First Wii U Problem? Not Knowing Which Screen To Look At

I have a Wii U, so I shouldn't be complaining. I'm not. I'm observing. And my observation is this, my friends: observing a Wii U game is a brand-new skill I have not yet mastered.

When I play this new console, I'm looking at the wrong screen half the time! Or I think I am. Maybe I am. I just don't know.

Panic not, Nintendo people. I'll explain.

The Wii U, like the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii before it, is a gaming machine that is designed to be used in ways that we've not used gaming machines before. Getting one of these wacky new Nintendo contraptions is like spending one's lifetime turning keys to start ignitions and then getting in one of those cars that start with the push of a button. I need to learn to get used to this kind of thing!

The Wii required us to learn how to play games with swings of our arms flicks of our wrists that we fooled the machine into thinking were swings of our arms.

The DS required us to look at two small adjacent screens at once and somehow control games with a stylus. What a freakshow! (And, man, what a great, great system it turned out to be.)

The Wii U has a screen in its controller and still pumps out graphics to your TV. That's the main hook. Trust me: while this may be the best console innovation of all time (too early to say), first-time Wii U owners are going to be looking at the wrong screen a lot. And when they're not looking at the wrong screen, they're going to be wondering, "Am I looking at the wrong screen?", even though they're looking at the correct one.

Ever walk into an electronics store and marvel at all the TVs in the TV section playing the say channel a few dozen times over? Which do you look at

I've played two games on the Wii U that Nintendo delivered, via FedEx, to me earlier this week. New Super Mario Bros. U's graphics are displayed identically on the TV and the game's controller. With that game, you simply choose. You can look at the TV or look down at the screen in your hands. Which one will it be? You decide. Ever walk into an electronics store and marvel at all the TVs in the TV section playing the say channel a few dozen times over? Which do you look at? Or do you take them all in? What kind of crazy person does that? Oh... just you when you're playing New Super Mario Bros. U. It's only on two screens though, so it's not that insane. Just odd. (Having the game play on two screens at once is awesome for giving the TV up to someone else and going somewhere else in your home to continue playing the game off of the screen controller.)

Let's travel to Nintendo Land, where the question of which screen to look at is more vexing. Nintendo Land is essentially a WIi U instruction manual masquerading as a game, or vice versa. All of its Mario/Zelda/Metroid/etc. "attractions" (read: mini-games with heft) teach you different ways to use the Wii U GamePad and Wii controllers. The Donkey Kong physics maze shows off the tilt sensor in the GamePad and also introduces the idea that a Wii U user might want to look at either a zoomed-in view of the game they are playing on the GamePad or a zoomed-out view on their TV. OR! The player might want to focus on the GamePad's zoomed view while someone else watches the more spectator-friendly view on the TV. Do you get how weird that is? You could be sitting in my living room (hi!) while I'm playing Nintendo Land's Donkey Kong game; you could be watching me play; but we might actually looking at two different screens. I could even have my back to you! Next thing you know, dogs will be marrying cats.

The game's tutorial informs you that the trick to playing the game is to keep glancing back and forth between both screens

If two people play Nintendo Land's Metroid, Mario or Zelda games, the question of which screen to look at is solved. The game tells each player which screen to look at. Spectators should also look at the TV. (Respectively, the GamePad player is the person playing as the person in Samus' spaceship, Super Mario, or a Zelda archer.)

If you're playing the single-player Balloon Fight-inspired game (pictured up top), you're in for more of a brain-bender. The game's tutorial informs you that the trick to playing the game is to keep glancing back and forth between both screens. It turns out that this Balloon Fight attraction is terrific. Its high quality either excuses or even justifies this bit of instructional madness. The gist of Balloon Trip Breeze is that you swipe the stylus on the GamePad screen to create gusts of wind that will push a man tethered to some balloons through an airborne obstacle course. You can make these stylus swipes on the GamePad screen blindly, while keeping your view fixed on the TV.

