The Wii U GamePad is Not a Mistake

I think it’s safe to say that Pikmin 3 isn’t a strong showcase title for the Wii U GamePad’s potential as a controller to offer new experiences. At best, its main advantage lies in its ability to display a dedicated map screen. Whoop-de-do. We’ve seen this a million times on DS already. Nintendo even seems to be promoting the Wii Remote & Nunchuk combination as the best control scheme for the game, no doubt to offer some familiarity for Wii players.

NowGamer’s Adam Barnes has decided that because it’s not a GamePad showcase title “Pikmin 3 proves Wii U was a mistake.” However, I couldn’t disagree more.

Let’s analyze the salient points of the piece.

The first point is that because Wii U’s use of the GamePad as a dedicated map isn’t “inventive,” it’s therefore wrong. Barnes cites the difficulty other companies have had in defining uses for the GamePad as proof that there’s simply no utility.

While there’s something to be said here, let’s consider another important point: the games in question here originated on other platforms that don’t make use of dedicated second screens. Pikmin already worked without a touch screen, and if you ask me, the fact that Nintendo didn’t try to change this is a good thing. As much as I loved the touch control in Nintendo Land‘s Pikmin Adventure attraction, trying to force it into this game would get in the way of some of Pikmin‘s finer mechanics at best, and force a superior form of control to depend on an inferior screen at worst.

pikmin-3-gamepadThe same is true for third-party games. Most third-party publishers don’t wish to make games that they can’t take multiplatform. That means these games will be designed to the lowest common denominator in terms of control features – and that lowest common denominator doesn’t require a second screen. You should’t expect completely innovative GamePad-centered gameplay from titles like these. The best you should expect are the most accessible benefits of a second screen, and that’s off-screen management of things like maps, inventories, and so on.

What the GamePad does offer Pikmin 3 is a detailed reference map that’s available at all times, so you don’t have to constantly pause the game to coordinate between captains or plan your next move. Previous Pikmin titles didn’t even have mini-maps, and now you have a pannable, zoomable, bona fide full-color overview right at your fingertips. And let’s be clear – for a strategy game, that’s a pretty freaking gigantic deal.

The obnoxious dimension of this point is that he even admits that DS was innovative. And yet, how did most DS games use the touch screen? For inventory management and maps. Second screens may not be the New Shiny anymore, but that doesn’t mean their benefits are magically less useful.

His second point involves the GamePad’s ergonomics. In Pikmin 3, you can perform an evasive dodge roll maneuver by pressing the D-pad, but that means that you’ll have to quickly slide your thumb off the left analog stick to pull it off. According to Barnes, that’s a bit awkward and often results in wrong button presses.

It’s a fair point… but once again, I feel it’s a bit unfair to apply this complaint only to Wii U. Switching between a primary analog stick and buttons is awkward on any controller. It was awkward on the GameCube controller. It’s awkward on Classic and Pro Controllers. It’s awkward on Xbox controllers. It’s even awkward on PlayStation DualShock controllers, though their configuration is considerably better-suited to this kind of control.

If there’s anything that I find fault with in this scenario, it’s the fact that Nintendo mapped a reaction-intensive dodge move to the D-pad in the first place – why not use the L or R buttons, perhaps in combination with the left stick? This is an issue of clumsy game design, not clumsy controller design. There’s a reason why most games don’t require these two directional inputs to be used in tandem to perform action moves.

His third point is best summed up in his own words:

Now you could argue that PIkmin 3 can be played with three different controllers, the GamePad, the Wii Remote and the Pro Controller – the latter being a more traditional option.

Yes, that’s true, but resignedly doing so would kind of prove my point. All I’ll miss out on is the lack of a quickly accessible map, but shouldn’t the GamePad – the Wii U’s selling point – feel a little more, well, mandatory?

Wii-U-pro-controller-forcedThis is probably the crux of the entire article. If Wii U doesn’t really require the GamePad, then why is it there at all?

