Wii U is the Most Controller-Neutral Game Console Ever Made

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Most game consoles tend to offer a single core controller type. Sure, you get the occasional arcade stick or steering wheel peripheral, but those are narrowly designed for very specific audiences and genres. Last generation changed all that: Wii came out the gate with tons of possible controller configurations, including the Wii Remote, Nunchuk, Classic Controller, and GameCube controller. In the end, however, few games took full advantage of the possibilities.

PlayStation eventually introduced Move, and Xbox debuted kinect… but these devices have never quite risen to “primary controller” status – they’ve achieved more widespread use than the arcade sticks and racing wheels, to be sure, but never quite “clicked” with the mainstream audience.

Wii U, however, seems to take unique advantage of all its possible controller options at launch. Nintendo is pointing all eyes at the Wii U GamePad, of course, but since only one GamePad controller can be supported at one time – at least at present – they’re going to need to bank on all those other options to have a truly successful console. And so far, Wii U seems to have embraced that strategy with open arms.

It’s most keenly symbolized in Nintendo Land: while the Wii U GamePad is essential to the “asymmetric gameplay” experience, most players who take part in the fun will be using Wii Remotes. This means that the Wii-style of play, popularized last generation, will exist alongside Off-TV Play on the GamePad. This kind of coexistence never quite took root on Wii – only a few games, such as Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. really opened up the field to the full scope of controller options.

Wii U hasn’t even come out yet, and already we’ve got a wide variety of games that take advantage of multiple control schemes. Most famously, Call of Duty: Black Ops II will support every possible controller, from the Wii Remote + Nunchuk scheme to the GamePad to the Pro Controller. Rayman Legends will support the same control options, with the addition of Wii Remote only control.

A host of other AAA gems, such as Assassin’s Creed III, Darksiders II, and Batman Arkham City Armored Edition will allow for either Pro Controller or GamePad control. Epic Mickey 2 will be compatible with the original Wiimote + Nunchuk pointer controls and the GamePad.

In 2013, we know that Pikmin 3, while it supports Wii U GamePad play, actually is most comfortably designed for control with Wii MotionPlus – and Nintendo is so adamant about pushing that option that they’ve never opened the floor for a public demo of the game’s GamePad controls.

Nintendo’s big marketing scheme for Wii U is “How U Will Play Next,” emphasizing the GamePad as a new innovation in gameplay, but I think they’re leaving out a second critical piece of the message: “Play the Way U Want.” The GamePad at the end of the day isn’t Wii U’s only asset, it’s just another addition to the diverse Nintendo controller family. And with Wii U, that family now includes the Wii U GamePad, the Pro Controller, the Wii Remote, the Nunchuk, the original Classic Controllers – plus all those racing wheels and arcade sticks and other super-specialized stuffs. That’s a wide variety of tools that developers can work with… and that gamers can choose from.

While I suppose the focus on the GamePad as the next step for console gaming probably means we’ll see a number of games suited specifically for GamePad play – we already know The Wonderful 101, Game & Wario, ZombiU, and others plan to follow this tack – so far Wii U seems poised to be the most controller-neutral game console ever created.

In the end, it’ll be up to the developers to realize this potential and really work on getting the most out of Wii U’s multiplicity of controller options. Since most Wii U customers will already have Wii Remotes and Nunchuks at the very least, and the GamePad’s functionality in terms of traditional buttons and sticks perfectly parallels the Pro Controller, in theory we should see Wii U developers take better advantage of these alternatives rather than shackling themselves to the default controller as they did with Wii.

I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s a pretty exciting prospect. If the future of Wii U is a future where everybody can pick and choose which controller they like best for each game, I think we’ve got some bright years ahead.

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