[Feature] Justifying the existence of the Wii U Gamepad, and why the device already speaks for itself

Posted under Features, General Gaming, General Nintendo, Wii U
July 1, 2013 by (@NE_Austin)

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“I don’t see a device that’s failing to meet its potential– I see a tool whose potential is being mislabeled.”


Author: Austin

Coming out of the vacuum that was the E3 show-floor, the last thing I expected to hear out of the gaming press was that Nintendo needed to “justify the existence of the Gamepad”. But alas, that is indeed what I heard! Writers weren’t terribly coy with their impression that we’ve yet to see a truly exceptional experience on the Wii U that couldn’t even remotely be done anywhere else, and they– by their count– certainly didn’t see anything like that at E3 this year.

Neglecting experiences like ZombiU or Nintendo Land (which is an understandable and deliberate oversight), they might be right: We haven’t yet seen a game that both uses the Gamepad in a truly creative way and manages to pass the level of critical acclaim that many people are looking for. But here’s my question “why is that what the Gamepad needs?”



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There seems to be this philosophy towards things like the Wii U gamepad that, unless the creator of such devices can offer a mindblowingly fantastic and unique experience with it, it’s not worth the price of its own existence. “Nintendo must blow our minds with the Wii U,” the industry says, “or else it may as well be a regular controller.”

It begs this interesting question of whether we prefer an incremental improvement to the fundamentals of how we play games, or a huge leap in the experiences we can have with a select few games.

Let me give you some examples of what that actually means:

The latter of these options– the “huge leap” in a select few games– is comparable to something like Oculus Rift– a mindbogglingly incredible improvement to the way we experience a small handful of games, but a piece of hardware that we’ve seen do next to nothing for anything other than first-person titles. It’s also related to the release of something like Wii MotionPlus, which improved certain titles immensely, while doing absolutely nothing for the wider industry.

The opposite scenario is one in which a piece of hardware slightly– but noticeably– improves a very large group of games. This is the category into which things like analog sticks, the DS touch screen, or online connectivity are placed, and also the one into which the Wii U gamepad belongs, but fails to be placed in by most people.

So when I look at the wider response to this new piece of tech, I don’t see a device that’s failing to meet its potential– I see a tool whose potential is being mislabeled.


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As a staunch supporter of the Wii U from a hardware perspective (I dare not try to defend its software situation, after all), it’s very clear what the Gamepad is best at offering: Streamlined menu navigation, off-TV play, cleaner TV-screen presentation, and proper splitscreen multiplayer. These are the pillars on which the Wii U’s merit stands– not on some one-off novel experience akin to the Wii’s Skyward Sword or Wii Sports. Here are four features that, when implemented, unequivocally and irrefutably improve a gameplay experience in the most basic of ways.

Let’s use history for another example of this:

When a second analog stick was added to controllers, most folks weren’t waiting for a brand new type of game that could only be done with this added feature– and we never got that. What happened instead was that developers used the second stick to control an in-game camera more efficiently, and people went “Oh hey, that’s a lot easier. Nice.”

Nothing totally unheard of. Just a fundamental improvement to the types of games we already had. The same applies to the PC’s mouse, a rumble pak, shoulder buttons, analog sticks, online play, HD graphics– there’s a myriad of examples out there, none of which were held on trial, guilty-until-proven-innocent like the Wii U Gamepad has been.


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Now, it’s a bit of a false equivalency to equate the Gamepad to things like analog sticks. Analog sticks were cheap and easy to produce, whereas the Wii U’s controller arguably eats up the bulk of the system’s cost. There’s a strong argument to be made that Nintendo would have been better off pricing the system at $250 or less and not messing with a touch-screen controller.

The counter argument to be made is that Nintendo’s inclusion of the Wii U Gamepad likens itself to Sony or Microsoft’s inclusion of powerful processing and enhanced visuals. High-definition capabilities irrevocably marginally improve a gaming experience, and they add a huge amount of cost to a system– much like the Wii U Gamepad. The difference here is that the benefit of HD visuals is very easy for layman to see, whereas the benefit of a controller with a screen isn’t immediately noticeable. But that doesn’t necessarily discredit Nintendo’s device.


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All of this is not to say that we haven’t or never will see a new type of game come out of the Wii U Gamepad. I’m sure we will, knowing Nintendo, and we’ll have a lot of fun with it before moving onto the next thing. The problem is when people box the device in and fail to recognize it for its strengths, looking instead for something that doesn’t exist, and shouldn’t have to. I don’t mean to defend the Wii U when clearly it’s lacking in the most basic of departments, but I do think there’s cause to remind people not to chastise any system for the wrong reasons.

The Wii U is a system worth criticizing. Just not for the hardware.



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  • Nintedward

    For me the Gamepad is completely justified already , it’s easily the greatest controller I’ve ever had. Just playing games on the Gamepad screen and browsing Miiverse and the internet in bed on it is a dream come true , not to mention the opportunities it has brought and will bring to gaming!

    • Austin

      Thanks very much! Greatest controller ever? Objectively, sure. It does more than any other controller we’ve had before, but it also doesn’t do certain things that I do miss, like IR control or Wii MotionPlus.

      But yea, it’s a great piece of tech.