But this hearkens back to one of the most enduring complaints about Wii. Because Wii Remotes were the primary controller for the system, and because Wii Remotes offered a totally disparate control scheme to the controllers available for other consoles, that meant that every Wii game that appeared on the system more or less had to be designed to the Wii Remote’s unique specifications. Most major developers didn’t really want to do this.

The GamePad offers control parity with Xbox and PlayStation controllers… and it also has extra features that, as Barnes rightly points out, aren’t mandatory. In theory, this should mean that developers can simply leverage the GamePad’s second screen for Off-TV Play, as a map or inventory management screen, or even not at all. And because so many Wii Remotes, Nunchuks, and Classic Controllers are already out there, they can also leverage these controllers. While developers felt restricted control-wise by Wii, they’re now unrestricted on Wii U.

But apparently encouraging this level of choice and freedom for both players and developers isn’t an asset for Wii U, it’s a problem. If that GamePad isn’t absolutely mandatory, then it has no reason to exist.

That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the GamePad has caused Wii U some issues. For one, it’s dominated the system’s image to the point that a number of consumers believe it’s a standalone add-on for Wii. Incidentally, I don’t think it’d be able to survive as an add-on – its benefits don’t really justify being sold as a standalone product. However, as an included feature of a full-blown console, the GamePad adds all its value – including diverse capabilities as a traditional controller, touch controller, and motion controller as well as Off-TV Play – on top of access to an entire generation of Wii U titles.

WiiU-GamePad-FeaturedAnd I don’t think Barnes is totally grasping at straws here. Wii was able to justify its $250 price, which while low compared to its competitors was considered high for a Nintendo console with its hardware specifications, because people were captivated by the Wii Remote and Wii Sports. Wii U’s trying to justify an even higher price point, but without Wii levels of consumer appeal. The added cost of the GamePad is just too high for what people are willing to pay, and without a standout title to drive its popularity, Wii U’s having trouble taking off. That’s a pretty big problem.

But in the end that’s more a problem of price and a weak software lineup than the controller per se. DS and 3DS have demonstrated that people are comfortable with the idea of a two-screen system, and if there’s anything we’ve learned from 3DS’s first year it’s that the right price paired with the right software sells systems. If the Wii U Deluxe Set were sold for $250 and Nintendo managed to release a key title at least every month or two during this first year, I’m confident it would have largely avoided these early momentum issues.

So has Nintendo made mistakes? Sure. Is the Wii U GamePad the cause of those mistakes? Perhaps, but only to the extent that Nintendo made a poor gamble in deciding what it would be worth in the marketplace. As far as the second screen concept goes, the GamePad is as much of a “mistake” as DS was, since it wasn’t the two screens that sold systems – it was top-notch software.

  • DexterMike

    I so want to put my hands on that sexy game pad. Planning to buy a Wii U for the holidays c:

    • Jonathan Brown

      I wasn’t sure about it at first (I got my Wii U at launch), bit I have come to enjoy it. It’s not overly heavy, it’s comfortable in my hands, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it with a title like Metroid or Zelda. It could make swapping weapons and such that much easier. Imagine the Gamepad on a title like Metroid Prime.

      • Jelle Knibbe

        It also helped me multi-tasking by gaming and watching TV at the same time.

        • Elem187

          thats where it really shines.. when I was 5 years old I wish I could play my NES without a TV because my parents would constantly commandeer the TV whenever I was playing to watch their shows…. Now when my wife wants to watch some crappy show on Bravo I don’t have to run off to another TV.

        • Jonathan Brown

          Yep. My wife likes to take the gamepad into the other room to watch netflix or play a game if I’m playing a different system or watching TV. My daughter will take the gamepad into her computer room so she can play Super Metroid while looking at a map on her computer lol. I love the thing.

