The Wii U Gamepad Was Such A Missed Opportunity

Remember the Wii U reveal trailer from E3 2011?

Remember how incredible the GamePad looked?

It could be a scope, a game board, a drawing pad, an inventory screen. There was something really cool about lining up a golf shot by pointing the remote at the controller on the floor, then watching the ball sail into the distance on the TV.

To make all that possible, they crammed a hell of a lot of tech into that controller: a touchscreen, gyroscope, camera, microphone, NFC reader, rumble, an infrared sensor bar, plus all the standard sticks, buttons and triggers.

Whether you call it a gimmick or an innovation (the two can be hard to tell apart) the Wii U made sense as Ninty's next step. It was the perfect marriage between the Wii and the DS. Even with the sceptical initial reception, I remember diving into the hype headfirst.

The launch lineup was smart as whip. It very carefully showed off the GamePad's versatility. Ubisoft's ZombiU made good use of the touchscreen for inventory management, and in a survival horror setting, demonstrated the tension that can be wrung from trying to pay attention to two screens at once. Scribblenauts Unlimited used the second screen as a keyboard, letting you quickly type objects into existence.

But the clear winner on day one was Nintendo Land, which was not only a damn good launch title, but remains one of the best games on the system. A much meatier tech demo than Wii Sports ever was, its twelve minigames had you flicking ninja stars off the tablet at targets on the TV, tracing paths around obstacles for Yoshi, and tilting the controller like a marble maze.

Ninty's main course were games featuring something they dubbed "asymmetric gameplay". Basically, one player has the GamePad, and through the virtue of their own private screen, has different objectives and viewpoints from players sharing the TV.

A few of Nintendo Land's minigames were set up to showcase the idea. In Mario Chase, the GamePad player runs through a maze, pursued by up to four others. The chasers, with limited third-person viewpoints, have to coordinate to find their prey, while the chasee evades them with the help of an overhead map on the second screen.

Luigi's Ghost Mansion has the GamePad player, as a ghost, hunting the other four. The twist is, the ghost is invisible on the TV, only trackable via the rumbling of the controllers. The team has to communicate to locate and catch the ghost player, before it catches them.

ZombiU also featured a competitive multiplayer mode in which one player fought off a horde of zombies with a Wii remote and nunchuk, and the other used the GamePad to spawn them in, trying to overwhelm their opponent.

Even the Mario Party clone, Rabbids Land, included some surprisingly creative asymmetry in some of its minigames, as well as an interesting mechanic in the meta-game: when a player picks up an item, it's shown to them privately on the GamePad screen. You never know what other players are packing, and if they lay a trap, it could be anywhere.

It might not sound like much, but the implications of that are huge: players can have secrets in a same-room game! So long screencheating, now we can have all the privacy and competitiveness of online play, without losing the social aspect of being within jeering distance of your friends.

You know what else manages that? Board games. Players having a handful of cards, keeping things to themselves until they're ready to spring a carefully-constructed strategy onto their unsuspecting opponents – that's a staple mechanic.

In fact, that's pretty much what the GamePad's potential boils down to: one player has info that the others don't. Combine that with the design lessons Nintendo could've pulled from the DS, as well as the rise of tablet gaming, and the opportunity seems criminally missed.

I was dreaming of an asymmetric Mario Kart mode: four players race split-screen, while another has a birds-eye view of the track and can place traps or powerups to help or hinder. The console is absolutely perfect for a Pokemon Snap sequel where the GamePad is the camera. How about a D&D-style game, where the Dungeon Master has their own little screen to control the action? Even plain ol' Pictionary: draw on the touchscreen, have the guessers watch the TV.

Instead, Nintendo seems to have run out of ideas for their hardware pretty quickly. Three years on, the Wii U library looks a lot like the Wii's: there's some really great games in there, but the best ones basically ignore the console's central gimmick. The newest Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Pikmin, Donkey Kong, Yoshi and Mario platformers, both 2D and 3D, are all arguably the best entries in their franchises, but almost exclusively relegate the GamePad to Off-TV Play. Even the so-late-it-doesn't-matter-anymore Minecraft port doesn't use the touchscreen for inventory or crafting. It's baffling.

Don't get me wrong – Off-TV Play is great. I can play from my hammock in the backyard. But the tech can do so much more. We could have more games like the fantastic Super Mario Maker, which probably wouldn't exist without the tap-and-drag placement a touchscreen provides. Kirby's latest outing had you drawing platforms. Mario Party 10 and Wii Party U featured some great GamePad-centric minigames and modes. And Rayman Legends had those Murfy levels, where one player uses the GamePad to move platforms and obstacles, cut ropes, stun enemies, and generally open the path for their buddies running through the level. With some careful timing and coordination, they were the platforming equivalent of synchronised swimming, and every bit as frustrating, and satisfying, as you'd expect.