If the floating man gets close to a floating enemy, you'll want to tap that floating enemy's balloons. You can see that enemy and its balloons on the TV, but popping them blindly? That's not happening. So you need to look down at the GamePad, where you see a zoomed-in view of the action. Pop the bad guy's balloons. Then look back up at the TV. Nintendo Land's F-Zero game is like this, too, but in reverse. You race around a track primarily while looking at the GamePad screen. The view on the TV is for spectators. But if you enter a tunnel? Then you need to look at the TV to steer through it. This is not hard so much as it is odd. It feels, basically, like Nintendo Land is teaching me new ways to control games. I sure hope my new skills are going to be put to use in some amazing Metroid or Ice Climbers game in the future!

I was showing Nintendo Land to a co-worker yesterday. I was running my Mii character through the theme-park plaza that serves as the game's attraction hub. He was watching the TV. I was watching the GamePad screen. The two screens were essentially showing the same thing. The problem for my co-worker and for his sense of not being nauseous, was that the camera angle in Nintendo Land's plaza is controlled by tilts of the GamePad. I thought I was holding the GamePad steady as I was running around to show my co-worker stuff. My poor colleague was just trying to not lose his mind. I didn't realise it, but my hands were shaking and jostling just enough — I thought I was holding the GamePad steady. The view on the TV was in a perpetual earthquake. Sorry, beloved co-worker! I switched to looking at the TV and instinctively, held my hands in a more stable manner. Suddenly, we were both happier.


Back when the DS was coming out I interviewed a gaming executive about that system's oddities. Did he worry that people were going to be uncomfortable having to play a game that showed graphics on two screens instead of one? He told me he was not concerned. There are "mutant kids" who can pick this kind of thing up right away. The young are adaptable, he argued. People can learn this stuff. The unspoken final clause of that was "...if the games are good enough."

I can learn this Wii U. It's not that hard. It's just strange. It's different than playing a DS. It's different than glancing down to your phone to text someone while watching a TV show. It's a stranger scenario that compels you to look at one screen or both while both play the same game. It's a whole new thing to care about how people in the room can spectate. The two Wii U launch games I've played are full of prompts that tell you where to look. It's clear that Nintendo's designers know they're training us to do some new things. I feel a little like a test subject, a little like a pioneer. I like it, even if it feels a bit nuts.

Slowly, I'm learning where — and how — to look.


    Zombi U is the game thats sold me on the Wii U to this point and its use of the pad. Im just waiting for some reviews of it before I commit to buying. Im an avid Day Z player and want to see how that turns out. Great article though, nice to see some information coming out finally like this :)

    Well for me i prefer games with each screen doing something different. The TV displays the game, and the Gamepad displays other things like menus, maps, inventory etc that can be interacted via the touch screen. I agree it will be tough to get used to having to look at both screens and deciding when and which screen to look at but that's the challenge. Think about it, Its not hard. After all if you drive a car you have to occasionally take your eyes off the road to look at the speedo/rear or side mirrors or maybe access an incar touch screen so this wont be too difficult.

    I remember Wolvenstein. Mouse and keyboard. It took a while... to adjust. Then it clicked. This article is kind of renewing my faith in Nintendo.

    Yeah, same issue I had on the NDS, can't really do both at the same time, I prefer the bottom screen to just be a map/inventory management etc. Games like elite beat agents, could only watch the top screen during the break moments, lol.

    One reason why this was much, much less of a problem on DS because DS is small and two screens are just in front of you, right below each other. They are always within your peripheral vision.
    While I like Wii U, I think Nintendo failed to see that second screen dependent living room console is a silly idea. You have to physically move the controller up or move your head constantly trying to see both screens or switch between them quickly. That feels like, in practice, will be tiresome, confusing and downright awkward. While I loved my DS and praised what it did for handheld gaming, I can say Wii U will not, nowhere near, have the penetration that Wii had in the market and will remain as one of the most awkward gaming consoles of all time. Sometimes Nintendo gets carried away with their innovations and get excited by concepts that sound cool on paper, but suck in practice eg: Virtual Boy, 3DS's viewing angles (it is almost impossible to play certain games in 3D, especially the ones that use motion controls).

      People do this kind of thing everyday and dont worry about it. Driving needs you to occasionally look away from the road to check your speed, or mirrors. Its not that difficult. I think its the size of the controller that gives people the impression that its huge and heavy, but from most accounts its light so holding it up once in a while to look at the screen or look down (just with your eyeballs you dont have to move your entire head) as you do in a car will suffice, as long as the gamepads isnt always necessary.

