The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has received an incredible critical response over the last week, and it’s easy to see why. Nintendo finally shook free from many self-imposed constraints, and made something very different. Unfortunately, the lackluster frame rate can make it hard to enjoy. Running the new Zelda on the Switch has seen mixed results, but the Wii U version of the game is particularly disappointing for many Nintendo diehards.
On the Wii U, we’ve spent about six or seven hours around the Great Plateau and Necluda in the early parts of the game, and the frame rate is downright terrible at times. Whenever you’re near a village, any hope of a 30fps lock goes right out the door. Even those of us who aren’t particularly sensitive to frame rate issues will likely be able to tell when the Wii U hardware is having a hard time keeping up.
On the Switch, playing in portable mode will improve performance. It’s a bit of a hassle, but at least it gets the job done. Sadly, those of us playing on the older hardware are stuck playing a compromised version of the game. Frankly, it’s a bit shocking Nintendo let the game ship in this state.
The folks at Digital Foundry took a brief look at the Wii U’s performance, and their early findings are mostly unsurprising. The double-buffered V-Sync means that the engine will drop the output to 20fps whenever the 30fps target can’t be reached. And while the Switch and Wii U both suffer from this problem at times, it’s clear that the bottlenecks aren’t identical.
In the Great Plateau, it seems that the 720p Wii U version performs roughly on par with the 900p docked Switch version of the game. But what we really need is more analysis of the different parts of the map. Our biggest issues so far have been around villages, so we’re looking forward to seeing more apples-to-apples comparisons in stress points like Kakariko and Hateno.
While it’s easy to brush off the performance issues seen on the older hardware, this game spent most of its life in development for the Wii U. Nintendo knew the machine’s limitations, and had plenty of time to optimize. Even if the game design is impressive, we shouldn’t let them off the hook here. These sustained drops to 20fps are impactful, and make an otherwise lovely game difficult to enjoy. Let’s hope that Nintendo is already hard at work on a patch to smooth out the most glaring issues.