There are just enough examples to show us how good it could've been, but assuming innovation is little more than a well-supported gimmick, there aren't quite enough to push it over that line.

Maybe, in some beautiful parallel universe, the Wii U is blessed with plenty of games played with various combinations of the GamePad's many features. They might be sharing their Pokemon Snap 2 snaps over a parallel Miiverse, browsing an eShop bursting with 30 years of Ninty classics. And maybe that mysterious TVii button actually does something!

Oh well. If nothing else, seeing Nintendo's crazily-colourful worlds in HD almost makes up for it. And bae has promised us something new with the NX! Maybe this time they'll deliver on whatever insane idea that turns out to be. Right?


    I bought a Wii U precisely because of this game pad. This is how I would have loved PS VITA to work with the PS4.

    Alas, both companies went half-arse in their implementation. PS4 got all the games I prefer, Wii U got the remote-play down right with their practical regular size sticks and buttons.

    Sometimes I just want to slap the person that said we can make tiny analogue sticks and those tiny face buttons! (So they can be used by tiny gamers?!)

    Last edited 29/01/16 1:15 pm

    The Wii U game lineup is pretty dismal. For a console that's supposed to be "family friendly", there's only a handful of co-op games.

      A quick look on Co-optimus says there's at least 90. No comment on the quality of some of them, but they're definitely around.

        some of the ones listed are virtual console games, which don't really count....

          I'd argue that they would count because they're playable on the Wii U, but let's say they don't and they make up half that list. That's still 45 co-op Wii U games, which I'd say is a decent offering.

        Quality is definitely a huge qualifier there, and I also meant Wii U exclusives. :)

        The cream of the crop is only a handful:

        Super Smash Bros.
        Super Mario 3D World
        New Super Mario Bros. U (including Luigi U here)
        Mario Kart 8
        FAST Racing Neo
        Yoshi's Woolly World

        There are more with faults:

        Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (has co-op balance issues)
        Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (bad camera means players 2-4 spend most of the time trying to keep up with player 1 rather than playing)
        Splatoon (only co-op in one mode)
        Nintendo Land (only a few of the mini games are great)

        And a few more that are not even worth listing. :(

        Edit: Forgot Nintendo Land

        Last edited 29/01/16 2:04 pm

          Isn't Wonderful 101 co-op too? Up to five players iirc. Also I feel like I want to say Pikmin did too but I can't remember.

            Wonderful 101 slipped through my radar somehow, but the information on it doesn't look encouraging. Need a procontroller or classic controller for each additional player, and it's only for mission mode. :( I tried playing the demo ages ago (singleplayer) and I recall thinking it was hectic and hard to work out what was happening (don't even want to imagine how my wife would handle it). Is it better multiplayer?

            I have Pikmin 3, but I think I dismissed its co-op at the time because it was limited to a few special missions (Google says half of them are paid DLC too). Might give it a second look!

              Couldn't really say, I've never had reason to try the co-op of either. I just really love both games, top two on the system imo :P

          To be fair... Splatoon was meant to be an online shooter after all.

          Though I do admit I wish the local multiplayer mode had a bit more meat in there as it's really probably the only thing thats overlooked/lacking in the game.

          In addition to those here are some that I've enjoyed...

          Affordable Space Adventures has a unique co-op experience, three person crew on one ship, and makes some of the best use of the gamepad on the system. It's more of a puzzle game than exploration but still great fun.
          Pikmin 3 has a fantastic co-op mode that no one seems to have played. Not as good as it's local competitive mode, Bingo Battle, but still a lot of fun.
          Hyrule Warriors is a lot more fun in co-op mode aside from the massive performance drop. Disappointing that it's only two players though.
          Runbow has a couple of co-op modes that are notable for supporting up to nine players and the broadest controller support I've ever seen in a game.
          Wonderful 101: This co-op mode is fun to a point but the shortage of content really keeps it from shining. It's a shame, this could have been great.

          I'm really looking forward to Hex Heroes, a co-op real time strategy game that's in development for the Wii U. The gamepad user plays the "commander" while the other players are the "units" so they commander can see the world map, heal units, and micromanage but it's up to the units to fight and gather resources.

      Honestly the Wii U has the best lineup of exclusives out of all the consoles right now.

