Bold Move, Nintendo

Bold Move, Nintendo

Here is the next big game for Nintendo’s Wii U displayed on my TV. Do you see something strange in this picture?

Hint: look at that screen on the controller. It’s dark! No graphics! (It might actually be displaying blackness, oddly enough!)

That’s right. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, a game for the Nintendo home console that is all about putting a second screen in your hands, only displays its graphics on a single screen. Unlike every other Wii U game I’ve played since November 2012, it doesn’t use the Wii U GamePad controller’s screen for anything — at least, not when you’re playing.

The game does use the TV and controller screens when it’s showing the game’s logo…

Bold Move, Nintendo

It uses dual-screen display when the game is running in its non-playable attract mode…

Bold Move, Nintendo

But when you start playing, you need to choose one screen — and only one screen — on which to look at the game’s graphics…

Bold Move, Nintendo

You can play the game just on the Wii U GamePad, of course…

Bold Move, Nintendo

Plenty of Wii U games have displayed graphics to the TV and the GamePad simultaneously. It appears that this Nintendo game’s creators have shut that option off this time.

So, why would this be?

I’ve asked Nintendo, and hopefully they’ll be able to fill us in, but my hunch is that turning off the GamePad’s graphical output during gameplay might allow the Wii U to pump out better graphics on the TV. Or perhaps it saves power on the GamePad’s battery.

Then there’s this: perhaps they shut off the graphical output to the GamePad simply because the game doesn’t need it.

Tropical Freeze is a hard game. It’s supposed to be. The DKC games always are tough. They’re not breezy sidescrollers but instead, great-sounding, good-looking backbreakers. They demand focus. I’ve been playing the game for a couple of hours, and the amount of time I’ve been looking at my TV while wanting to look at a second screen has been zero minutes, zero seconds.

If my theory is correct, this development is actually really good news.

Back when the Nintendo DS came out, early games on the system were made to use as many of the DS’ features as possible. They used the two screens, the microphone, the touch controls…and sometimes they were awful because of it. The same thing happened with the Wii. Every game had waggle controls for things that maybe didn’t really need waggle controls.

On the DS and again on the Wii, Nintendo’s own superb designers eventually calmed down and seemed to realise that, hey, we don’t have to use every gimmick every time. In so doing, they created a Mario Kart on DS that was excellent without being gimmicky. They created a Smash Bros. and a Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii that barely used motion control. They neglected signature elements of the hardware they were making games for in order to best serve the games they were making. Gamers benefitted from that just as they benefitted from the games that did use those machine’s gimmicks well. Maybe… just maybe…that kind of selective design restraint is what’s going on here.

I do know that Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze isn’t suffering because the second screen is dark. The game is gorgeous because of or despite that.


It’s tempting to take Tropical Freeze‘s blackened GamePad as a sign that the Wii U concept is a bad one (other than that nice option to play a console game on a screen other than your TV, of course!). Oh, look, they shouldn’t have wasted time with that complicated controller, you might think.

I think the other possibility is actually rather exciting: that Nintendo is past trying to squeeze two-screen features into all their games and is instead going to use their hardware as it best suits each new game.

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.


  • Answer: it doesn’t use it because it doesn’t need it, and every other implementation of the second screen has been just fine.

    • But it does need it. I was really looking forward to playing this DS style on the couch rather than looking at the TV, but when I do that I like to keep it displaying on the TV. It sounds dumb but I switch between the two pretty frequently. That’s just how I play my Wii U and it’s a pretty big part of the Wii U philosophy.
      If you’re sharing your TV with someone the hassle free switching that comes with cloned displays is really handy. There’s no pause, you just lower your gaze to the game pad and they change channels.

      I mean this is something that worked flawlessly in New Super Mario Bros so I’m pretty confused as to why they’d remove it. Did they think it would be distracting having images on the game pad?

      • You can play it on the game pad though. This article is about the game pad not showing stuff like the map your playing on or drawing (wonderful 101 style).

        • I know, but everyone seems to be acting like it’s a choice between turning it off entirely or using it for some gimmicky crap. There’s no option to play on both screens at once like you could with New Super Mario Bros. That’s a loss for the game far greater than having an inventory panel or a level stats screen on the game pad.

          • What? So you’d sacrifice gamepad battery by not having to spend seven seconds changing from TV mode to Gamepad mode in the options menu?

          • The screen is still turned on as mentioned in the article – it is questionable how much extra power the overlay would use compared to the backlight that is on anyway..

