A Retrospective Look at the Nintendo Wii U, Part Two: Double Your Screens, Double Your Fun
The other day, I posted part one of a retrospective about Nintendo's Wii U, the home console that is scheduled to be replaced by the Switch console in March 2017. In the first part, I examined where the Wii U fits in the long history of video game entertain, specifically in the genre of games that provide unique controllers and control schemes to engage players in new ways. In this part, I'll be looking at what I enjoy the most about the Wii U's signature GamePad controller and what it has contributed to the home console gaming experience, as well as what I hope the Switch will continue from the Wii and the Wii U. Read on ...
In the first part, I mentioned how the GamePad works best when it provides gamers with ways to interact with game environments that standard controllers won't allow. In addition to that feature, here are some other features that the GamePad provided that I'll miss in the consoles to come:
Two Players, Two Screens: I enjoy multiplayer games, but I absolutely despise it when multiple players have to share the same screen while maintaining separate perspectives. Even with bigger displays that are made possible by flat screen TVs, I never got used to the idea of looking at a screen that is divided into two, three or four separate but simultaneous mini-screens. Thankfully, when two players play together in Wii U games such as Tank! Tank! Tank! and the Call of Duty ports, each player gets his/her own screen. I LOVE this feature to no end.
That is not to say that this multiple player/multiple screen feature won't be included in the Nintendo Switch. However, from what was in the first Switch commercial, it looks like each player will have to buy his/her own Switch in order to have his/her own screen when playing multiplayer games on that console. I realize that game console manufacturers want to encourage people to buy as many of their consoles as possible, but I'd much prefer to have just one console handle local co-op game play instead of having to buy one console for each player.
Asymmetric Game Play: Honestly, asymmetric game play was THE feature that the GamePad provided that Nintendo didn't use nearly enough. When it did appear on the Wii U in titles such as NintendoLand and Wii Party U, it was a treat to go up against other players who had different capabilities than you. I haven't played any other console that can do this, and it's a shame that Wii U didn't do more to capitalize on it.
Scalable Gaming: Nintendo has always hyped Wii U's feature that allows gamers to either play games on the TV or on the GamePad screen, but there's more to that kind of flexibility other than just having the option of playing games while someone else is watching TV. For me, the GamePad screen provides the option of scalability, which is its own kind of game play feature. If I want to play something as epic and complex as Xenoblade Chronicles X, I can use my TV; however, if I want a game that is smaller and more relaxing, I can play something like Color Zen or Edge on the GamePad.
Other gamers might not care about this option, but having two different screens available to play games that operate at different scales--all on the same console, as opposed to buying a portable console and a home console separately--is a wonderful feature to have. This scalability is also useful for playing Wii U ports of Nintendo Game Boy and DS titles through the eShop, as well as for playing the retro-themed handheld games that were provided as part of Wii Party U.
It’s too early to say whether the things that I love the most about Wii U will be completely absent from the Switch, but there is one thing that I hope will stay the same for Nintendo going forward: its sense of playful goofiness. Whereas many other video game franchises of late have emphasized high-end graphics and intense action-adventure game play, Nintendo has given us plenty of video game experiences that are amusing and charming in equal measure. In particular, the cartoonish Mii avatars and their related game titles (e.g., the StreetPass Mii Plaza, Tomodachi Life, Mii-centric game series such as Wii Fit and Wii Sports, etc.) that started on the Wii and continued on the Wii U are things that I have most consistently enjoyed about Nintendo’s last two home console systems.
If I had to put it another way when comparing Nintendo’s approach to gaming to other consoles such as Playstation and Xbox, I’d say that Nintendo is to Jim Henson as the other consoles are to James Cameron. Cameron may deliver many dazzling, special effects-laden adventure yarns, but Henson provided forms of entertainment that were witty, quirky, approachable and—perhaps most critically—unique. I thoroughly enjoy the softer, wackier side of Nintendo’s gaming reputation, so I’d be disappointed to see it minimized or vanish in exchange for a more mainstream, third-party approach through the Switch.