      Just imagine the gamepad resting on your lap as you would a normal controller and look at the TV and then look down at the gamepad, you dont need to move your head. Its easier then it may at first seem

      Why does some idiot always bring up the virtusl boy? We all know it blew but it was still ahead of its time and was invisioned by the original game boys creator (and what a gift he gave the world!)

    I don't know yours but my car's speedometer and everything else within my peripheral vision, right underneath of my windshield where I can see. It is at a far distance, aligned with my eyeline. We will not be holding WiiUPad at that distance and height. You are saying on your lap. Not to get motion sickness I actually do need to physically need to move my head down a bit. Even for keyboard. I don't always look at it to type. If I did stare at my keyboard during the gameplay, it would distract me wouldn't it? Unless devs cleverly design their games, I have a feeling it won't be all that intuitive or as fun to play on WiiU tbh.

      Even if the speedo/mirrors are in your 'peripheral' vision you still have to turn your head to look at them and you momentarily take your eyes off the road. You're absolutely BS'ing me if your telling me you can keep your eyes on the road in front and don't have to turn your head to check mirrors/blindspots. If your not moving your head to check your surroundings your not driving safely. People do that every day. Its not hard. Don't make it sound more complicated then it really is. Remember touch screen incar multimedia/navigation units are becoming more and more widely available and popular, so having a touch screen where you have to turn your head to access and interact with are already making it in to cars (most are in the middle of the dash, AWAY from your peripheral vision) so why the hell is it all of the sudden to difficult to do it with a controller?

      I grabbed a game controller and put it on my lap and looked at the TV screen then at the controller. Doesnt take much effort at all. If that's too hard for you don't get the Wii U. But others here like the idea of a second screen and its not a hassle at all. The only question is making sure you know which screen to look at, and with time it should be easy to do

      Of course you dont stare at your keyboard/controller to type/play games. When your in some intense action in a game the last thing you will be doing is looking at anything but the TV screen, this is no different for the Wii U. If your in the middle of the action on an 360 or ps3 do you press start to access a menu, inventory map? No so dont look down at the gamepad when your in the middle of some intense action. Thats pretty straightforward. What the gamepad will allow is quick and easy interaction with the menus, inventory maps etc - clear advantage. And thats before any clever use of the gamepad for new gameplay. There are alot of things that a touch screen interface is more appropriate. Menus, inventory and maps are ones that spring to mind. I tried interacting with a menu with a controller and it SUCKS - slow, clunky, inefficient and cumbersome when compared to a mouse and keyboard or touch screen. Having the gamepad touch screen for this interaction is alot better then being stuck with a controller to do things its clearly not suited for. Its a fact that each control method has its pros and cons, and having all those packed in one controller (the gamepad has touch, analog, buttons and motion control) means all the strengths and none of the weaknesses (well thats the theory).

      I dont expect that everyone will think its intuitive, its not for everyone. But for many people that want new challenges and new ways to interact with games, The Wii U fits the bill nicely.

      Last edited 12/11/12 9:53 am

    The naysayers seem to forget that the public was perfectly happy to champion the Wii despite the vast majority of it's titles sporting broken controls. Any gamer worth their salt eventually realised that Nintendo had taken a large dump directly down their throat, but their smoke and mirrors marketing worked wonders on non gamers, who were simply content that they could wave there arms around and shit would happen on screen.

    If Nintendo sell the Wii U experience well enough, it won't matter if the system fails to provide a cohesive experience for the hardcore.

    Just be thankful we're not getting another motion controlled disaster.

    You never know, we might even get Wii re-releases on u with the motion controls removed like the game cube re-releases that had them added.

    While the graphics look great, the Surround Sound doesn't work properly (got no voice acting, so had to switch to Stereo), it takes ages for the Wii-U to do anything, the touch screen is no where as responsive as the Vita's, the Wii battery-charging dock can't connect, the Wii remote "freaks out" and doesn't seem to be accepted by the Wii-U, if the Game Pad runs out of power it causes games to freeze (and you have to turn off the console at the powerpoint to fix it) - nor does the Game Pad seem to work with the Wii-U if it's charging ...

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