The Wii U Game Challenge

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by Bob Reinhard

Let’s talk about Nintendo, shall we? Say what you will about their current state, one thing can be said for sure: they have a knack for presenting things that polarize the gamer community. Many people would see that as a sign of risk-taking, others as a form of alienation. Either way, we can apply that same concept to their upcoming console: the Wii U.

For those of you that simply don’t care about Nintendo or have been living in a cave, the Wii U is built around this thing:

Game Pad. iPad. No, I’m Not Supposed To Make That Connection…

Despite what most people think, I’ve found myself quite underwhelmed by the current state of the Wii U’s game library in regards to it’s usage of the Game Pad. With games like ZombiU at least ATTEMPTING to build a unique experience around the pad, it makes you wonder about the potential of this new direction and what it could bring to the gaming world. Now, in my opinion, most of the Wii U’s abilities as far as gameplay goes have been rather iffy at best. They’ve either felt like unnecessary fluff (see also: forced motion controls) or tacked-on gimmicks. Between the mini-game covered tech demo that is Nintendo Land and the awkward Batman: Arkham City additions, it feels like no one is really trying to show us why this thing is great for gamers. It feels more like an accessory than the center point of a system.

Seems Unnecessary To Me…

But I’m not one to deny my own interest in the device. When it was first announced, I found the concept quite interesting. And as such, I’ve decided to set out on a challenge: To come up with my OWN game ideas! That’s right, I want to dig deep down, into my heart as a gamer, and pull out a series of creative, innovative ways game developers could use the Wii U Game Pad to create unique, new experiences.

So, what’s the challenge? I want to come up with 10 bare-bones game ideas. Not fully fleshed out games, just simple concepts that could make for interesting one-of-a-kind games. I want to toy with traditional genres and games and find reason for EVERYONE to be excited about the Game Pad, and not just a core group of fans.

I’m trying to make these fairly unique ideas, though I’m sure some have been/could be utilized using the DS touchscreen as well. My focus was on bigger game ideas that might not hold up as well on handhelds. If there is some cross-over, it still applies to what the Wii U could be used for.

Note: These are very loose ideas. Some may not work, they’re simply off-the-cuff concepts. Think of this is a brain-storming session. These are mostly genre-based and not individual games. It’s more or less a widespread look at what the console could be used for in various different directions for many kinds of gamers. 

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1 ) Telekinetic Powers-Based Action Game

Many games have attempted to capture the concept of environmental manipulation. But what if we made our main protagonist able to use the concept of telekinesis? Being able to manipulate the environment and move things with their “mind”. Imagine playing a FPS or something of the like, and being able to move objects around for cover. Or moving cover that our enemies are taking. Simply lift the pad up to the screen, then press the object on-screen you want to move and move it.

This could obviously be used in many genres, not just an FPS. You could build a physics or perception based puzzler in the way of Portal 2. You could implement a platformer similar to the bare-bones concept in New Super Mario Bros. U or Rayman Origins (only in this case, the first player can do it). You could even use this in a Zelda-style adventure game.

2 ) Mech-Based Strategy Game

Imagine playing something like a mech-based game. It’s a popular sub-genre that could find a whole new home on the Wii U. You have a touch-screen that can act as a control panel. Select weapons. Monitor your condition, fuel, damage, etc. Hold the pad up to initiate a radar or enhanced vision of some kind. Perhaps use it to control power output. Let’s say you’re on the offensive, and want to push all your power into weapons, but then the dynamic of the battle shifts and you’re under assault, with a few quick movements of on-screen controls, you can adjust your power output to put more power into shields.

This can of course be taken in any direction. You could play a space ship fighting simulator. Imagine a Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica style space-shooter with way more freedom in how you command your ship. This makes it so the core buttons can all be used for the actual fighting and movement, and you still have advanced options for on-the-fly switch ups. You could load up maps, pin-point the locations of air strikes, view status reports, whatever, and you could do it all without pulling away from the action on-screen.

Let’s throw that last idea at one more genre. What about a racing game? Imagine being able to do stuff like that in a next-generation F-Zero? It adds a new layer of depth and strategy to the typical fast-paced racing game. You could have “equipment” of sorts that you can use to customize your vehicle with different advantages. Perhaps in a kart racer, you can have a new sensor that picks up on incoming attacks. Imagine having a better grasp on when a Blue Shell is going to hit you in Mario Kart? Maybe you could have a radar of sorts that shows you hidden paths on the track if you hold it up. The possibilities of more advanced vehicle control can add a lot of flavor and strategy, not to mention complexity, to some genres that lose their immersion when too much is going on on-screen.