      • Terrak

        Hmmm i cant say the gamepad as comfortable as it could be. Being to squared off at the edges and having puny grips was a real pain that was worsen by 500+ hours on monster hunter 3 U.

        But i wouldnt trade it for any other controller when it comes to game experience and utility. IMO its still the best console controller (if you disregard ergonomics that is) in terms of capabilities

  • MusubiKazesaru

    It’s a great controller, probably only rivaled by the gamecube one in my opinion

    • Ghabulous Ghoti

      I must disagree, solely because I do not like the placement of the stick on the right and the lack of analogue shoulder buttons. Digital shoulders feel kinda cheap to me, and I doubt I could train my mind to go UP to perform an aerial attack in Smash Bros., but overall, it’s a great controller.

      • chris

        Buy a Pro Controller, the stick placement feels natural. Especially for my unnaturally long fingers

        • Ghabulous Ghoti

          I have one, same thing. I’ll wait until Smash Bros. comes out before actually judging, but I still don’t like the stick placement.

  • RockyAlboa

    “The added cost of the GamePad is just too high for what people are willing to pay, and without a standout title to drive its popularity, Wii U’s having trouble taking off. That’s a pretty big problem.”

    Most people, as I do believe offplay and other uses of the gamepad are very convenient, sometimes enough to enhance the gameplay experience with games like zombi u and nintendo land, but I do wonder whether it’s worth the expensive price of the gamepad which adds onto the system (like kinect with xbone)? Are optional easy to access inventory’s, maps and offplay TV worth that extra money for that screen, particularity if people have no use for either?

    I’ve read some great ideas for gamepad centered games, but nintendo and other devs should be the ones proving that with their games. Of course they shouldn’t force it on like they havn’t with pikmin unless it adds to the game. It’s only been just over half a year though, but by 2015 their should be standout games that convince people it’s worth the investment and to those that already have a wii u that they’re money was well spent.

    • Terrak

      I must say that Batman Arkham City uses the gamepad well, as does ZombieU and Lego City (Monster hunter 3 U’s implementation was ok but not complete and Sonics Multiplayer was alot better thanks to the gamepad not having to split screen in 2 player races) but its a shame that Nintendos best attempt to showcase the Wii U’s capabilities is Nintendo Land, which is basically a tech demo. Where is Nintendos real games showcasing the true potential of the system? Nintendo you cant expect third parties to be the only one to show off the consoles features.

      • zdog

        That is exactly the problem. Nintendo isn’t doing anything to justify the existence of their own greatest selling point.

        • Caasi Orgalles

          Well the next Zelda game will be utilizing the gamepad to it’s fullest potential. In fact, the gamepad was built around Zelda.

          • zdog

            One franchise does not a console make. If the only DS game made by Nintendo that really utilized the second screen was zelda it would have sunk.

        • Elem187

          were they supposed to? I thought adding features your competitors lack was only to help differentiate your system and offer consumers more options…. I don’t recall Nintendo ever claiming second screen gaming will be shoehorned into everything…… wasn’t the biggest complaint of the Wii was that motion controls were shoehorned into every game? Nintendo rectifies that complaint with their new system and people still give them crap…..

          I’m convinced people like you criticise Nintendo strictly for heck of it without any real aggrievance with the company because its the ‘cool’ thing to do at places like neogaf.

          • zdog

            Haha, never been to neogaf. The problem is that the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. As to where motion control was everywhere, the second screen seems nowhere. I wouldn’t be so hard on them if they didn’t constantly try to play up how great it will be to have a second screen…only to exclude it in meaningful ways from their largest titles.

  • Refreshing_OJ

    This article reeks of Nintendo fanboy…

    • awsomeMrlink

      This comment reek of a troll….

    • TwinTails

      Enlighten us, sir. What makes you think any differently?

