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The Wii U web browser's HTML5 gaming capabilities
by Matt Hackett on 12/09/12 11:54:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


HTML5 games on consoles

Several weeks ago Microsoft released Internet Explorer on the 360. In my article Play our HTML5 games on your Xbox 360 I discussed that browser’s HTML5 gaming capabilities and the impact it could have on HTML5 game studios like ours. Around the same time, Nintendo launched their next-generation console Wii U, which (after a ~3GB system update) also has its own internet browser.

This isn’t the first time web browsers have been available on gaming consoles. Nintendo’s previous console (Wii) featured a version of Opera called Internet Channel. Sega’s Dreamcast had a web browser more than 10 years ago! But now in 2012, HTML5 games are on the rise. Is Nintendo’s new browser capable of running them?


Onslaught! Arena

In the Wii U’s browser, I visited the Lost Decade Games arcade and was pleased that at least two of our games are playable out of the box. Here are some of the positive take-aways:

  • Nearly complete 2d canvas API support.
  • The Wii U controller’s excellent d-pad maps perfectly to the arrow keys (up/down/left/right).
  • The A button is mapped to enter/return.

Remarkably, the browser also aced the Acid3 Test. Its rendering engine is slow but draws everything very well. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more to say about what’s bad.


Wii U browser's HTML5 Test score

Using the online HTML5 Test tool (as well as a few of my own scripts), I compiled the capabilities of the Wii U browser. Here are some of those results:

An Audio object exists but it doesn’t support any standard audio formats (such as mp3ogg, or even wav). Sadly there’s no WebGL support at all. Though the localStorage object exists and will accept commands to get and set data, the local storage data is wiped when the browser is closed, breaking its functionality completely.

It DOES play games!

Onslaught! Defense

Although there’s no audio, you can’t save your game, and the framerate is terrible, two of our games are playable. Lunch Bug is even monetized via Google Wallet, though without a working local storage, there’s really no point in buying anything.

If you only end up playing only one HTML5 game in your Wii U browser, make it Onslaught! Defense. I added keyboard functionality today, and since the Wii U controller’s d-pad maps to the arrow keys, you can even play the game with the d-pad.

Wii U controller’s browser commands

Lastly, here’s what seem to be the default browser commands of the controller’s buttons:

  • A: mouse click or enter/return key equivalent (USABLE!)
  • Bhistory.back()
  • Y: open bookmarks
  • X: toggle TV visibility
  • d-pad: arrow keys (USABLE!)
  • Left stick: pan
  • Right stick: zoom
  • -: zoom out
  • +: zoom in
  • L/R: history.back/forward
  • LZ/RZ: previous/next tab

(Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about any of these.)

The platform certainly isn't ideal yet, but it's easy to see how, with a little more development effort, there could be some real potential here. 

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Ryan Christensen
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No audio, Websockets or WebGL? That is disappointing indeed and pretty much a non starter for now. It is a step in the right direction from the lack of support on the Wii for many things though.

Brad Borne
profile image works quite well in the Wii U browser, which I think is way more interesting for the console in particular.

Sean Kiley
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Wow, if Nintendo could get this working they could instantly compete with the app/andriod store. Fear of cannibalizing the eShop?

Frank Washburn
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That's a really valid point. Why would Nintendo want to open up free Web games to its users and potentially draw them away from buying anything on the eShop at all?

Honestly the only way I could see Nintendo supporting this at all would be if they went 100% in and fully publicized the Wii U gamepad as internet-browsing/webgame-playing device in itself. But given their anachronistic behavior regarding online services with their consoles, I wouldn't hold my breath. Would love to be proven wrong though!

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I agree with both of them. They would most likely not cannibalize their shop to outside games they won't see a cut from. You can just look at how the top social networks interact on the Wii U and see that they would be happier if G+, Facebook, and Twitter all came out with standalone dedicate apps in the eShop. So there is defiantly some hamstringing going on in the browser experience of the Wii U. Just good enough to get a decent internet, but not good enough to be a full experience.

Francisco Javier Espejo Gargallo
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Most damagin lost for me is the lack of google docs support. Would have been a killer...

Matt Hackett
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Thanks for the comments! It's true the current state of their browser isn't exactly viable for a real gaming market on a next-gen console like this. But the thing to keep in mind is that Nintendo will be updating the OS quite often, and with any one of those updates they could fix ALL of the issues with this browser. Since it's WebKit-based, they have only to take pre-existing code and roll it into their system.

Will they actually do it? That remains to be seen…

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I wish they would have went with a well-established proven browser on their platform such as Opera, Firefox, or Chrome.

Brad Borne
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Instead of making by far the best console browser yet, in house, based on Webkit?