    I miss Nintendoland.
    Whenever friends gathered, Yoshi cart was the game of choice where house rules stated that one must endeavour to draw a penis whilst successfully collecting the fruit and completing the stage; the most glorious throbbing dong was considered the winner regardless of points scored.

    If it didn’t come at the expense of the other hardware it wouldn’t be so bad, but to be relegated to nothing more than a second screen while the other hardware sucks is such a waste.

    At least MS had the option to dump Kinect once it became clear that nobody wanted to use it. I’d imagine tons more people would buy a WiiU for the Nintendo 1st party games (myself included) if the machine were $100-150 cheaper, or even if the other hardware were $150 better.

    When you’re selling a console bundle for $399ish at Christmas 2015 that has almost no games on the horizon and your competitors are selling more powerful machines for the same price, you’ve really got no chance.

      I am failing to recall if the console has received an official price cut yet.
      Over 3 years on the market and still no price cut (In Australia)
      If anything, they took away their cheap 8GB white console (which I picked up for what I believe was a respectable price for the console at 200 dollars)

        Nintendo’s stuff is always a rip-off comparatively. From the games to the machines, they hold their retail prices for far longer than the other platforms.
        They always try to turn a profit on hardware and the games stay at full retail price for years after they release.

        That aside, the WiiU got some great deals when the machine was really struggling a few years back. I think it was just before Mario Kart came out when a few retailers (Harvey Norman?) dropped the console.

          Ermmm.. care to elaborate on the "rip-off comparitively"?

          I find their consoles have usually been significantly cheaper precisely because their considered "underpowered" during launch windows. Of course this usually means their a bit slower on the price cuts precisely because their normally "cheaper" at launch

          Oh and not having a go... just curious at that statement that's all.

            Nintendo almost always makes a profit on every hardware unit, it's been the business model they've had in place for year's.
            The other two almost always sell new machines at a loss and then recoup the money through software sales. So comparatively the hardware is more expensive.

            As for games... Have a look at the Nintendo online store or walk into any game shop in the country. It's normal for a 1st party Nintendo game to be sold for near full retail for 3 or more years after release. An Xbone or PS game is normally $40 after a year at most.

              Ok now it makes more sense... sorta.

              Though I wouldn't say the "hardware is expensive" as a proper description though... more like just not using the same "loss leader" procedure the other 2 are using... otherwise you could technically say every other electronics/whitegoods is "expensive" since they all have significant mark-ups when sold to get some profit. Just because their not using the same market tactics doesn't inherently make them "expensive" in my books anyway.

              Second I don't really think Nintendo has any say on whether a store can price drop or not for games (consoles yes.. but not games AFAIK). It's really more up to the store on how they will price it down the line if they want to move units or not. So you can't really blame Nintendo if their games retain shelf value over time compared to the other 2... it really just means that those games move a lot faster or there's a lot less surplus compared to other "AAA" games on other consoles that need to be moved..

              Online shop is a different story and frankly after comparing stuff on PSN/Live/eShop I personally didn't see any real difference in price drops outside of sales.

              Last edited 29/01/16 10:19 pm

    By comparison, the PS4 and Xbox One PR cycles were interesting in how the games media fed the hype. Those obnoxious 'The Next PlayStation/Xbox' stories across every site, coupled with a documentary about an internet gaming forum whipped everybody into a frenzy over.....quite average launch titles.

    Nintendo's position in the cold light of day, right now, is one of deceleration. You'll no doubt see a lot of impassioned defence of the 'Pad here, but whatever one could say about it, it's an unwinnable argument because NX is about to come out.

    Of course Nintendo is not spruiking the thing as much as it should.

    The question was and always has been what games could have been made for it?

    Rayman Legends should have stayed a launch title, and an exclusive one at that.

    There were scenes of Assassin's Creed NFC figures at the time as well.

    Ken Levine was paraded on-video saying how innovative the thing was, wasn't he?

    Third-Party Devs are exercising the old adage "careful who you piss off on the way up, because we'll be here on the way down" at Nintendo right now. They are openly hostile towards Nintendo in fits and bursts before a tweet gets taken down here or a quote in an interview is expanded upon there.

    Who knows what their attitude is in private.

      Nintendo have had terrible 3rd party relationships since the N64, it’s not an “on the way down” thing, it’s been like that through thick and thin for the last 20 years (that’s terrifying BTW).

      I think Nintendo’s problems are many, but the 3rd party issue is compounded by the cost and effort that goes into a AAA title these days. With more and more 3rd party games being cross-platform Xbox/PS/PC titles and the WiiU (and Wii) having old hardware, Nintendo has been left on their own to make AAA blockbusters almost single-handily.