      • MisterWhippy

        Austin, The Gamepad has an IR port alright; http://cdn2.sbnation.com/entry_photo_images/7207495/01011203-3.jpg

        Also,the GamePad includes gyroscopes which were the main addition of Wii Motion Plus (the original Wii Remotes only had accelerometers). The GamePad even includes totally new forms of motion control in the form of a geomagnetic sensor, so you might even call it Wii Motion Plus 2.0. http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/do-we-have-motion-plus-inside-the-wii-u-gamepad.452678446/

        • Austin

          Yea, but ergonomically you can’t those things in the same ways you can use them on a Wii Remote.

          • MisterWhippy

            Sure but when there’s nearly 100 million Wiis with at least one Wiimote out there that’s not a problem surely.

      • Nintedward

        Yeah , I know it lacks analog triggers and stuff like that , but for me personally , it is the best controller i’ve ever had. It’s the most luxurious , standout controller ever for me. And once it gets used properly i’m sure it will remain that way.

        Gamecube controller , Wii remote , 360 controller ? Not even close to the Gamepad for me :)

  • Carlos

    I like being able to play games without needing the tv on or while watching a show.
    I think the best game that really shows what the game pad can do is Game and Wario. It really shows the potential and the need for the game pad.

    • Austin

      I’m going to play Game & Wario later this week. Looking forward to trying it out myself. :]

  • Zuxs13

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I think people just criticize Nintendo because they think its cool too. Just like people jump on apple for what they do. Its out of the ordinary and not main stream so they can’t accept it might be better so to just bitch about it instead.

    • Austin

      Sometimes it feels like that, but I think part of the problem is Nintendo’s marketing. They’ve sold themselves as a company that makes devices that totally innovate and blow peoples’ minds, and the Gamepad isn’t set up to do that. They need to stop selling the Gamepad as a revolution, and start selling it as “just” a core hardware advantage.

  • KokiriHylian

    A well-written feature, Austin. I remember how the DS got so much flack because it wasn’t evident what the second screen was useful for and why you’d want it to be a touch screen. I guess people were expecting an experience that would blow them away as well. While the DS’s second touch screen is not revolutionary by any means, it does offer many little improvements that are much appreciated and enjoyed, at least for me.I personally really like having the Pokemon battle interface separated on the bottom screen, for example.

    The Wii U Gamepad, as you said, has the same effect on games; it offers minor improvements to many games and is justified by that alone. I really like the idea of having 2-player split-screen separated between the TV and the Gamepad, and it makes me really sad that Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed has it, but apparently Mario Kart 8 won’t.

    • Austin

      And even the DS spawned new genres that hadn’t been done prior, as I’m sure the Wii U will. But its primary selling point should be its overall improvement of the gaming interface.

  • Hoggy110

    Nice article Austin. I seriously wonder why would people question how justified the Wii U tablet is. It is providing a big change to the gaming world that many people are trying to replicate

    • Austin

      I don’t know about a BIG change, but it’s definitely a step forward. Thanks!

  • Rodrigo Coelho Costa Junior

    from my experience, the great majority of people who actually played with the gamepad were surprised by how convenient it was. People just assume it’s a piece of crap for ome reason, I don’t get why… Gladly it isn’t and anyone who actually messes with it can see that.

    • Austin

      Yea, exactly. It speaks for itself wonderfully and I miss it when using a console that doesn’t have it.

  • Urjit Rajpaul

    It’s a game controller, plain & simple. An extremely well made one at that.

  • Knlegend1

    I see people are using the ZombiU game as an example but in the The Last of Us does something similar. The only difference is you never take your face away from the screen. The true advantage of the Gamepad is the off screen play I think.

    • Austin

      I’d argue that actually taking your face away from the screen does add something pretty frightening to ZombiU, but on top of that the touch-screen navigation is so much smoother and more intuitive than using a stick+buttons.

      • Knlegend1

        Smoother….I still prefer the pointer controls of the Wii.

  • heavenshitman1

    The gamepad with its limitations on certain tech, and its advantages (that PS4 and X1 may not necessarily compete with) I find it to make a very competant browser tool for my 50″ living room TV. Reading and roaming the net, and even writing just on the gamepad. Pretty awesome.
    Save to say, its potential hasnt been touched yet. I think Nintendo Land is even underated. Had my WiiU (and it) from day one and can still touch back on those minigames from time to time. Solid and slick smooth gaming designs. Still yet to finish a couple mini games on it.

  • shake_zula

    I think that a lot of people are associating the GamePad with the Wiimote. The Wii was a console that had a “gimmicky” controller and comparatively underpowered graphics, and in a lot of people’s opinions, suffered for it due to motion control being shoehorned into games that didn’t need it. They look at the Wii U, see that it has a “gimmicky” controller and comparatively underpowered graphics (not to mention an almost identical name), and dismiss it instantly based on the association.

    I totally agree with the article though, the Gamepad is absolutely fantastic. I think the feature I enjoy most is being able to look up game info online, such as walkthrough videos and stat sheets, without needing a separate device, or having to exit the game. I just wish its range was a little better or that Nintendo would release a repeater, because I still get a choppy connection in my bedroom.

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