While the standard buttons-and-joystick video game controller has made a fairly decisive return to Nintendo’s games on the Switch, that doesn’t mean Nintendo is done trying to reinvent the way we interact with video games.
At the company’s annual meeting of shareholders late last month, one attendee asked the panel of Nintendo executives about the fact that its products seem to have stagnated into the paradigm of “looking at the screen and playing with controller in hand,” and what its developers think about that.
“We are proud to have created a variety of user interfaces that have now become industry standards,” said Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario and Zelda, and one of Nintendo’s directors. He pointed out that Nintendo pioneered the now-standard features of the D-pad and the analogue stick, the major features of today’s standard twin-stick controller.
Nintendo strayed from this design during the Wii and Wii U era, radically reimagining the game controller first as a remote control-style wand with a reduced number of buttons, then as a massive tablet with a touchscreen. While the Wii and Wii U did in fact have Pro controllers that theoretically offered this layout, that wasn’t always the case in practice, as Nintendo’s games often railroaded players into using non-traditional controllers and schemes.
That’s no longer the case with Switch. While the Switch does include a touchscreen and motion controllers, the vast majority of its games can be played with the standard controller layout, either in handheld mode or with a Pro controller. “As of now, in terms of accuracy, I believe this style is the clear winner,” Miyamoto said.
But Miyamoto, and therefore Nintendo, is not satisfied. “At the same time, I also believe that we should quickly graduate from the current controller, and we are attempting all kinds of things,” he said. “Our objective is to achieve an interface that surpasses the current controller, where what the player does is directly reflected on the screen, and the user can clearly feel the result. This has not been achieved yet.”
But not, he said, for Nintendo’s lack of trying. “We have tried all kinds of motion controllers, but none seem to work for all people. As the company that knows the most about controllers, we have been striving to create a controller that can be used with ease, and that will become the standard for the next generation.”
In other words, even if you’re happy with Nintendo’s controllers now, don’t start thinking that it has given up on trying to reinvent the game controller. The current standard controller has a massive learning curve for non-gamers. Nintendo's efforts could deliver amazing innovations, but one hopes Nintendo will learn from the Switch's success and make sure more standard inputs are not just included, but supported by their core games.