    • Comrade Cold

      its not nintendo fanboy which alex preaches its just a rejection of power being the most important factor in a video game

      • Elem187

        Thank you… Somewhere along the way a large group of gamers seemed to lost the point of gaming and are stuck in a mind set that always looks to power first and foremost….
        People with this attitude shouldn’t even bother with console gaming, as even low end PC gaming is out ahead of the PS4 when it comes to power… give it 2 years and the PS4 will look pitiful by way of comparison to PC gaming (if it isn’t already at that point by November ’13)

        • RicardJulianti

          Yeah, once developers no longer have to worry about making their PC game portable to consoles that were behind the times when they originally came out 7 years ago….PC is going to have some seriously ridiculous games.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      You should read the rest of my articles sometime.

      • chris

        Some of which made me red in the face, but the obvious truths were there.

  • Marvel

    Great article! (There’s an error in paragraph 7; it reads “What the GamePad does offer Pikmin 3 is a detailed reference map that’s available at all times, so you don’t have to constantly pause the game to plan your next move, coordinate between captains, or plan your next move. ” The “plan your next move” part was used twice.)

  • Vitamin E

    I think it’s a mistake. I mean, look at it! It’s too big and it looks weird. But to be fair, I held the same opinion about the DS. :P

    • Comrade Cold

      it really feels much better then a 3ds in my opinion, the 3ds d pad and buttons are way too small and the stylus is a major step back even from the original ds stylus, were as the wii u gamepad is comfortable and an acceptable size for playing a game on its screen

      • zdog

        I just don’t like that it naturally rests my thumbs over the two analog sticks. I would really prefer my right thumb to be over the buttons. Moving it down to get to the buttons makes the ergonomics really bad.

        • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

          It’s much better than the GameCube Problem of the buttons being on a different level than the D-pad (which makes 2D platformers hell).

          • Regol

            The main problem I have with the GameCube controller is that the D-Pad is way too small to use it with comfort. I don’t actually mind its position.

        • chris

          Takes getting used to. play a tense game (ZombieU) for about a week and the other console’s controllers will feel weird. I haven’t touched my PS3 in months, and I have bought games recently that I need to play and beat on it. Like The Last of Us, and GoW: Ascension.

  • zdog

    “Pikmin already worked without a touch screen”

    So did Mario, Zelda, and pretty much every other Nintendo Franchise. The point is that new hardware keeps old franchises alive. If you don’t use the new hardware to create new experiences, the franchise will get old fast. And If you can’t come up with a way to use your new hardware…it calls into question whether that hardware was the right move.

    “Most major developers didn’t really want to do this [develop for wii remotes].”

    BUT, Nintendo was willing to. It is almost the opposite now, where 3rd parties are the only ones creatively using the gamepad. When you look at the first party titles it seems that it is barely used at all. Or in Smash Bros case, literally not at all. Nintendo keeps saying that people will see the value in Wii U because they will have second screen experiences that can’t be had elsewhere, and yet in all the trailers for software coming out, I can barely remember any of them showcasing how the gamepad would help me have new experiences. Rather it seems like their trying to sell me on HD graphics…that battle was lost two generations ago. So if Pikmin 3 isn’t proving that the gamepad was a mistake than maybe Smash Bros, Donkey Kong, Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart are.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t think the gamepad was a mistake, I think all of their software has been.

    • http://www.gengame.net/ Alex Plant

      If adding a touch screen to a home console (that is mostly being used for the same purposes we already saw on a handheld) is so problematic, why is no one complaining about 3DS being a DS with analog input (which is EXCLUSIVELY used for the same purposes we already saw on consoles)?

      • zdog

        Because (at least for a time) NIntendo really pushed to have the 3D feature create new gameplay experiences. Super Mario 3D land, Pilotwings, Ocarina 3D . Even 3rd party KH DDD made new experiences with it. I know they’ve been moving away from 3D lately, but at least in the year out of launch they made an effort to justify its existence.

