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Nintendo Wii Mini review: Mini in all the wrong ways

Nintendo's stripped-down new Wii game system may seem affordable, but it also leaves a lot behind.

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

4 min read

Never has $100 felt so much like too much for too little as it does with the Wii Mini. Nintendo, Nintendo, Nintendo...why do you make things so difficult?

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5.0

Nintendo Wii Mini

The Good

The <b>Wii Mini</b> is compact and very affordable, and the bundle's price is only a few dollars more than some of its components would cost if purchased separately.

The Bad

No online functionality means you won't be able to play downloadable retro Wii games or watch Netflix; it can't connect to HDMI ports, and can't display HD video; original Wii can be found for just a bit more, or even less if purchased used.

The Bottom Line

The bare-bones Wii Mini gets rid of many Wii features to just focus on playing disc games, but the stripped-down experience isn't worth the savings.

Let me explain.

The Nintendo Wii is seven years old. Its successor, the Wii U, has been out for a year. The Wii U is expensive -- although, at $300 with a game or two included, it's more affordable than the PS4 or the Xbox One. And, unlike those new consoles, at least the Wii U plays all the old Wii games and uses its controllers, too.

Where does this leave the original Wii? It's a retro system now, but one with quite a few excellent games in its library. Nintendo doesn't seem to be planning on making any new original Wii games in the future, though: this is an end-of-the-road platform.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Enter the Wii Mini, which has been available in places like Canada since last year, but is officially on sale in US stores now. If you see one, note its color scheme: red and black, and decidedly more NES-like than the glossy white or black (or red) Wii. The Wii Mini costs just $99.99, and comes with a Wii Remote Plus and nunchuck, plus Mario Kart Wii. You also get that same IR sensor bar -- still a requisite.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That sounds like a great bundle. It is, sort of: Mario Kart, that Wii Remote Plus, and the nunchuck cost nearly $90 if bought separately right now at retailers like Target and Best Buy (I checked), which means the console itself is practically being thrown in for free. Amazing deal, you say! In that sense, it is. But hang on: the Wii Mini can't go online.

Mario Kart...offline. Sarah Tew/CNET

That's right: the Wii Mini has no Wi-Fi or Ethernet support. So, that Mario Kart game, which is oddly included as the pack-in, and happens to be Nintendo's best online game, can't be used to play anyone online -- you'd better find some more Wii remotes and get a few friends over instead. You can't access Nintendo's online apps, or use Netflix. And you can't download any of the fun and very affordable games on Nintendo's online-only Wii Shop. Retro Virtual Console NES, SNES and N64 games, cheap indie experiences...kiss those goodbye.

Of course, as with the original Wii, you can't play DVDs or Blu-rays, either. The Wii Mini is strictly a one-trick pony, designed only to play disc-based Wii games. (The original Wii could also play GameCube titles, but that feature is also gone from the Wii Mini -- Nintendo pulled GameCube compatibility from Wii models sold after November 2011, too.)

No. Sarah Tew/CNET

Also, the Wii Mini only comes bundled with an RCA, or, composite video cable. I haven't seen one of those in person in years. That's one step below component, the old alternative to HDMI. Yellow, red, white: that means video output with the included cable, while it will work on a TV dating back to 1987, is guaranteed to look terrible. The original Wii can output 480p-quality video, if you invest in a component video cable; but, hold off on that plan here, because the Wii Mini only works with the included RCA cable (the manual itself warns about this in small print.) I tried an off-brand Wii-to-HDMI adapter we bought online, but it didn't work. Having no video output other than RCA is a bigger problem than no Wi-Fi, at least to me: on most modern TVs, RCA video signals look fuzzy and awful.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are other design annoyances and quirks, too. The included AC power brick is still oddly large, approaching half the size of the actual system. And, the Wii Mini's build quality is bordering on cheap-feeling. There's a pop-open disc tray rather than slot-loading design of the original Wii -- oddly, it also conjures up memories of older NES systems past, and at least should be easier to clean. And did we even need a Wii redesign? Nothing's really "mini" here physically -- the original Wii's still very small, although heavier. But you're not holding the Wii in your hands, anyway: you're tucking it next to your TV. This has nearly the same footprint, and unlike the original Wii, it can't be stacked on its side.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Wii has tons of great games under its belt: Zeldas, Marios, Metroids, Wii Sports, and many, many more. But odds are, whoever was interested in a Wii already owns one, and it's sitting in a closet somewhere collecting dust. If your Wii burned in a fire and you have tons of games but no Wii, buy a used one for $70 at GameStop. If you always wanted Mario Kart and need a new controller and have an old TV and prefer never to go online ever, ever again, get the Wii Mini.

Best Wii games of all time (photos)

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Nintendo's approach to low cost is a lot different with the Nintendo 2DS: similarly clad in red and black plastic, it's budget done right. The 2DS has all the features of the 3DS, minus 3D, and can play all the games, even downloaded ones. The Wii Mini's the same size, roughly, as the Wii, but comes with fewer features. It's mini in all the wrong ways.

The Wii next to the Wii Mini. Not very Mini. Sarah Tew/CNET

Now, what if this Wii Mini came preinstalled with games, like one of those retro consoles you find at Urban Outfitters? Ten classic NES games, and maybe even Wii Sports. Then, suddenly, this Wii Mini would be a kitschy treat, a stocking stuffer with a lot of fun already packed in. Mario Kart is nice, but the Wii Mini doesn't do enough otherwise to justify being cut off from online forever.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can't play DVDs on a Wii Mini. You can't use Netflix. You can't download games. You can't play online. And you certainly can't play old GameCube games. If I were you, I'd apply that $100 toward a Wii U, which can play old Wii games and also a lot of newer, better ones. Or, you could get a Nintendo 2DS. Either one will give you more bang for your nostalgic gaming buck.

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5.0

Nintendo Wii Mini

Score Breakdown

Design 6Ecosystem 5Features 3Performance 6Value 5