      IMO it’s resulted in them sacrificing innovation and ambition for shorter development cycles (to get something on the shelves) and the end result has been the WiiU getting a handful of very good titles but none of the absolute classics that made the N64 and GC must-owns even if they all had thin release schedules.

    Multiplayer games that don't give you the option of splitting the screens TV/Gamepad is really annoying. A few Wii U games did this, even one of the CODs did it which was excellent. But not enough of them (Mario Kart doesn't do it!)

    Also games that were ported across and don't use the gamepad for inventory wtf.

      Yes! This. I was also hoping it would mean the game could support 5 players, but nope.

    Gamepad is great, just poorly utilised, and has horrific battery life.

    Still think ZombiU was the best usage of the WiiU Gamepad in a WiiU title to date. Complemented the game so well, without being gimmicky or intrusive. Although that was before all the 3rd parties jumped ship and left it as yet another all but exclusive first party Nintendo console.

      There's actually an official expanded battery that lasts for 8 hours! Didn't get released in Australia, but you can order them over Amazon. I've yet to run out of power in a single session with it.

        You can buy them from Nintendo Australia. I picked one up from their little customer service room.

          Oh yeah, I forgot that was a thing! What exactly is the deal with that anyway?

            That's where you can drop off faulty goods for repair, buy replacement parts, or stuff that's not sold in stores like the gamecube component cable and broadband adaptor.

    Biggest missed opportunity I reckon on Nintendo's part would have been to sell a NDS addon, much like there was a GBA addon for the Gamecube allowing one to play all their DS games on the WiiU, given you've effectively got the same setup as a DS (2 screens, one touch and one non touch), it would have fit quite nicely.

      Totally. Especially when the 3DS was going great guns, and the WiiU was lagging in sales. Although they never really got too far ahead of the R4/Piracy scene in the DS/3DS scene - and probably baulked at the idea of allowing their money pit home console to be opened up to the trove of pirated titles available.

      I'll admit to spending more time on my 3ds than WiiU - but I do love it. Pokémon picross and yokai taking most of my ninty game time. I really hope they get their act together with a unified marketplace for NX - and it launches soon. Half my Wii Virtual Console purchases still haven't shown up on WiiU (TG16/PCEngine when?) - and I'm losing track of what GBA titles I own on 3ds and WiiU, leading to me buying less. Now FFT GBA is out (still got my cart) - and I'd love to restart it - but I'd really love to be able to buy it once and play it across systems with a shared cloud save....

      I really hope this is the norm for NX - and they bring the entire WiiU VC library over at launch rather than the dribs and drabs approach they used porting the WiiVC library over (they're unoptimised emulated ROMS FFS) - because I'd like to start giving Nintendo VC money again, and not feel like I'm throwing it away.

    i think it is time Nintendo concentrated on software for ps4 and xbox1 and forget hardware as the days of the NES and SNES are well and truly over and i was never a fan of the N64 Ps1 ruled in that fight and was the start of Nintendo's, i did like the Gamecube but it was all to late for them.They did have a brief revival with the Wii but i think it is over for Nintendo hardware wise.

      Are you forgetting the part where Nintendo have and continue to make billions of dollars? Why would they all of a sudden bow out? They have their own niche.

      The wii was innovative at the time but got old after 2 years, the wii-u had promise but didnt deliver at all in my eyes. I have spent at least 10x the amount of hours on my xbox one vs the wii-u because of cross platform/modern titles/xbox live/netflix/twitch and more.

      Nintendo seem to be making money and happy with what they're doing, we just need to make a choice as a consumer if that's something we want to buy, I'm unsure about the NX and will be very dubious about any promises they lay out when touting the new system.

        i think the problem today is that kids tend to play on mobile devices and then they end up playing games like Gta and those sorts of games even when they are not old enough and yes Nintendo they are the best with their handhelds but many kids today are playing on Ipads just about before they can walk.So just my point but i would like to see Nintendo bring out a console not underpowered even by todays consoles but make them sit up and take notice or make games for said consoles and really let their creative juices flow with those games.

        Last edited 29/01/16 3:09 pm

          I've wanted that since the Gamecube came out :(

            Yes i think the Gamecube was a missed opportunity and it could have been the boost nintendo needed but as i said their handhelds are the yardstick for all others.

    The biggest waste was Nintendo letting the couple of cods slip by without a wii u zapper.

    I built one and patched it into the gamepad, and it was absolutely fantastic in the metroid nintendoland game. It was an easy way for Nintendo to make hardcore fps controls accessible (pre splatoon), and it would have been a nice stepping stone to VR.

