I feel it necessary to point out (constantly) that I am, and always have been, a Nintendo fan. Ever since I got my SNES over 12 years ago, I’ve always preferred their consoles. I also happen to be curiously conservative on the issue of consoles; I believe that gaming consoles should focus primarily on gaming, with other functions being secondary. While I love that my Wii U can play Netflix, I don’t care for systems that can access Twitter, Facebook or Internet Explorer during gameplay. That is the realm of desktop computers, and compromises the console’s ability to run gaming software.
That being said, I’m not blind to Nintendo’s mistakes…past or present. And the Wii U has issues. And I’m not done ranting.
Part Deux: The Gamepad
The gamepad is a great idea. It provides a second screen with which to display extra information. It can provide a sense of immersion, like serving as an inventory manager or as a Batcomputer. It can also allow unique involvement of players, such as in New Super Mario Bros U. It has even sparked a new movement, motivating both Sony and Microsoft to come up with their own second screens for their consoles.
Its use is enforced in far too many circumstances. System settings, Miiverse, and the eShop all require its use. It is actually impossible to navigate any of these subsystems without the gamepad. The worst part? It’s completely unnecessary. In the case of the system settings, the TV screen is wasted with just a message telling the user to look at the gamepad. In the Miiverse and eShop, it’s entirely redundant–the content on the displays is mirrored, and it’s possible to navigate using on the gamepad’s buttons, meaning these sections could be used with a pro controller or wiimote. But it’s not an option.
These issues also persist in some games and third-party apps. The Netflix app requires the use of the gamepad, once again with near-complete redundancy. Nano Assault Neo can make use of the pro controller, but only for a second player–the first must use the gamepad, even though there are no integral functions assigned to it.
At the same time, its use isn’t standardized enough. One of its most popular features is Off TV Play. This moves the game’s main display to the gamepad, allowing a game to be enjoyed without the TV being set to the Wii U input, or even turned on at all. It’s a great feature. But it’s purely up to developers to implement. Often its implementation is unintuitive–switching to gamepad mode may require navigating through several layers of clunky menus. Other times it’s literally as simple as a button in the corner of the screen. But it’s really something Nintendo should have worked out on their own beforehand, and placed a button on the gamepad dedicated to its use.
On top of all of this is the ultimate issue…battery life. The gamepad can manage about 2-3 hours on a full charge, depending on use, because it comes equipped with a woefully undersized 1500mAh battery. Nyko sells a 4000mAh pack that fits inside the same compartment, and a larger unit that attaches to the back and doubles as a stand. But Nintendo should have seen this one coming. Even just watching Netflix, with the screen off, drains the battery in less than 3 hours. I would say there should be a way to actually turn the gamepad off, but certain apps require its use, so it would be a moot point. But that just brings me back to my earlier rant, thus completing the circle of bitching.
Nintendo initially announced support for only a single gamepad per base station, but later stated that two was a possibility. Games with support for this have yet to be seen, but the point is moot, because gamepads still cannot be purchased separately. But there are still technical issues with the concept, chief among them being framerates. The gamepad runs at a maximum of 60 frames per second, each of these frames being delivered from the base station to the screen. Two gamepads would mean halving this to 30 at most, often lower than that depending on how busy the screens are. This is all the result of the fact that the gamepad is literally just a wireless screen. It’s not an independent piece of hardware. But you know what is? The 3DS.