Despite my general apathy when it comes to the Wii U, I am very interested in the controller. A GamePad with a built in touch screen? That’s an idea that shows promise, and that could one day, become very helpful indeed. Notice how I wrote about greatness as though, even if it were achievable, it’s quite far off? Well, that’s because I have the sinking feeling that the first wave of launch titles are going to implement the secondary screen in completely irritating, gimmicky ways.
Remember when the Nintendo DS first came out? Two screens, one of them touch-capable and a little microphone to boot? Now remember some of the system’s initial games. They played up the novelty factor like it was the answer to all our problems. Blow on your DS. Yell into the microphone. And in one particularly memorable case (I believe it was Another Code), you closed the DS and brought both screens into contact… Just to put a stamp on a sheet of paper. It was utterly superfluous, and in the case of the first two, made you look like an idiot.
Or what about the Sixaxis controller? I hated that lightweight, no force feedback, piece of crap. What I hated more than that was when early games kept trying to force me into using it for motion controls. My opinion on motion controls are not suitable for polite company, but suffice to say I was deeply unimpressed. Even more so when it’s largely inaccurate and completely pointless. Steer something like a drunkard? Tilt to inaccurately aim a grenade in the middle of a deadly firefight? Yeah … no thanks. Why would I want to do things the hard way when I can simply use the thumbsticks?
Now, while some might find this implementation of new technology clever, I find it irritating and completely needless. Just because something is novel does not make it a good idea. Does it really add anything to the game? Or is it just some stupid gimmick added in to highlight hardware features that rapidly become unnecessary?
Now consider some Wii U titles that will feature heavy use of the GamePad. Batman Arkham City: Armoured Edition for example. The tablet screen is set to double as your mini-map and inventory. That might sound great, but it’s also used to enter detective mode as you align your GamePad to the screen and use it as a scanning device for evidence. Now that, sounds pretty annoying. It doesn’t stop there though, because you can also use your trusty pad to steer remote control batarangs, as you look at the controller screen and steer either by tilting or using the thumbsticks. I can’t be the only one who thinks this sounds utterly needless and very much awful. Most of the Wii U exclusive features for this game sound exactly like the gimmicky sort of thing I’m complaining about, but only time will tell if it turns out to be a clever addition or a complete pain in the ass.
Then there is ZombiU. Now to many, this shooter is shaping up to be something of a killer app, and I agree. It looks to be a highly impressive title and a proper survival horror game. But from what we’ve seen so far, it looks as though half your time is going to spent looking at your controller. Accessing items in your inventory, looting, scanning for anomalies in the environment, lock-picking. All of these done in real time while constantly looking down at the GamePad or lifting it up to eye level. Now I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like a severe bother. It is in the interests of immersion and ratcheting up tension though, so hey, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
That said, constantly shoehorning the second screen into the proceedings, and worse, forcing you to align it with your TV, sounds like it’s going to really break the flow of gaming. That’s worrying. Just because the second screen adds opportunities does not always mean they should be taken. After all, those opportunities might yield very little benefit and a whole host of headaches. Disregarding the Sixaxis – because that was an experiment that went nowhere fast and was thankfully abandoned, once DS games stopped trying to use the handheld’s features in dumb gimmicky ways, those features actually became helpful. Mini-maps. Inventories. Extra buttons and controls via the touch screen. Hotkeys man! HOTKEYS! To me, that sounds like the best way of using the Wii U’s GamePad. Allowing for more readily accessible information and control during gameplay, not for breaking up the flow of things while you block out your HD TV in favour of a crappy little screen.