After comparing the Wii U and Switch versions of Breath of the Wild, we can confirm that there’s really not much difference between them. So if you were wondering whether or not you need to buy a Switch in order to enjoy the best version of the game, the answer is no: the Wii U version will more than suffice, unless you care about minute details or are really keen to play the game while you’re out and about.
As we noted in our review, Breath of the Wild is an amazing, breathtaking game, and you’ll have an incredible experience no matter which console you’re using. Breath of the Wild is actually the very last game to be produced for the Wii U (first party, at least), and I can’t think of a more impressive way to farewell the console than with this game. We may have had to wait until the very end for a new Zelda on the Wii U, but honestly the wait has been worth it.
The differences between the two versions are minor, and they’re only really noticeable upon comparing the two versions. Breath of the Wild does push the Wii U to its limit though, particularly when it comes to graphics. The frame rate can become a bit choppy when there’s a lot of movement on screen or when the system is trying to render too many things at once. I will note that the frame rate can also drop on the Switch (I’ve noticed it occurring in docked mode), but it’s more frequent and noticeable on the Wii U. All that said, it doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means, and it didn’t interfere with any of the gameplay.
Breath of the Wild is an amazing, breathtaking game, and you’ll have an incredible experience no matter which console you’re using.
The only thing that’s perhaps slightly annoying is that the draw distance is shorter on the Wii U. It doesn’t affect the glorious vistas and stunning visuals you’ll see everywhere, but some enemies and objects won’t become visible until you get within a certain distance of them. Typically, these enemies are the common ones such as Bokoblins, and they’ll appear before you’re in range to be spotted. When I encountered a couple of the super-tough Lynels, I was able to see them from a lot further back, which was fortunate because you don’t want to mess with them unless you’re well prepared!
Sometimes, the way that you approach an area in the game affects how easy a time you’ll have. You might approach it from the north to find your route full of enemies, but if you track around to the south you’ll have an open path. I’ve adopted the strategy of scoping out my approaches, particularly if I’m up somewhere high. After getting used to doing this on the Switch, on the Wii U I’d think an area looked pretty empty, only to find that enemies appeared as I got close. When I went back to the same areas in the Switch version, they were clearly populated from much further afield. If I hadn’t already been playing on the Switch though, I don’t think this would have worried me so much; it’s something I’ve seen in other large-world games.
There’s absolutely no difference in gameplay or how things control. Although the game was originally designed for the Wii U and early demos showed that the GamePad would be used to display the map — I assume it inspired the Sheikah Slate — the GamePad is only used as a controller or as an alternate screen when you’re not playing on the TV. You can tap the touch screen to switch between playing on the TV or the GamePad, but it will only play on one at a time. Playing on the Wii U GamePad doesn’t look as nice as the Switch’s HD screen, but it’s totally playable and everything is readable.
Having used the GamePad’s touch screen for inventory management in other games, I actually wish this functionality had been left in (as long as I could pause the game to look at it). You’ll be accessing the inventory a lot in Breath of the Wild to do things such as change gear and use food and materials, and being able to do it in a single tap or two would be super convenient. Removing GamePad-specific functions makes the playing experience the same on both consoles: Both use the + and – buttons to access the inventory and map respectively.
The only other difference that I can note is that the environmental sounds are slightly more rich on the Switch, but that’s not to say that what’s there on the Wii U doesn’t enhance the wilderness: You’ll still hear sounds like the breeze and various animals. If you weren’t aware of the difference, you wouldn’t really notice it. I had to turn up the volume and close my windows to shut out the sounds from actual nature to focus on comparing them.
Is it worth buying a console to experience Breath of the Wild? Absolutely, because this game is a masterpiece, but because the two versions are so similar, it doesn’t matter if that console is a Switch or a pre-owned Wii U.
Because the two versions are so similar, you can read our full review of the game here.
Nintendo Australia has graciously provided us with a Nintendo Switch and both the Switch and Wii U versions of Breath of the Wild. Our review copy came later than expected, hence the delay in our posting.