The Nintendo Wii U: Virtual Reality Gameplay Prototype?

The Nintendo Wii U does not appear, on the surface, to be leaving much of a legacy. With the code-name NX console slated for next year, the door is set to close on Nintendo’s eighth generation console. Its current claim to infamy: the Wii U (to date) is the worst-selling Nintendo home console, at 12.8 million units (the previous title owner was the Gamecube at 21.7 million units). Yet I believe history may show a silver-lining for the Wii U. In many ways, its unique, ambitious, and ultimately underutilized controller concept has prototyped the way that the industry may play in the immediate future. In a lot of cases, the Wii U controller screen was used like a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Many games did not utilize the gamepad – or used it simply for Nintendo’s ill-conceived “Off TV” feature, which essentially turned the gamepad screen into a substitute for a television. Even the games that took a more complex approach varied in their level of immersion. In many games, the gamepad screen was a constant mini map or inventory screen. A select few, however, took the idea and used it to create entirely new gameplay experiences. Ones that I have noticed are again starting to pop up, this time with the upcoming PlayStation VR.

The use of the gamepad for Off TV mode largely limited its other capabilities. After all, if a player used Off TV mode - how could they use the gamepad screen for anything else?

The use of the gamepad for Off TV mode largely limited its other capabilities. After all, if a player used Off TV mode – how could they use the gamepad screen for anything else?

Here is a side-by-side comparison of several Wii U games against upcoming PlayStation VR titles:

Tank! Tank! Tank! vs. Playroom VR Monster Escape

Tank! Tank! Tank! was a little-known launch title for the Wii U. In it, one player – using the gamepad screen – became a giant monster. She/he would terrorize a city while one-to-four other players – using normal controllers – played as tanks to bring them down. It was an interesting concept that used the gamepad screen in a very cool way.

The Playroom VR: Monster Escape appears to be a strikingly similar concept. This time, the player dawning the PlayStation VR headset takes the role of monster and one-to-four other players play as avatars running around the city, attempting to take them down.

Cat N Mouse vs. Mario Chase

This one isn’t quite as one-to-one, but I’ll argue that it uses a similar concept. Another upcoming title in Playroom VR has been dubbed Cat N Mouse. In this game, one-to-four players play as mice while the player with the headset assumes the role of a cat. The cat stalks the other players through VR – attempting to catch them in the act of stealing food.

In Mario Chase, one of the sub-games of Nintendo Land, the player with the gamepad assumes the role of Mario and must go hide in a maze. The other one-to-four players attempt to track Mario down in the maze.

Both games feature players using the same game board from two different angles. This is used to put the players in direct competition with one another while creating unique strengths and weaknesses for each side.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion vs. Ghost House

In Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, another sub-game for Nintendo Land, the player with the gamepad becomes a ghost and stalks the other players. Players looking at the TV cannot see the ghost – it is hidden exclusively on the gamepad screen.

For Ghost House on The Playroom VR, the situation is the exact opposite. The player with the headset can see the room and has the “ghost catching device” (definitely has nothing legally to do with Ghostbusters). That player, however, cannot see any actual ghosts and must rely on others sitting around them to relay the ghosts’ location.

Both games incorporate the idea of hidden images – where one screen can see something another can’t. Luigi’s Ghost Mansion simply uses this concept competitively vs. Ghost House‘s cooperative approach.

There are others I could compare – the Saloon game in Playroom VR looks reminiscent of one of the mini-games in Game and Wario. Yet I think the point has been made.

The Wii U deserves a mention in the evolution of gameplay. Nintendo pioneered a style of using multiple perspectives to achieve new ways of cooperative and competitive play. Unfortunately, the Wii U did not have enough of these games – and for the most part, the gamepad felt like a tacked-on gimmick.

Star Fox Zero's cockpit view on the gamepad seems like it would make much more sense in a VR headset.

Star Fox Zero‘s cockpit view on the gamepad seems like it would make much more sense in a VR headset.

Yet as VR takes off and more and more virtual experiences follow Playroom VR, it will be interesting to see how many other VR games mirror Wii U concepts. If rumors prove correct and Nintendo is soon to reenter the VR space, it will also be worth noting how many Wii U concepts are ported to virtual play. Perhaps Nintendo’s worst-selling console will enjoy a bit more prestige in the future than it does today.


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