    The sensor bar and camera can even do the head tracking trick that the new 3ds does so well, to generate a depth based 3D.

      Also, Mario kart with a wheel and three pedal setup.

        just watched the vid that did look rather cool with the wheel and pedals.

        Eh, just looks like a hassle because that stuff is "tacked on".

        1) I remember being a weapon at mario kart on snes, so the controller has been the goto control for MK since then
        2) Unless it seriously adds value like in Forza or other borderline sims, it's just overkill.

        In saying that, Mario Kart arcade is quite fun.

          It actually works really well as an arcade cabinet, I designed the control scheme for fun, not as a nod to a simulation.

          For instance, the shifter is used as a slingshot fir launching powerups. You pull back and hold to keep the item behind you, then release to fire it forwards. To drop something behind you, you push and hold it forwards, and let go to drop.

          And stomping on the clutch pedal to drift is pretty satisfying.

          It's even a bit more powerful than the stock setup because you can do a bit more multitasking, like looking back mid turn and firing backwards.

          I don't see how it's tacked on. Overkill? Perhaps. But that was the joke of building it.

          Last edited 29/01/16 3:19 pm

            well i liked what you did so well done and keep having a blast.

            I love that you/anyone spent time on a project like this.... so good. I just don't think it's even remotely needed as an offering by nintendo though.

            By tacked on I mean it's taking the existing controls and shoving them in a different housing which is only going to make the experience "less accurate". If you'd gutted the internals and wired them directly into the wheel then I could see how it would be 'more accurate'. I guess I basically hate relying on the gyro, so building upon that would be a no/no for me. Clutch drift is pretty awesome though :).

              Ive always hated the gyro controls in racing games, waving a stick around in mid air is utterly useless.

              But the gamepad actually contains very good hardware, with a magnetometer that's significantly more powerful than you find in any phone. Once you hard mount it to a steering axis, it actually becomes very accurate and nearly indistinguishable from a potentiometer.

              This was never meant to be a pitch as a commercial product, it's a niche of a niche, but it's a fun way to demo the expansion port.

              But the zapper is cheap, excellent, and has/had huge potential. Huge waste. Much sad.

              Last edited 29/01/16 4:50 pm

                Yeah I had heaps of fun on the PS1/Wii with Point Blank... if they actually brought out a gun that felt and had the kickback of the point blank arcade gun... would have definitely shelled out for it.

    ... Bae.


    Anyway, the Wii U is awesome and underrated. Can't wait til people will be raving about it in about 20 years ;)

    Even plain ol’ Pictionary: draw on the touchscreen, have the guessers watch the TV.

    Artwork on Game and Wario does a good job of this for me. Great for large groups of people/parties etc (by having teams rather than single players).

    One of the few minigames that turned out to be okay!

    @ynefel The battery life isn't really that bad is it? It seems to last me through most of my sessions, though the super long power cable makes it pretty easy to continue beyond the warning light when it comes up.

    Nintendo really needs to make Battalion Wars 3 for this thing, it would be amazing.

      A general on the gamepad, and four wiimote soldiers.

      Against another team in online battle.

      Yes yes.

      Mine honestly feels like it gets 2-3 hours. I mean it's not an issue plugging it in, and due to the screen, I wouldn't expect it to exactly get 8 hours - but it just seems a little too short for my liking.

      About my only gripe with the overall WiiU hardware though. The gamepad is great.

      Last edited 29/01/16 3:51 pm

        Thank God the battery recess has space for a bigger battery! I have the big unit, and it doubles the lifespan without adding a noticeable amount of weight.

    I'm actually surprised they never partnered with Wizards of the Coast and created a whole bunch of multiplayer D&D games. The gamepad is pretty much perfect for a DM to use.

    Oh, I agree. So much missed potential! The Nintendo of old would have had 50 clever and innovative games showcasing different quirky aspects of the controller. When the system came out I was convinced there was going to be DLC (that I would have been happy to pay for!) patching in new levels & arenas into Nintendo Land. Never happened. I was anticipating a full-blown game expanding on each "demo game" in Nintendo Land. Never happened. Donkey Kong, Mario Kart, Pikmin, Smash, etc. have all been great games. But man, they've been SAFE.

    Off screen play was my favourite thing about the pad and wiiu. Pikmin 3 and wind waker hd made the console worth owning for me.

    Im still pissed that they didn't bring Mario Golf to the Wii.

    It is still the best Netflix viewer out there.

    It feels like they had to bet on either off-TV play or games requiring the gamepad's use, saw what people were excited about during the announcement, and bet the wrong way.

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