Zelda: Breath of the Wild Struggles on Wii U

/ 3 years ago

Zelda: Breath of the Wild Struggles on Wii U

After a long, protracted development, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild finally launched last week. The game, which began life as a Wii U game, before Nintendo’s new Switch console (or NX, as it was known for most of its development) had even been announced, has been universally lauded as something special, probably the best of the Zelda saga, and possibly the best game ever made.

Most reviews have focused on the Switch version of the game, which does have a few performance issues – it seems to perform better in handheld mode than when docked, which points to scaling demands – with little said about the Wii U release. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry, though, has put both versions head-to-head, and initial results show that Breath of the Wild on Wii U has some significant problems.

According to Nintendo, this is how the versions of Breath of the Wild on the two platforms stack up against each other:

  • Both have a frame-rate of 30fps.
  • Both versions of the game offer the same content.
  • On a TV, the Nintendo Switch version of the game renders in 900p while the Wii U version renders in 720p.
  • The Nintendo Switch version has higher-quality environmental sounds. As a result, the sound of steps, water, grass, etc. are more realistic and enhance the game’s Open-Air feel.
  • The physical copy of the Wii U version will require 3GB of available memory on the Wii U system or an external drive.
  • Some icons, such as onscreen buttons, differ between the two versions.
  • A Special Edition and Master Edition of the Wii U version are not available.

Digital Foundry discovered that the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild drops to 20fps for significant periods for no discernable reason. While the Switch suffers similar issues when docked – not when in handheld mode – the amount of framerate drops and points of occurrence are quite different.

Breath of the Wild targets a v-synced 30fps on Wii U and Switch, but that huge open world design creates problems sustaining it,” reveals Digital Foundry’s Thomas Morgan. “Because this is a double-buffered form of v-sync, when it can’t sustain 30fps on either console, it drops to the next major factor down, hard-locking to 20fps.”

“Remarkably, based on Great Plateau tests at least, Switch drops with the same severity as Wii U – but in other sections of the area. There are no obvious causes for this divide either: the rendering load is mild compared to the game’s more built-up woodlands, suggesting a bottleneck behind the scenes in the background streaming of data. One theory here is the world is partitioned differently for each machine’s RAM setup, creating lurches to 20fps in different spots for each device.”

“In other words, they can each lock to 20fps – but Switch consistently does it in one spot, while Wii U’s problems are in other areas. CPU limitations are the obvious culprit here (with SoC bandwidth contention perhaps explaining why the undocked Switch mode runs more smoothly) but what’s clear is that further testing will be required to figure out whether GPU stress points show any further differentiation between the two consoles – Kakariko Village will be our first port of call, along with a more stringent tests of alpha effects.”

It’s understandable that a less powerful console would struggle to perform to the same level as newer hardware, but the issue, and associated lack of optimisation by Nintendo, is a matter for concern considering Breath of the Wild began life as a Wii U game. If, like me, you’ve not upgraded to the Switch yet and were considering getting Breath of the Wild for Wii U, it might be worth waiting.

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