3 ) Co-Op RTS

The Wii U is MADE for RTS games! A style of game that was once mostly reserved for the PC crowd could find a much-needed console home on the Wii U. Imagine something along the lines of Starcraft 2, with full Game Pad functionality. Talk about a leg-up on the competition!

But my approach is treading on a slightly less familiar ground: Co-Op RTS. Imagine having the option to team up with another player. One of you uses the controller to command the army on-screen using a typical controller, and the other can use the Game Pad as a form of support or backup. Perhaps the second person can act as a strategist while the first person acts as the commander. The Game Pad person can act as a scout, mapping out terrain and gathering intelligence on the enemies plans, and then convey this information to the other player who can utilize it in their assault.

RTS likes to utilize materials and building. So perhaps the Game Pad player could also monitor inventory and resource work. They could plan out stuff to be built, develop your base, and help maintain a status report on your current condition. Now you don’t have to worry about leaving your base behind to go on the assault, because you have a co-op partner who is playing home-base protection and helping to provide reports while you’re busy commanding the assault. It adds a new layer of strategy and could be used to enhance the RTS genre even more, while giving it a unique, new style of play.

4 ) Alchemy-Based RPG

Takuya Matsumoto, the designer behind Wii’s upcoming The Last Story, believes the Wii U would be a great home for the JRPG genre. And considering the success of the genre on the DS, I can’t help but agree with him.

A series of JRPGs you may not be familiar with is the Alchemy-related Atelier series. The concept of building items by combining them is one that could be puffed up and made into something way more exciting. Take the traditional turn-based JRPG style and add a new element to it. Instead of basic menu-searching for attacks, imagine having a series of ingredients (or spells) shown on the Game Pad. Instead of simply attacking, you have to combine elements on the Game Pad together and “mix” them based on what you need. Have an enemy that’s weak against fire? Create a fire spell using a palette-based inventory screen on the pad. This’ll make JRPG battles more engaging than just “select your strongest attack from the menu”.

Perhaps you could even have the environment get involved in this. Let’s say you can’t get at an enemy because they’re hiding behind a giant boulder. Simple, just create explosives using your inventory and blast the environmental blockade out of your way. Perhaps you’re having a hard time dealing with a large horde of enemies? Create an obstacle, dig a hole, knock over trees for barriers, create a moat. In this case, the battles would have to be slightly more SRPG than JRPG, but you get the general idea. You can use the pad to direct your attacks, plan out your party member’s strategies, cast buffs and debuffs, set traps, whatever. The possibilities are endless for the genre, and everyone knows it needs a good kick in the pants. 

5 ) Point-And-Click Adventures Return!

In retrospect, the Point and Click adventure genre is kind of silly. The bizarre logic that a lot of the most well known ones apply can be a bit jarring to some. But the genre is making a small return thanks to Telltale Games. And with the success of Zack & Wiki on the Wii, the Wii U seems to be the perfect place to return to this quirky puzzle-based genre. 

Imagine playing a game like Myst, with more hands-on puzzles. Moving switches, pressing buttons, uncovering secrets, using the Pad. Instead of simply clicking an object onto the thing you want to use it on, imagine using the screen to do it. Need to search a wall for a loose brick (+10 points if you get that reference)? Start tappin’ the Game Pad. The point and click genre may be a bit strange, but with the right attitude and approach, it could feel fresh and new again with the help of the Game Pad. I for one would love to play Myst with a little added help.

6 ) MMO’s Finally Fit On Consoles

This idea was one I had in my head the moment the console was announced: Finally, a way for the MMO to make a decent attempt at hitting the console market. One of the biggest issues with MMORPGs that have tried to come out on console is the lack of a keyboard. You usually have to go out and buy more equipment just to play the game correctly.

MMOs are complicated works. Usually requiring a ton of hot keys to help carry out advanced battles. And now you have the means to do so. Replacing a keyboard with a quick-use touch screen that can be customized and manipulated to suit your MMO hot key needs. Inventory and skill tree management, hot keys, queuing up strategies, even battle planning with your guild mates could be made easier with this touch screen. Imagine being able to look at enemy information, send battle plan drawings to your team, and even quickly transferring items or selecting targets way easier. MMO’s could finally be viable on a console!

