In November of this year the Wii U will be 3 years old.
Looking back, the console had a very rocky launch period and took a long time to build sales momentum. However, with the success of titles like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros (for Wii U) things are finally looking up for Nintendo. People are finally buying the console now, but one very awkward and blatantly obvious problem still plagues the system.
After all this time the gamepad is still mostly irrelevant when used with the Wii U’s top-selling games.
Take Mario Kart 8 for example. This is the best-selling game on the console and you technically don’t even need the gamepad to play it if you have a pro controller or wiimote/nunchuck combo. Sure, you can use the gamepad to display a map while racing but this is practically useless because you end up focusing entirely on the tv instead. Holding a pro controller is much more comfortable when compared to the much bulkier size of the gamepad as well. It’s almost totally unnecessary.
On top of this, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has almost zero gamepad functionality. It can be used to display damage percentages during fights and that’s it. An entirely optional feature that doesn’t bring anything new to the game at all. You can’t even operate the menu with the touch screen… It’s almost like they don’t want you to use the gamepad.
These are just two examples, but you don’t have to look very far to find another Wii U game with poor or virtually non-existent gamepad implementation. This leads me to my main point.
The upcoming Zelda game for Wii U will be the last chance to make the gamepad to work effectively.
We’ll probably see some basic streamlining like in A Link Between Worlds and The Wind Waker HD (map display, menus etc) but what else can the gamepad bring to the series? Will it actually play a significant role in the game?
To be honest I don’t mind if the gamepad is yet again underutilized (it beats being simply tedious), but it would be really cool for the console’s signature feature to come out hot for a change. I don’t expect to be blown away, but lets see if they can surprise us this time. Eiji Aonuma said back in 2012 that the gamepad will be a big part of the game. There’s been plenty of time for him to have a change of mind but there’s also been plenty of time to think up some cool ways to implement it.
I think this is Nintendo’s last chance to really bring out the gamepad’s potential. There will almost definitely be no more Zelda titles on the Wii U after this, and another 3D Mario game looks unlikely. Let’s see if Nintendo can finally earn some real praise for their spectacularly weird design choices. I hope they do.
Bring on Zelda U.