            It’s more like “What? You would disable a core part of your new consoles only real advantage completely instead of giving a third option to have both at the VERY LEAST?”

          • Where in the article does it say that the screen stays on but is only black? I cannot see this however it does state that the purpose may well be to preserve battery life, which I am 100% confident that it is.

            “Only real advantage”? Really? I’d say Nintendo’s major advantage is it’s quality games and licensed property that sony and MS could only ever dream to contend with. But yes, the gamepad is one of many advantages nintendo have over their competition but we aren’t talking about not using it at all – we are talking about one feature of the gamepad and the fact that it has been restricted in the most minute of ways. This won’t sway my day one purchase and I’d doubt it’d change anyone else’s decision to buy it.

          • Hint: look at that screen on the controller. It’s dark! No graphics! (It might actually be displaying blackness, oddly enough!)

            Displaying blackness = turned on, but no graphics. This could still save battery if it was an OLED but it appears to still be lit up (somewhat unevenly I might add) in the photo, which is why the screen isn’t ‘black’ like the casing, or like when it’s turned off.

            And I would counter that their licensed property has been beaten into the absolute grave. Like good god. Looking at their own games list..


            .. We see obviously the familiar Mario “universe” titles (including Wario), and we see Zelda.. Everything else they pretty much do nothing with except perhaps some ongoing licence deals.. Which is a real shame as some of them are quite good, especially compared to the EXTREMELY MUNDANE Mario variants.

            I was speaking with a gamer the other day that suggested they are basically kept afloat (aka, moving forward, releasing new consoles etc) entirely by Pokemon sales and licencing.

            You can’t just rest on your laurels and fail to even try and create any new art and then claim you’re some artistic body. I made a painting once, that doesn’t now make me a painter 10-20 years later.

            It just appears to me, in every regard, that Nintendo literally dont care at all about their consumers, they just want to do what they do and hope that people ride along with them. I continually fail to see why such a backwards company has such devout followers. In my opinion – it’s become a matter of culture, not consumer sense or desire – they just want to be part of that segment of the market.

            I would say in many ways it’s similar to what happened with Apple for a long time [KEEP READING TROLLS] BEFORE they started making truly well engineered products that were consumer centric (what people wanted, not what they thought people wanted).

            Anyway, to me the main problem isn’t just this lack of regard, but the fact that even facing lack of publisher support, slow sales, cutting consoles to potentially in some cases below retailer cost… They still completely, 100%, deny anything is wrong, and refuse to change ANYTHING.

            Failure doesn’t sink companies generally – a good company worth surviving will usually recover… Failing to recognize and correct your mistakes and acting with utter arrogance (in everything I have seen) toward your consumers on the other hand……

      • You’d rather the already dated hardware takes a hit to processing power so that it can display two screens at once?
        That’s crazy talk as far as I’m concerned, you can switch to the controller if you want, OR you can view it on your TV.

        99% of people will be doing one or the other. You really want to make the game look worse ALL THE TIME in order save the time require to switch screens at a menu?

        • Is that actually confirmed or is it something the author is taking a random guess at? The game doesn’t look bad but I’d be amazed if this were as good as the Wii U can get. Plus I was under the impression that cloned screens could just use the same stream on the Wii U without adding anything significant to the processing requirements.

        • … Why would it waste processing power? You think it renders it twice? It’s just a video splice. It might use SOME for routing the traffic over the network as well as to your TV…

          Or maybe you have some vast technical understanding of the device nobody else has.. Though the way you explain it as working sounds kind of dumb, even if it is true.

  • It also points out that even Nintendo can see they have a system failing. Surely there will be great Nintendo games, as a publisher, Nintendo deserves praise. But the Wii U is a failure for sales, and fails to attract other publishers. Playing to their own beat is only going to get them so far, and they need to relinquish their stranglehold on the console and come up with one that publishers can get behind.

    • Can you explain how it points this out?

      Also what is this stranglehold? Letting Retro not use the gamepad at all? Actually has me a little surprised!

    • This, more so than rendering power was the reason that the Wii missed out on nearly every major multiplatform game from last generation

      • Two screen support really doesn’t alienate them from the rest like waggle controls though. GTAV, Gears of War, Uncharted, etc could be played on the Wii U game pad just like a XBOX 360 or PS3 controller. Where the Wii Remote warped controls the Wii U game pad offers optional enhancement.
        Look at Wind Waker and Deus Ex. You’d never get either of them working right on the Wii but on the Wii U they come to the table with a little extra. The extra may seem a little gimmicky, and in some cases it is, but on all traditional control fronts they equal or exceed the originals.

