That was the first thought I had when a friend of mine unboxed the device and we set about playing on Nintendo Land, passing it around to perform different tasks in the different games’ mini-game environments. The idea of a screen (sometimes hidden from view of the other players) being able to influence the game was a powerful concept, paired with the increased functionality of the device as a whole. While Nintendo Land does show off some of the function and uses of the GamePad, that fourth dimension that the Wii U offers has a lot of possibilities that have yet to be explored.
One of the big questions we ask ourselves is what kind of functionality is the GamePad going to serve us in the upcoming, mysteriously shrouded Zelda Wii U title? With new peripheral hardware at their disposal, Nintendo is keenly aware of the impact that the GamePad can have on any of their heavy-hitter IP’s. They know it as much as anyone; if they want to sell the console, they’ll have to sell the GamePad. How do you want the GamePad to influence the game? Let’s take a look at what we know so far about what can be offered, and what we don’t.
Miyamoto loves his motion controls. In an interview for 2012′s E3 with Entertainment Weekly, Miyamoto restated his satisfaction with the Skyward Sword style of motion controls. He also mentioned that he’s very aware of fans that weren’t so hot about it, and suggested that they’re working to piece together what specifically worked about the game’s controls, and what wasn’t such a clear-cut success. Either way, there exists a significant group that are satisfied with them and would be sad to see them go. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the return of motion controls, but just as a non-mandatory mechanic – after all, one of the large strengths of the Wii U is the ability to play in more ways than ever before. Whether with the GamePad itself, a pro controller, or a Wiimote and Nunchuck for motion controls, Nintendo has a big opportunity to sell the modular value of the console right next to it’s updated hardware, and not force people into using a control scheme they’re not comfortable with, or feel is inferior. What this could mean, however, is a lot of the focus is taken off of the GamePad as a required device for play, which may limit its possibilities.
We’ve seen a tech demo of the GamePad in action once already. This point is probably the most loose one to consider, just because the rule of thumb in the industry is a tech demo isn’t really indicative of a final concept, especially in the case of Zelda. The problem is the tech demo was a cinematic experience, not a gameplay one. Nintendo themselves warned fans against taking what was shown in the demonstration too seriously; we had one for GameCube that ended up looking nothing like The Wind Waker, if you remember.
While the tech demo didn’t give away a whole lot of information, we did see some potential user interface uses of the GamePad that Nintendo was at least thinking about. On the GamePad the camera position is shown, along with basic features of the room the player is currently in. Rupee count and life status were shown as well, elements that seemed to be hidden away from the main field of view. Again, while this is understandable for a demo intended primarily to show the graphical potential of the console, it makes one wonder if it’s a step towards cleaning up the screen – a move we’ve seen Nintendo make already in other Zelda titles. With the ability to keep a lot of the older legacy UI elements like these out of the way of the action, it potentially lets players use the GamePad to control their inventory management and special abilities in a way that doesn’t clutter up the main display. Still, nothing particularly game changing from what they’ve shown.
Dual screen improvements are tried and true. Elements like these in a 3D Zelda world were most noticeably witnessed in the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time, the overall reception of its implementation being overwhelmingly positive. With a second screen, Nintendo was able to reallocate a lot of the screen space required to house quick-slotted items and player menus directly onto the second display. This was especially important for the 3DS, where Nintendo not only had to sell a classic game on a new platform, but try to reinforce the potential of the 3D technology as a whole. With too many 2D interfaces on the top display, it can start to detract from the immersion of the game, and lead to pop-art style interfaces which adds very little to the actual game experience. While some fans of the game will be quick to say that touch controls were the pinnacle of Zelda’s innovative interfaces (iron boots toggling, anyone?), others argue that Nintendo can go a few steps even further on their next generation console and use the GamePad for something truly unique.
We can’t forget the likelihood of multiplayer. In January, during 2013′s first Nintendo Direct video stream, Eiji Aonuma dropped the bomb that Nintendo’s mission is to seriously rethink the idea that Zelda gamers are meant to play by themselves. This led to a flurry of wild speculation as to how multiplayer interaction could be handled. In particular, it draws the question of what role the GamePad would serve in such a scenario – in a single player adventure, sure, adding UI elements and touch controls to the GamePad seems like a sealed deal. But in a local multiplayer setting with someone sitting next to you, won’t they need to see those same elements that might normally be relocated to the touchscreen? With Nintendo’s word that adding a second GamePad would result in significant performance issues for the console, and the relative difficulty of having more than one around to begin with, it seems unlikely that simply using more than one GamePad will be the solution they go with.
With all these things considered, and especially with the note on multiplayer, we really end up with more questions than answers. How might you see the GamePad differing from someone sitting next to you without one? Would the GamePad player have access to information he needs to cooperatively relay to his friend(s)? Maybe he’s not a player at all, and is some kind of mapper, helper or navigator for the team. Perhaps it won’t even be local multiplayer, and be a pseudo-multiplayer adventure that combines a single player experience with a multiplayer-influenced world, like ZombiiU? To me, the adventure that Link undertakes is a fairly personal one. Even with Four Swords Adventures, I can’t foresee more than one Link running around trying to save the world. If I had to guess, I would say the GamePad player would control Link, while the added members control support characters or creatures that help him along in his quest. Until we know more, though, we’ll never be sure. My sincere hope is that at the end of the day, Nintendo uses the console’s most unique feature in an inventive, original way, whatever that might be.
Let us know in the comments below how you want to see the controller utilized, or any predictions you might have!