Consoles Nintendo

Why you can’t play Wii games using Wii U’s Gamepad Controls

With Mario Kart 8 just one day away, it is likely that a lot of new blood is going to be getting into Wii U.  Once the thrill of racing has died down a bit, the budget conscious Wii U shopper may decide to look into buying up some super cheap-ass original Wii games.  After all, there are hundreds of titles available and there are some incredible games on the Wii (yes it is true).

In fact, we’ve written several articles on the best Wii games out there – and many of them can be had B2G1 on sale or under $20 or even under $10.  Check out Top 10 Wii Games You’ve Never Played and Ten More Great Wii Games You’ve Never Played and Ten Wii Game Guilty Pleasures to see what Wii games you should be shopping for.

Being the only next-gen console with backward compatibility, Wii U will happily play all original Wii games and you can even play them on the Wii U Gamepad (they look great on the smaller screen, by the way).

The caveat is that you must use original Wii controllers – you cannot use the Gamepad controllers.  Attempts to do so will earn you an on screen chastising.

Why on EARTH would Nintendo do this?  Surely it would be easy enough to just let the Wii games use the Gamepad??

Originally, I was bummed out about this “restriction”.  After all, I’m an avid Wii fan and have plenty of top notch gaming I’d love to play in my lap.

Thinking about it for awhile, it occurred to me that Nintendo had some damn good reasons for doing this and in this article I’m not going to change your mind about not liking it.  But I will help you understand why using the very questions I’ve heard over the last year.

Why don’t they just map the gamepad controls to the Wii controller?

There are numerous reasons.

First, does the game use a nunchuck?  How do you hold the controller to play?  Is it horizontal or vertical?  How many different controller options ARE there for a given game?  1?  3?  5?  Totally custom?

The game’s control mechanisms are not metadata stored in the game somewhere.  Nintendo couldn’t reach into the code and decipher what controller set up to use for a given game.

The best they could do is create some sort of compatibility table that would map SOME configurations SOME of the time and then have to worry about customers screwing it up.

If that weren’t enough, you would have to worry about games showing onscreen controls and tutorials – telling the player to press button 1 or button 2, when clearly the Wii U Gamepad doesn’t have these.

All of this leads to Customer Service Anarchy.  Can’t you hear the tech support calls?

“Oh, hi .. .I just got my Wii U and put in ExciteTruck.  The tutorial is telling me to press 2 to accelerate, but I can’t find a 2 button on the game pad…”

“Picked up my Wii U and was trying to play Mario Kart 7 but the tilt controls aren’t working ….”

“Hey, I’m playing <some Wii game> on my Wii U and I want to swap buttons A and B … can I do that?”

Sounds petty and trivial – but you’re talking about a nightmare of resources and financial commitment JUST to handle some sort of partial implementation.

There is no graceful way of handling control implementation that wouldn’t cause compatibility issues, tech support hell and an over abundance of dissension.

Wii U has motion sensors.  There should be NO problem emulating Wii’s motion controls.

Half right, but mostly wrong.

Games built using motion control used Wii controllers (or near finished prototypes) to create the complex gesture paths for simulating motion.  The location of the gyros and accelerometers relative to the grip/hand is important.

Any sort of motion control would require “translation” – some sort of formula to convert the changes in location and position.  While that’s technically possible, it would be impossible to TEST this on every game in existence – meaning more tech support nightmares, incompatibilities and unhappy customers.

It just isn’t as simple as a one to one mapping.

Consider, too – games like Wii Bowling that simply would make no sense in using the gamepad as a motion controller.

Imagine the violence when the first kid threw a gamepad into the TV … oh yes, there would have to be squishy jackets added … wrist straps …

More money, more tech support resources.

Just use the touch screen to emulate the pointer/sensor bar ….

You’re talking about mapping an “absolute space” (the touch screen) to a virtual space (your living room).  It would be nearly impossible to simulate that accurately enough to guarantee compatibility and NOT generate tons of support calls and mayhem.

The fact that they built in a sensor bar into the Wii U Gamepad means they were thinking ahead.

Nintendo is lazy and half-assed for doing it this way …

I’m the first one to call out Nintendo on their half-assed implementations and I have; Friend Codes … Online implementation …

In this case?  I think they did it for two reasons; neither being lazy or half-assed.

First, guarantee ALL compatibility.  If you’re using REAL Wii controllers, pretty much NOTHING can go wrong.

Second, reduce the out of pocket and ongoing expense of dealing with an organic system of mapping controls, dinking around with velocity conversions and everything else that would cause them post-deployment customer service issues and technical support.

If all we were talking about was a simple NES controller?  Sure – I’m POSITIVE Nintendo would have mapped it to the gamepad.  Unfortunately?  It is just a bit more complicated than that.

Now, go grab some of those great Wii games before they disappear.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

2 thoughts on “Why you can’t play Wii games using Wii U’s Gamepad Controls”

  1. This is where consoles need to build controller configuration into the OS like PC. I agree it would be a darn mess trying to make a Wii game like Wii Sports work with Wii U gamepad as a controller but I think they could get the gamepad and pro pad to be considered as a Wii classic pro pad and mabey even work for mario kart and excite truck motion control styles. It could display a message about control mapping at the start of the game or when the gamepad is first activated by pressing a button.
    Trouble is its not going to make them money but will cost them to solve it.

    I’m more disappointed (but not suprised) that the GC pads with adapter don’t work with games like smash bros brawl that natively supported the pad.

  2. I waited forever for the Wii u so I could play with a real controller! I just got some old wii games and realized I can not play them without the wiimote! I absolutely HATE, HATE, I HATE with a passion that damn motion sensing wii remote stick!!!!!

Leave a Reply