/ Technology

Nintendo’s Wii U – will screens in game controllers take off?

Wii U

Like thousands of others worldwide, I tuned into Nintendo’s E3 keynote to get a glimpse of its new console – the Wii U. But what I saw was a tablet-like controller with a built in screen – is that really what we want?

What did Nintendo show us last night during its E3 conference in Los Angeles? A motion sensitive controller with a 6.2 inch built in touchscreen, which you could use to play Wii U games directly on it.

Impressive, but by the end of the event I still had no idea what the actual console looked like or what it was capable of, outside of a pretty looking tech demo and promises of mature games.

If you were watching Nintendo’s conference, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that the controller was the console itself.

More like pee-yew?

In the hope that it can recapture the buzz that the Wii’s innovative motion controllers created back in 2005, it seems Nintendo has again built its new console around this ‘unique’ controller. It certainly worked back then, with Microsoft and Sony falling in line with their own motion control answers.

But do we really need the extra screen? Motion controllers opened up gaming to casual gamers outside the usual hardcore audience – a very smart move by Nintendo. Can a screen on a controller have the same affect?

Maybe it will prove a step backwards for casual gamers who are just looking for a straight forward, streamlined experience. It’s hard to imagine all those weekly Wii Bowling tournaments in elderly care homes up and down the country being replaced with multi-screen gaming. ‘Fancy a Smash Bros death match, Ethel?’

Screens in controllers have a history

The idea of a second screen in home console gaming isn’t new. Sega’s Dreamcast controllers featured the VMU (Visual Memory Unit), which relayed information about the game to the player. And the Nintendo Gamecube let you connect a Gameboy Advance to act as a second screen for certain titles as well.

Even during this generation, Sony has experimented with using its PSP in conjunction with the PlayStation 3, either by streaming PS3 games to the handheld, or acting as a rear-view mirror in a Formula 1 racing game (the functionality was later dropped).

It would be a lie to claim that any of above implementations were hugely successful or in any way necessary.

Will you Wii U?

There are other questions posed by Nintendo’s Wii U. How much will a second controller cost? How long will the battery last? How comfortable will it be? Nintendo’s shares fell to their lowest in five years after last night’s Wii U announcement, so clearly not everyone is convinced.

Do you think multi-screen gaming has a future? Could it replace the traditional controller? Fresh from the announcement, I can’t help but feel a little sceptical. Then again, I said the same thing when the dual-screen DS was announced, and that seemed to do ok…


A lot of people thought the DS was a daft gimmick, myself included. Wii looked like a gimmick. It pretty much outsold every console in history. I said it would bomb.

So I don’t want to predict anything with the Wii U. If they can make games that people like, it will sell.

Whilst it has been done before (screen as a controller) it has never been THE controller. Before you had to have both systems, which is why people didn’t make a great deal of use of the functionality.

As you say, does kinda rely on the extra controller not being more than an average controller – which is unlikely!

However, at least they are trying something different. Paid off last time.

notbitterbutbored says:
9 June 2011

Well the Wii U sounds insane. If it was any other company releasing this, I’d think “It will never work”.
But this is Nintendo. They have an amazing reputation for making weird concepts not only work, but also feel natural.

Fabien says:
9 June 2011

I think it’ll work more in their favor as this time they seem to have a ton more backing them up. HD graphics supporting 1080p resolution, a capable online system (the 3DS is already decent and the Wii U can only get better), a standard controller right from the box and on top of it, they have something that will set them apart from the competition.

I’m a bit worried what this means for casual gamers but we’ve already seen that the Wii U does support Wiimote controls, something they are already familiar with. I think Nintendo needs to include a new “Wii Sports” as it proved to be a huge selling point for the Wii. If they can recapture that magic right from launch, then they have a lot to look forward to, as do we.

As for the controller itself, I’m extremely excited for the possibilities. It includes voice/video chat, touch screen control and a sensor bar. That by itself is just crazy and everything will be standard without purchasing any add-ons. And to top it all off, it’ll offer new gaming options for players and yet another control method. So now we have Wiimote, classic controls AND touch screen gaming all on one console. Options are always great! Even if it doesn’t replace traditional controls, I’m sure they have a bright future ahead in their own Nintendo way.

Is this really what the Consumers’ Association is spending our subscriptions on?? There are many many more worth-while issues which need addressing; whether your TV/games console has a matt or glossy screen is hardly relevent in today’s financial crisis.

Yes. To some it is important. It is a way of escaping. The same could be said of many things on this site. If it does not interest you, don’t read it. Certainly don’t waste your time commenting on it.

Mark Jones says:
19 March 2013

As a proud owner of a Super Nes and also a Wii, i have always supported nintendo in some way. Unfortunately this new console WII-U is far from the mark. So far i have been sorely disappointed with the quality of the games, the slow load times of both menu’s games and apps. The limiting choices, the lack of applications, and poor design of the new controller (really difficult to reach action buttons in use) all point to a poor product. I recently downloaded and trialled monster hunter 3, and it looks like a really badly made indie title from the last decades gaming. Your recent videos highlighting no new titles to be announced until JULY / AUGUST is ridiculous! I have already played / demo’d most of your titles on offer, and simply put they are all poorly ported copies of better consoles games, or indie games that are frankly under par. My favourtie games to date have been the CAVE, and TRINE 2, but due to the awful controls i have since bought them for PC – and plugged in an xbox controller to enjoy them as they were meant to be enjoyed. My old WII games look terrible on screen, worse than i remember the wii being, all stretched and washed out. my worst gripe of all is the apparent latency of your controllers. the audio / visual sync is a few ms out, so much you have to turn the controller sound off when tv sound is also on or it does your head in!! This then causes issues with playback of videos that run out of sync, especially on netflix app. This latency crosses over to games too, i can feel the slow reaction in things like super mario bros, where the controller just misses the mark. Your games are also ridiculously priced for such poor quality versions. A ps3 title / xbox title would look far superior to a wii-u title, yet they retail the same? this is outrageous considering the vast difference. basically from top to toe, i desperately wish i had never purchased this item and i hope you guys realise how much of a mess you made with this operating system and design and give it a reboot at some point. Summary – EXPENSIVE, POOR QUALITY, DISAPPOINTING – WII-U…. in shops now!

Interesting to hear your thoughts Mark. Are you wanting to return it? What could Nintendo do to turn the ship? Excited about the PS4 or next Xbox?

Mark Jones says:
19 March 2013

Apologies for anyone thinking i am just venting, truth is i have been on the console a lot, truly trying to figure out where they hid all the cool innovative features promised in the launch videos – only to be disappointed and left hanging by the company waiting for something good (probably the new Zelda) to actually rear its head. As i said earlier the hype around monster hunter and then to actually see how bad it looks – its just a shame.

I haven’t seen much about the new consoles from PS / Microsoft at all yet – all i keep hearing over and over is GTA5 on repeat which i’m sure will be fantastic but wont sway me into the purchase of a whole console, to be honest i’ve heard more about the STEAMBOX, and the OUYA – which make an appearance soon hopefully, and i have to be honest those two are where my money will probably be going next. The game making giants have been going the same way as movies – just cashing in on their franchises over and over with nothing radical or different even coming close to the surface from the big names – everyone seems scared to gamble with innovation – and those with innovation such as nintendo always seem to rush the products out these days without thinking of the gamer at all. Yet indie game makers are forever innovating and pushing boundaries, and this is where the real gems of gaming are made IMO.