Nintendo spent much of this year’s E3 press conference highlighting how the touchscreen-equipped GamePad included with Wii U will revolutionize all sorts of familiar gaming experiences as well as lead to entirely new types of gameplay. I tried a few Wii U games during the show that did just that, but more often than not they seemed to use the new controller in a way that got in the way of gameplay. Here, in no particular order, is my take on what the GamePad has to offer in some of the Wii U’s most important games.
New Super Mario Bros. YOU
While you can use the GamePad to play the single-player mode of this 2D side-scroller without using the TV, you’ll only benefit from the game’s stunning HD graphics while playing on the big screen. The more interesting use of the GamePad is the two-player “boost mode,” where one player uses a standard Wii Remote to move Mario around on the TV screen, and another taps a live image on the GamePad to place temporary blocks. the playing field, or to stun enemies briefly.
In theory, two coordinated players could use “boost mode” to make amazing shortcuts through difficult parts of a level, resulting in some epic speed runs. In fact, during my short E3 demo, I accidentally got in my partner’s way at least as often as I helped him. Dedicated players willing to put into practice may find themselves exploiting this mode for everything, but I think it’s much more likely that antagonistic players will end up trying to screw their partners.
Game & Wario
This collection of minigames showcased some of the most inventive and immersive uses of the Wii U GamePad outside of the game that I’ve seen. NintendoLand. In a demo called “Shutter,” players had to scan a TV scene full of similar-looking, hand-drawn characters for a set of five specific photo targets. The GamePad screen acts as a camera viewfinder here; hold it up and move it around to zoom in on specific parts of the scene, then take the best framed shot of your target you can. It played like a mix of Where’s Waldo, pokemon snapAnd Sniper rangeand was greatly improved by having a camera-like screen in my hands while playing.
Another mini-game entitled “Fruit” reminded me a bit of Chris Hecker’s interesting indie game spy party. The player with the GamePad controls a single character in a scene filled with dozens of similar computer-controlled characters moving around semi-randomly. That player must try to blend in with the crowd, act casually, and then take the best opportunity to steal three pieces of fruit, all without being noticed by the watchful eyes of the other players. At the end of the game, the GamePad is passed around and everyone votes for which character they think is controlled by a human, making this a strange multiplayer game to use a single Wii U controller.
Another hidden gem on Nintendo’s booth, this cute, slightly silly action game comes from Platinum Games, the developer behind it Metal Gear Rising: Revenge. Instead of controlling a single character, you use the GamePad’s thumbstick and buttons to move a group of tiny superheroes huddled around a tight core. pikminstyle, as they launch coordinated attacks against bad guys big and small. The size of the supergroup shrinks as you take damage, but you can also include random civilians in the superframe as you progress.
The game is endearing from the get-go, but I felt like the Wii U GamePad kind of got in the way of my enjoyment. To activate super-powered “Unite” attacks that turn the superhero party into a fist, a sword, or a gun, draw a circle, a straight line, or an L-shape on the Touch Screen. Lifting my hand from the buttons to follow this touchscreen pattern was more than a little tedious, and the game seemed to misinterpret my movements in the heat of battle. I liked the game a lot more when I just used the right analog stick to trigger these attacks, which made me wonder why the developers bothered with the touchscreen in the first place.
For a game intended to be one of the flagship titles for the Wii U, Picmin 3 doesn’t do a great job of showing off the potential for the system’s unique controller. The primary control scheme Nintendo showed off at E3 uses a standard Wii Nunchuk and remote to move Captain Olimar and aim the reticle for his throws of the tiny, plant-like Pikmin. In this mode, the Wii U Tablet simply acts as a large map, showing the entire playing field rather than just the small, zoomed-in area on the TV screen. It’s a useful feature, but I can’t say it’s a very revolutionary difference compared to the standard, translucent mini-card that sits in the corner of other pikmin games.