        I do really like what you had to say though in the comments of the original article. Nintendo needs to get away from marketing this as a “new experience” machine and push “variety and choice.” Viewed in that context, the Wii U is totally delivering and it is a very strong draw that they could do well to showcase.

    • chris

      Nintendo doesn’t always have to do the thinking and innovation. Third parties need to come up with new ways to play as well.

      • Isaac Ness

        But third parties won’t come if the system doesn’t sell, Nintendo needs to make a killer app to sell it, and to showcase the use of the gamepad.

        • chris

          Do third parties wait for Sony or Microsoft to make “a killer app” to make games for their systems? I know that’s most definitely not the case on PC lol.

          That’s exactly what third parties want you to believe. I guarantee that when Nintendo finally gets enough systems off the shelf third parties will complain that they can’t compete with Nintendo’s quality games, and therefore won’t support the system. There’s always an excuse for laziness.

          • Isaac Ness

            PC doesnt count, everyone got one, and can upgrade it to play games, but if a system is not selling, there’s no point in supporting it. even if nintendo release an excellent zelda in 2014 or 2015, everyone by then will be used to program on the ps4/xbone, and because is an extra amount of work and money to port it to wiiu, they won’t do it. yeah they’re lazy, but i guess business are business.

      • zdog

        Agreed, but does that let Nintendo off the hook completely?

    • Elem187

      Pikmin 3 was started on the Wii remote as its main control scheme, so it makes sense thats the preferred control method…. Some games/genres might not be suited to use the controller in innovative ways, sometimes even simple concepts work well enough.
      I don’t see where this criticism comes from that Nintendo must use every single feature for every single game… Some of my favorite games on the 3DS, doesn’t really use the 3D feature very well (Fire Emblem), its just a nice feature to have, but I wouldn’t consider it critical to its success.

  • K2L

    I like the Wii U Gamepad controller, but I’m still waiting a game that makes full use of it. MH3, ACIII and Injustice can all be played with the Pro, so that’s the controller I use to enjoy those three.

    • Elem187

      Wonderful 101 looks to use the touchscreen controller in unique ways.. that will be out September in North America.

      • K2L

        Wonderful 101 is outlisted for me because it’s officially delared a short game by Kamiya, the creator. I despise games that end too soon, and TW101 won’t get an exception no matter what.

  • chris

    …it’s dominated the system’s image to the point that a number of consumers believe it’s a standalone add-on for Wii.

    This is still happening six months after release? people are dumber than I initially thought

  • chris

    I’m buying a Wii U for a number of family members this holiday season. We’ll see what happens

  • Caasi Orgalles

    What Nintendo should do is start selling individual Wii U gamepads and start bundling the Wii U systems with Wii remotes and/or Pro controllers, maybe with games that don’t require the Wii U gamepad, like Super Smash Brothers.

    • Elem187

      The overall price of the console will come down naturally over time… If its too expensive today, in 6 months parts and production costs will drop giving Nintendo breathing room for a price cut…
      Changing the entire vision of the console for some short term gain seems silly. Selling consoles isn’t a sprint, its a marathon over a 10 year period. They have plenty of time to figure out how to put the system into more homes, they don’t need to sell 50 million systems in 2 years to be sucessful. People will still be buying the system well into 2018.

  • GaySkull

    Dreamcast 2.0 dual screen game console

  • Matthew Wesley

    Look, any system that let’s me play a full console game over the can or from bed or from my room away from my gaming cave is awesome! Hence the wii u gamepad is awesome. Off tv play is good, but playing Injustice over the can… priceless.

  • MKGirlism

    As a licensed Game Developer, I can say, many Developers don’t take the effort of using the GamePad the way it was designed for.
    So far, most games either duplicate the TV on it, or use it as a bigger MiniMap, while the GamePad is capable of doing way more.
    I admit, our upcoming game uses more advantage of the GamePad, but it’s not to much of the revolution, for now.

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  • George Costas

    Nintendo Stylus Touch has Precision Perfect for Me