        It ensures that a lot of Wii U games can’t be made for the PS3/XBOX 360, but almost all PS3/XBOX 360 games can be made for the Wii U. It’s actually quite smart. You can make something like a pretty sweet RTS for the Wii U that you can’t make for the XBOX One or PS4, but you can take most PS4 and XBOX One games, dumb the graphics down, and port them to the Wii U. Microsoft were going for the same thing with Kinect.

        • “you can take most PS4 and XBOX One games, dumb the graphics down, and port them to the Wii U”

          That’s not going to happen.

          The WiiU can’t run the engines that are going to power next Gen games, so it’s not just a downgrade, it needs to be a COMPLETE overhaul.

          The Wii had a MASSIVE install base (unlike the WiiU), but couldn’t run the Unreal Engine 3 which was used for Mass Effect, Borderlands, Arkham Asylum, Bioshock, X-com and about 100 other last-gen multiplatform titles. If you can name me a single one of those games which got a Wii port I’ll be hugely impressed (I’m not sure that one exists).

          The way it stands developers couldn’t be assed porting last-gen games over to the WiiU when they are already releasing 360/PS3 versions. No way in hell you’re going to get developers going to huge effort to completely redesign their next-gen multiplatforms to get them to run on the WiiU.

          • The Wii can’t even play CoD properly how can it run graphical games like those you mentioned 🙁

            I only used my Wii to play Super Mario and Zelda. I’ve yet to play any of the Operation Rainfall but I have the disc with me. Will probably run it on PC dolphin for some HD glory.

          • COD and Medal Honour are great examples of some of the VERY few last gen games that got their own Wii-edition ports. They were almost without exception the poor-cousin’s of their 360/PS3 counterparts.

            Something like X-Com though would have worked on the Wii with a graphical hit if Firaxis were happy to go right back to the drawing board and start again with a new engine. Even with the massive install base I guarantee you it was never given more than a passing thought.

            The WiiU might pick up some cross platform Indie downloadable titles or something but you’re never going to see a toned-down WiiU version of the Witcher 3 or anything like that- regardless of how well that kind of game could would with a second screen.

        • Also – “Look at Wind Waker and Deus Ex. You’d never get either of them working right on the Wii ”

          Wind Waker.
          I’m pretty sure they made a rather similar game on the Gamecube.

          • Heck, the Wii even had sockets for Gamecube controllers.

            When my nephew visits he plays Super Mario Sunshine on the Wii all the time.

  • If Nintendo simply abandoned the control pad screen I’d say it was a sign they were moving away from it. Since they let you use either, it doesn’t support that argument at all.

    I think they’re being responsible by not forcing usage into every damn game. Thumbs up, Ninty.

  • I hope you can quickly switch screens with the Minus button or something. Maybe a quick option from the pause menu.

    It makes sense why they’d force everyone to use it for the initial wave of games. Leaving it optional means that people are free to do nothing with it, and you don’t want to end up with no games using it at all. As a consumer, you wouldn’t want to have this thing sitting in front of you that you can’t do anything with. And then on the dev side of things, once you have a whole bunch of examples out there of what can be done with the feature, the influence can spread and it can spark new ideas in other devs, etc.

  • I don’t really see why you needed to write an article on something so stupid. It’s off because it isn’t used and people were complaining that having the 2 screens on (NSMBU…) at the same time showing the same thing is distracting and wastes GamePad battery power.

    Doesn’t take a rocket scientists to figure this one out…

  • Good boy Nintendo, you’re learning. Now all you have to do is release a bundle without the controller. Then you can drop the price by at least 1/3.

    Or, you can continue taking the gamble that a couple of multi-screen games will work out.

    *Eats popcorn while looking at his WiiU*

  • The DKC games always are tough.

    Except for the very first one, the original. That game was stupidly easy. Unless you were trying to speedrun it.

  • It’s clearly just to conserve gamepad battery whilst not being used. Not even sure why this is being discussed.

  • Know what would be truely revolutionary… since when using the big screen the gamepad doesn’t show anything… let us use a pro controller to play the game on the TV, that would be amazing (nintendo finally realising that we like our nice comfortable gamepads really would be remarkable, “We got it wrong we realise you like the style of gameplay we used to give you, the one Sony and Microsoft still give”)

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