You can also use the GamePad directly as a controller for the game, but I found the new control scheme much more clunky than the remote and Nunchuk. Using the GamePad’s two joysticks to control Olimar’s position and camera orientation was easy enough, but aiming Pikmin required tilting the GamePad like a little tray to gently guide the reticle across the screen . This method felt very imprecise compared to the specificity of the Wii Remote’s pointer, requiring constant recalibration to tell the system where the controller was centered. If this is considered progress, count me down.
I feel like the creators of Wii U’s first take on survival horror were half too clever with their use of the Wii U GamePad, forcing it into contrived situations designed to heighten the suspense. For example, if you grab items from an abandoned storage chest, you’ll need to look at the touch screen and drag the items from the chest into your inventory. The game doesn’t pause during this item exchange, so you’re still theoretically in danger from the wandering undead. In practice, however, the five-second process of dragging items felt more tedious than tense, especially when I took the time to clear the room first.
The facilitator who walked me through my E3 demo session with the game kept encouraging me to hold the GamePad up like a scanner, looking for heat signatures that could indicate hidden items, a process I found clunky and overly time-consuming. She also tried to get me to hold the screen in front of my face to aim certain weapons, but I found just shooting with the standard TV view much more intuitive and less of a hassle. The best use of the ZombieU GamePad may have been the simple map, which allowed me to look down to find out where I was when I got flipped during a battle with the undead.
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition
The Wii U GamePad wears a lot of hats in this conversion of last year’s hit action game, but none of them are particularly appealing. Of course, the tablet screen can be used as a map, which is slightly more convenient than pausing the game to get the same information on the TV screen. You can also use the touchpad to choose from Batman’s wide array of devices, which isn’t really more convenient than using the TV screen for the same purpose, since you’ll have to stop what you’re doing to look at your controller anyway ( you can also easily assign up to three devices to the GamePad’s d-pad, to save some hassle).
When you throw in a remote controlled batarang Armored Edition, you can use the GamePad’s tilt sensor to guide it through the air, a process I found so imprecise that I gave up after half a dozen tries and just used the analog stick instead (I succeeded on the first try after the exchange). Also on the GamePad screen is a new hacking mini-game, where you swipe your finger to find hidden hotspots while dodging a scanning laser. It was fun once upon a time, but like any mini-game, the appeal soon wears off.
The GamePad’s only truly immersive gameplay addition has to do with the use of Batman’s explosive gel. Instead of detonating all of the spray-on gel at once, you can use a sonar-equipped scanner on the touchscreen to monitor when enemies get close to a specific gel application, then trigger it specifically with a tap the screen. Still, it seems like something that could almost as well have been done on the TV, without having to hold a huge touchscreen in my hands.
It’s a bit odd that the developers at Ubisoft seem to have come up with much more inventive ways to use the Wii U GamePad in a 2D platformer than the New Super Mario Bros. YOU developers at Nintendo itself. Every minute of the short Rayman Legends demo shown at E3 seemed to have an interesting new use for the GamePad-equipped player, playing a supporting role for Rayman running across the TV screen.
One minute you’re swiping the touchscreen to cut a rope and lower a platform for Rayman to climb on. The next you rotate a platform (or even an entire room) so that Rayman can stay on the level. The next moment you use the touchscreen to aim a slingshot that can take down flying enemies tormenting Rayman from the background. Whether throwing otherwise inaccessible items at Rayman in a hidden minigame or marking booby-trapped platforms for him to avoid, there’s always something new and vital for the GamePad player to do at any given time.
The best part, however, comes at the end of the demo, when Rayman runs headlong down what appears to be the skeleton of a giant dragon. The GamePad player taps on targets in time with the music to reveal rows of glowing collectibles that not only mark Rayman’s path, but also help keep the beat with the nifty guitar-heavy rock soundtrack driving the fast-paced sequence. By the time Rayman flies through a giant flaming ribcage at the end, you feel like you really played an integral part in his journey, even if you didn’t control him at all.