Thursday, August 14, 2014

The PlayStation Vita's Hardware Functionality is Being Put to Better Use Than the Wii U's

Being neck deep in the dog days of summer, I've been playing a lot of both the Wii U and the PlayStation Vita lately, getting into titles I've not previously had the time to check out. While both platforms feature an immensely underrated and under-appreciated library of games respectively, I noticed something when I switched between playing the Wii U and then to the Vita. I found that the games I was playing on the Vita were using the system in much more interesting ways than the games I was playing on the Wii U with the GamePad controller, the main attraction of the system. How could this be? Had Sony finally beaten Nintendo at its own game of positive innovation?

With the Wii U, Nintendo struggles to deliver its message about what the Wii U actually is and what makes it worth purchasing. A large factor here is obviously the incredibly idiotic choice for a name (something that MANY people said would be confusing to consumers long before the system launched), but it's also the games as well. The top titles for the Wii U don't actually use the GamePad in any kind of meaningful way. 

Let's take the recent Mario Kart 8, for example. There isn't an option in multiplayer to have one player use the TV screen and one player use the GamePad. Instead, the screen is used for a map of each track, one that is a pain to look down at and try to stay on the track at the same time. Then there's something rather symbolic of Nintendo's complete bewilderment with taking a big franchise and making it better via the GamePad. Yes, I'm talking about the horn function. You, too, can use your Wii U GamePad screen to tap, tap, tap-a-roo to make your kart, bike, or ATV driver honk his or her horn. This is the best Nintendo could do for a major release on the Wii U. Essentially saying that the GamePad is completely worthless except if you like having to pay more for the Wii U hardware because of the controller's inclusion.

On the other hand, you have the PlayStation Vita. While it's true that a lot of games do feature the various hardware functionality of the system and do it poorly (looking at you, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation), the major titles on the system generally use the touch screen, rear touch pad, gyroscope, and accelerometer in great ways.
Screenshot of Gravity Rush (Vita)
LittleBigPlanet on the Vita and ModNation Racers: Road Trip both make creating levels and courses much easier for the player. The creator controls are intuitive and allow for a greater amount of finesse when crafting buildings, drawing shapes, tracing the path of a track in ModNation Racers, and various other helpful uses.

Perhaps the most fantastic use of the PlayStation Vita hardware's functionality is Media Molecule's Tearaway, recently announced for a remastered version on the PlayStation 4 at this year's Gamescom. You are constantly interacting with the world, using your fingers to poke through paper and push objects around, you create items out of construction paper, and you take photos with the Vita's inward and outward facing cameras to insert yourself and other things into the world. There's a no better proof of concept piece of software for the Vita than Tearaway.

The difference here between the Wii U and the Vita is that the PlayStation Vita is not Sony or the PlayStation brand's bread and butter, their major source of revenue. The Wii U is Nintendo's big home console, and when the developers and game designers cannot even think of good ways to make use of the Wii U GamePad itself, then what was the point of having it in the first place? It simply comes off this time around as Nintendo feeling like it needed to do something different for the sake of being different instead of what it usually does, design a controller based on the needs of the games it develops. 

For every experimental game that Nintendo releases that uses the GamePad to great lengths and in great ways like Nintendo Land, Wii Party U, Game and Wario, and LEGO City Undercover (the latter was published by Nintendo), there's a whole slew of major releases like Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros. U, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Pikmin 3, among many others that use the GamePad in such pithy ways that it comes off as an afterthought.

And that's what the Wii U GamePad right now feels like for the majority of games, an afterthought. I won't lie and say I don't love using the controller for Miiverse, off TV play, and browsing the Internet, but the main selling point of Nintendo's home consoles has always been games. If the GamePad doesn't really make the biggest titles on the Wii U more exciting and interesting than just using a normal controller, then what is the point?

As it stands now, we have a rare moment in time where Sony is doing more innovative things with their hardware than Nintendo currently is, and that's with a platform that many are anxious to call dead. Remember the days when Sony would be chastised for "copying Nintendo"? Maybe it'd be good this time around for Nintendo to try to take a page or two out of Sony's playbook. Chapter one of that playbook would be not making a controller or input device that you have no idea what you want to do with it and bank the future of your company on it, losing millions, more like billions, in the process.

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