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Wii on Wii U Gamepad: What Makes Off-Screen Play the Killer App

The Wii U Game Pad
The Wii U Game Pad

When we first heard about the Wii U’s “game pad” there were those of us who were skeptical about it.  It seemed like a likely “dual screen” implementation for a console – in line with the success of the Nintendo DS product line.  The obvious uses were speculated about at great length.  Heck, I even wrote an article here about how a personal screen would trump motion controls.  I outlined some pretty killer uses for that second screen.

Asymmetric Play finally done right
Rayman Legends: Asymmetric finally done right

Nintendo chose to focus on the concept of “asymmetric game play” with regards to the second screen – pimping out their own products such as NintendoLand and New Super Mario Bros. U.  EA took a stab at asymmetric game play too via their Need for Speed Most Wanted (which is gorgeous and a load of fun if you don’t already have it).  It took a long time for true, successful asymmetric game play to come to fruition with UbiSoft’s Rayman Legends.  I can truly say that we now have a SKU for showing off just what “asymmetric game play” SHOULD be (sad it didn’t come from Nintendo).

Sliding under the radar was the concept of “off-screen play”; that is, the ability to play the game on your TV or the game pad as a single player in a non-asymmetric environment.  Start playing on the TV, pause the game – then continue playing on the comfort of your couch (or the bathroom if there aren’t too many walls between the Wii U console and the game pad).  Sure, they showed it in action a few times – but it definitely got swept under the rug as a “well, duh” feature.

As I’ve mentioned before, Nintendo’s off-screen play (from a technology standpoint) is simply friggin’ amazing – and it is the ONLY console past or present (likely future, too) that can pull it off.  It took Nintendo over a year of R&D to create a means of producing a wireless, lag-free second screen in HD resolutions.  This cannot be replicated by Microsoft or Sony using a secondary device like a phone or tablet due to the nature of wi-fi technology (aka lag).  The Wii U is unique with true off-screen play where the console drives the title and the second screen perfectly echoes the first screen.  You can read a bit more about why this is magic in this article.

Yet, this amazing technology is simply ignored by most and that is a huge crime and disservice to the product.  Maybe the lack of visibility of this feature is what is really hurting the Wii U’s sales.

Black Ops 2 is 100% playable without a TV
Black Ops 2 is 100% playable without a TV

Off-screen play started off as a “per game” feature.  Some games featured off-screen play like COD Black Ops 2 (see a video of it here – it still seems impossible) while other big titles like Lego City Undercover required the use of the TV as well as the game pad to play.  Most games, however – leaned toward the former; being fully playable even with the TV off – launch, play and enjoy without ever needing the television.

Soon, Virtual Console games like Balloon Fight were playable off-screen.  This makes a lot of sense; the pad’s smaller screen makes old games look great.  The jagged edges of graphics smooth out.  It just feels right.

This week, Nintendo pushed out a 700MB update to their flagship console which added the ability to play original Wii games right on the game pad.  That’s right – you can have a full Wii system sitting on your lap; VC titles, retail games, WiiWare – all can be played from the game pad.  The game pad has its own sensor bar built in so you can play pretty much every single Wii title (even top notch shooting titles like Target: Terror without needing any weird attachments or restrictions.  Of course, you’ll need a Wii controller (and a nunchuck where required) to play Wii games.  The game pad controls are all locked out (I explain in great detail in a post on Google+, so I won’t re-iterate it here).  Fortunately, if you have Wii games laying around – your Wii and its controllers are laying around too.

I love the Wii.  While “hard core gamers” spat upon it, we here at Review Lagoon have chased down some great Wii games and wrote about them here and here.  There were some top notch games that are unique to the platform – and people are missing out.  I threw in ExciteTruck and had a blast.  In fact, I’ve been buying up tons of old Wii titles (most of mine were lost in a home robbery) at pennies-on-the-dollar prices at Gamestop.  I recently walked out with 11 top-notch titles for $52 (that’s out the door including tax).

ExciteTruck on the Wii U Gamepad
ExciteTruck on the Wii U Gamepad

Needless to say, playing Wii games on the Wii U game pad appeals to me in a BIG way and it solidifies my belief that what makes the Wii U the best “next gen” console out there has nothing to do with Nintendo first party titles, Miiverse integration with games or even the myriad of great internet apps (like Google Maps) available.

The best feature of the Wii U?  I actually get to play it.  When I want (anytime) and where I want (on the couch or easy chair).

Look, if you’re a single, kid-less, 20-something dude (possibly living at home and even more possibly living in your parent’s basement) complete with your own studio apartment and 60″ TV you sit 5 feet away from?

The Wii U doesn’t sound like the miracle worker that it is to me and millions of other people.

People that have a wife that watches Dancing With The Stars or Dowton Abby.  People that have kids that want to veg out to Spongebob after school.  Some people only have 42″ TVs that their couch is 12 feet away from.  Heck, some people are blind as bats and can only play video games in 2D with something 6-8″ from their face.

A game console hooked up to a TV in the living room immediately has a lock put on it because it is a shared resource.  Whether it is because other people may want it – or because by nature of your killing the enemy with extreme prejudice, your gaming time interrupts others.  Maybe you don’t want your kid seeing you picking up hookers in GTA V and slaughtering them in your hideout (yes, I’m aware that this game isn’t out for Wii U … yet).

Oh sure.  You could put a TV in another room for your console – hide it away in the den where you don’t want your 6-year old playing Game and Wario.  For a lot of people, a game room or bedroom or den ends up being where the console goes because of this.

Family men like me know that if you’re going to be vanished for hours at a time playing Diablo III or GTA V – your significant other and children might just feel neglected.  What happens if your wife goes to bed early and your PS3 is in the bedroom?  No Diablo III for you.

Your other option is to live in a handheld gaming world (which isn’t all bad; the Nintendo 3DS is a killer game machine).

No, the gaming consoles belong plugged into the living room TV along with all the restrictions that apply to being tethered to it.

At least until Wii U came along.

When my son wants to play Skylanders and we’re watching a movie – he can.  When I want to play COD Black Ops 2 but the wife is up late hogging the TV – I can.  Hey, I can even have the TV on with a favorite movie or TV show playing while I blast away on the game pad (usually Modern Family).  I actually know people that play video games on their TV while watching a movie on their tablet.  This is the same thing – just in reverse.

For me to play FPS games proper on a 42″ TV, I need to be closer than 12 feet.  Currently, my living room’s closest seat to the TV is 8 feet.  If you’re dealing with snipers or those that hide a lot on the map, you need more visibility than 8 feet away provides.  I played the original Black Ops on the Xbox 360 STANDING in front of the TV about 4 feet away.  You ever done a marathon frag-fest standing up?  It sucks.  I played that way for a year and only when my wife and kids had gone to bed.

Gaming is supposed to be fun – not something you have to plan in advance or set up on your calendar or go through some ritual.

The Wii U doesn’t require I move a chair in from the kitchen to play in front of the TV.  It doesn’t require that I have the bedroom free or have a second console somewhere else in the house when my wife wants to watch C.S.I.  I can be near my wife in the living room (love by proxy; try it), killing the enemy (be it goombas or hoards of zombies) with my 6 year old sitting next to me – not worried he is going to be exposed to content that is inappropriate.

Truth is, thanks to off-screen play I get a lot more play time …. because almost ANYTIME can be play time and that is really the definition of “the best game system available”:

The one you actually get to play.


About Shane Monroe

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

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