Hands-on With the Wii U GamePad
Though the system isn’t set for release until later this year, I got a chance to play the Wii U at this year’s Toronto Fan Expo. Ubisoft brought a playable version of ZombiU, while Warner Bros. let gamers try out Scribblenauts Unlimited, and Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition. Over the course of the event, I got to spend a good amount of time at the Warner Bros. booth playing their offerings. No offense to the games, but I was far more interested in getting my first taste of the Wii U GamePad. Nintendo’s banking on this gigantic controller with a built-in touchscreen to be the next big thing, and I was genuinely excited to be one of the first to test it out.
The moment I got my hands on it, I was caught off-guard by how comfortable it felt to hold. Though it is roughly the same width as an iPad, it is notably lighter in weight, and contoured in a way that made it easy to grip. The concerns I had about the controller being unwieldy due to its size and weight quickly dissipated.
While I was able to quickly adjust to the overall form factor of the GamePad, familiarizing myself with its button layout proved to be problematic. Granted, it’s very similar to the standard layout popularized by the DualShock, but there were little things about the design that threw me off. For instance, the placement of the face buttons below the right analog stick was more disorienting than I thought it would be. In cases where I had to quickly flip between the two, I would easily lose my positioning, and have to look down at the controller to figure out where I needed to go.
Similarly, the location of the triggers in relation to the shoulder buttons took some getting used to. I like to press the triggers with my index fingers, but because the shoulder buttons are far away from the triggers, reaching those buttons is tough. However, if you normally place your index fingers on the shoulder buttons, and use your middle fingers to hit the triggers, I found that I would have to reach very far in with my middle fingers to press the triggers. Maybe my struggles are related to having small hands, mixed with a general unfamiliarity with the layout, but neither of these quibbles are impossible to overcome with some practice.
Ultimately, the Wii U GamePad will be defined by the use of its embedded touchscreen, which can be used to display the game in full, or anything else game creators can come up with. Going into this, I was hoping to play through experiences that justify its existence. However, due to the ported-over nature of the Warner Bros. titles on display, they did little to push the envelope. The only useful applications for it with Scribblenauts were as a keyboard, and as a means of dragging objects; neither of which are revolutionary. As for Batman, the implementation of the Wii U’s touchscreen and motion functionality felt way more gimmicky than they were intuitive. The all-too-common act of throwing a Batarang proved needlessly difficult. To do this, you have to juggle between button and touch screen inputs, while having to navigate between two different screens, and then having to steer by tilting the controller.
Though it is not fair to condemn the controller based on titles that are shoehorning in Wii U functionality, my time with those demos did make me think about the potential creativity ceiling for this device. When the Nintendo first introduced the world to touchscreen and motion controlled gaming, the sky was the limit. However, the Wii U is basically combining the touchscreen of the DS, with the motion control of the DualShock 3 – both of which have been around for years. How much farther can game creators go when these already existing components are tied together?
I’m glad that I got to experience the Wii U GamePad before release, though I ultimately walked away from it with more questions than answers. I’m glad to know that it should work fine as an alternative to a regular controller. However, until games are built from the ground-up to take full advantage of the GamePad’s additional capabilities, its ability to revolutionize the way we play games is still up in the air.