Perhaps you’d like this applied to Nintendo’s own franchises? How about that Pokemon MMO people have wanted since… well… since Pokemon came out. A Pokemon game with better control over your pokemon than just selecting a few attacks off a command screen. The point is, you can now have your MMO complexity on a console with less issues. This, of course, means Nintendo has to embrace the internet a bit more, but it seems like they’re at least taking that step. 

7 ) “Partner” Games

I don’t know about you, but MOST gamers hate accompaniment missions in games are usually pretty painful. A good deal of that is the inability to control your partner, meaning you have to rely on the game’s AI system to get you through. In games like Ico or Majin & The Forsaken Kingdom, simple commands or strange AI could get you into a lot of trouble.

But now imagine you have a much more efficient way to command that second person without interrupting the flow of the main game. No more bringing up menus. You can use a map-based touch screen to move them out of harm’s way. Tap the screen to get them to fend off enemies. Tell them to hide behind something. You can finally make accompaniment gaming less painful, and perhaps even a bit of fun. Let’s say you need a distraction. Move your character out into the open and while they’re coming after you, switch down to the pad and move your other character to a switch to activate a trap. It becomes a lot less painful than attempting to control both characters with on-screen prompts and menus. Finally, the two-in-one character control could be viable as a gameplay mechanic!

8 ) Simulation Games With Less Hassle

Love it or hate it, The Sims is a time-sink that’s eaten up a lot of PC gamer’s lives. Of course, it’s transition to console hasn’t really been that interesting. But what if we could make a simulation game more fun and engaging using the second screen? 

Being able to lay things out using the touch screen. Monitor various things. Check inventory or character information. Imagine playing something like a Sim City with the ability to look at more than one set of information. Instead of having to move all over to see where there are problems, you can use the Game Pad to keep tabs on everything while the main game development still goes on on the main screen. This way, you have more control over the flow of things and the administrative nature as well. 

Perhaps that could even be applied to “God Games” like From Dust. It could make for a great return of the Act Raiser series! Harvest Moon? Animal Crossing?

9 ) “Partner” Games: Take Two

Ever played one of those games where you have an “invisible helper”. Someone in a control room or somewhere else off-screen that aids you on your quest? Someone in another room hitting buttons to open doors or look up information?

Why can’t you do BOTH? This can be applied to various genres of games. You use the main screen and controls to move around and play the game as normal, but when you come to a locked door or information is needed, you look down at the Game Pad and play the part of your other. Let’s say you come to a locked door? No problem, look down at the Game Pad and your helper takes over with hacking. Or perhaps they have to look around for a code.

Did you trigger a defense alarm and need it shut off? Have your partner take care of it. Need an area scanned for danger? You’ve got it taken care of. You could blend this with the co-op RTS idea too if you’d like and have a second player take over that role all together. You could even use the screen on the pad to control the other character completely. Move them around their own environment and solve their own puzzles. Two players going through the world at the same time, without the awkward switch-over. This also gives you the added fear of still being vulnerable on one screen. So perhaps a survival horror game or a war game. 

10 ) Interactive Story Gameplay

While not everyone is a fan of the story-over-gameplay approach of games like Heavy Rain, one can’t deny the niche and how it could find some more interesting play on the Wii U. Being able to use the touchscreen to interactive with a more cinematic game could take away the little prompts and things that floated around on screen in Heavy Rain. 

Dialogue options. Character stress levels. Even blending the on-screen external story with some kind of internal character thought system on the screen could add an interesting layer of depth to interactive story gameplay. Gone is the inside-your-head narration, and instead you can see how your characters are reacting or feeling on the Pad. Does your character think the person they’re talking to is full of shit? Look down at the pad to see that inside their head, the Trust level is dropping. This cuts out those unnecessary internal thoughts that sometimes play out in games like this. “I don’t trust this guy, I say inside my head”. 

Being able to really interact with your environment is something that motion controls promised but never fully realized. With the Game Pad, we could at least take that in some interesting directions for games like this.

So, that’s about it. I know they’re not all SUPER creative, but it’s just my personal take on some of the great things that could be toyed with in regards to the Wii U. So far, I’m not really sure the Wii U has reached this potential yet. It has the possibility of it, but game developers are going to have to try to really capture more than just moving things around or looking through a menu. Of course, I highly suggest not EVERY game tries to radically incorporate the pad in these ways, sometimes a simple inventory menu is enough. Like I said before, some of these ideas are probably similar to DS stuff but on a larger scale. Just brainstorming here.

Here’s to hoping third-party developers can pick up on this and try doing more than just bare-bones stuff.

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