How Nintendo Wii Graphics Overcome the Lack of Horsepower

Compared to the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3, the Nintendo Wii is decidedly underpowered. As a result, the Wii is not able to generate the same level of high quality graphics as an equivalent Xbox or PlayStation game. It simply is not possible to recreate some of the visuals that you may find in games like Gears of War 2 or Street Fighter IV.

In this way, video game designers who are developing for the Nintendo Wii platform must think of creative ways to overcome this lack of processing power. Just as with any other art form, artists who work in the video game design field are incredibly varied in their personalities and their respective approaches. This also speaks volumes for the artistic expression of the studios that develop these games.

Cartoon-Style Visuals

Shown above are screenshots taken from Mario Kart Wii, We Ski, and Sonic Unleashed, all games for the Nintendo Wii. For these games, the design approach was to simplify the graphics and not to worry too much about offering realistic graphics. In the case of Mario Kart Wii, no one will mistake Wario for a real person or Yoshi for a “real” dinosaur.

By taking this approach, developers are able to reduce the number and complexity of textures required, thus best utilizing the processing prowess of the Wii. Similarly, We Ski and Sonic Unleashed offer simplified characters with fewer textures and fewer polygons. The same can be said, though to a lesser degree, for the background images and other in-game objects.

Cel-Shaded Graphics

An alternative approach that arguably provides even greater artistic expression is the use of cel-shaded graphics. This is a technique that effectively places two-dimensional objects and characters in a three-dimensional space. However, none of the actual graphics are actually in three-dimensions. In this way, many people have come to refer to this cel-shaded style as offering a 2.5D experience.

Naturally, this technique significantly reduces the amount of processing needed on the part of the video game console, since it does not require nearly as much 3D processing, texture mapping, or number of polygons. While the visual style may not be quite as appealing in a racing game like GT Pro Series, it works very well for games like No More Heroes and Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution. This is because the cel-shaded look gives a similar appearance as comic books, manga, and anime.

The style was slightly altered and even further simplified in Mad World, reducing the color palette to just black, white, and red. This gave the game a look that was very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City graphic novel series.

Toned-Down Realism

What about when the video game design team calls for more realistic graphics and visuals that are truer to what they would look like in the real world? The Nintendo Wii has not yet been able to produce the intense visuals and complex mapping that we’d find in a game like Resistance: Fall of Man. As such, all attempts thus far have required the significant reduction in the complexity of the graphics.

As a result, many of the Wii games that take this approach only offer graphics that are perhaps comparable to the PlayStation 2. In the screenshot of Medal of Honor 2 above, you can see that the visuals are not very crisp and the in-game objects lack complex texture mapping. Similarly, the lighting effects in The Conduit are not as robust as they would have been on a more powerful system.

Can the Wii overcome its relative lack of processing power? Absolutely. It just takes a creative eye and some clever game design.

Michael Kwan

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer, professional blogger, gadget geek, and video game enthusiast based out of Vancouver, Canada. You can read more about Michael at his website,