I think Nintendo’s made a major misstep in its message for Wii U. When they unveiled the new Wii U GamePad, they spoke a lot about its capabilities – its dual-analog control with clickable sticks, its + Control Pad and ABXY configuration that has perfect parity with the “classic controller” configuration, added ZL and ZR triggers for maximum input options, and of course, its 16:9 touch screen.
What I came away with was: “Okay, so this controller offers people tons of options for how they want to develop and play their games.” But what third-party developers seem to have come away with was: “Okay, so now we have to figure out how to implement that added touch screen in some kind of interesting way, just like we did for Wii motion controls last generation.”
What’s going on here? Why are there such different takeaways as far as the philosophy that drives the Wii U GamePad? Most players who have settled down with the controller seem to share the same impressions that I do: the GamePad’s touch screen is great for games that are designed for it, a potential enhancement for multi-platform games, and always, always, always useful simply as a way to pull games off the TV.
Sure, it’s nice to see a well-done inventory or map screen, or games that can be satisfyingly controlled largely or even purely by touch. But when it boils down to it, the real benefit of the GamePad is not so much in finding specific ways to use its screen, but in the wide range of potential uses for it, from those added features to simple Off-TV Play.
Let’s face it – the best games in Nintendo Land don’t emphasize heavy use of touch or even motion control. They’re the ones that focus on offering a second screen that operates completely apart from the main TV.
Developers shouldn’t have to work within a kind of tunneled mindset that forces them to put the screen to use in gameplay – the GamePad’s still perfectly usable as a standard controller. People who want to play those multi-platform games don’t need all those extra touch control features – do you really think they wouldn’t be interested in the game without them? Wii U owners are fine with simple Off-TV Play, especially when it allows for local multiplayer without split-screen. They just want content to enjoy on their new system – a system that for many of them marks the first time they’ll have access to an HD games library.
There’s a reason why that thing called the “Wii U Pro Controller” exists. It’s because there’s a bunch of people who might not want to use that fancy touch controller at all. If Wii U lets you make your games for the Pro Controller, certainly you could make your games run without using any major touch screen features, even if someone chooses to use the GamePad, right? And, again, Nintendo intentionally gave the GamePad all the same buttons and sticks that are found on the Pro Controller because they specifically don’t want developers feeling as though they have to use fancy gimmicks to make a game work on the system.
So, developers – don’t force yourselves to use hardware features that you don’t feel can be put to valuable use in your games. Wii U owners don’t need fancy gameplay gimmicks: they just want to play. It’s better for you to focus on delivering a game that’s solid at its core. You know it, Nintendo knows it: that’s why they’ve given you all the tools you need to make your game run on Wii U completely gimmick-free, and even given consumers everything they need to play as part of the standard package. There’s no excuse not to take advantage of the easy way out Nintendo’s practically begging for you to use to put more of your games on their systems.