gen, but surpasses it.