Now that E3’s drawing near and the rumors and leaks have started pouring in, the fact that we really don’t know much about the Wii U is beginning to hit home. Nintendo’s sure to have saved some secrets and surprises for E3 aside from the console’s final appearance and software lineup, and while we don’t really have much of a clue what those things could be, some of the recently-unveiled information about the system’s new controller might point to a few possibilities.
In an effort to spice up our news coverage, I’ve decided to give the whole “nightly news summary” thing a try in a new feature which I’m tentatively titling “Daily Endgame.” Tonight’s topic: What are those weird square-shaped buttons on the newly designed Wii U controller? And is it possible that there’s more to the dual-screen pointing feature than the patent lets on at first glance?
If you take a good look at the Wii U controller, you’ll see that apart from the shift from Circle Pads to analog sticks and the movement of the + Start and - Select buttons, the layout is largely the same… apart from those additional two squares on the face of the unit. You’ll see one of them on the left, below the D-pad, and another just to the left of the Power button (click the image for a full-size version):
Now, it may just be a visual trick due to the angle of the photograph, but I couldn’t help but notice that the square on the left side doesn’t really look as much like a button as the other one next to the Power button. It looks more like an icon… but what’s it for exactly? Well, remember when we heard that the Wii U controller would make use of Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology earlier this year? Some have suggested that this square is a marker for objects that the controller can interact with via NFC. I think this makes sense - the area below the D-pad is the only real “free space” on the face of the controller aside from the screen, which would of course be prone to damage if it came into frequent contact with other items.
What about that other button, though? I don’t think it’s as much of a mystery as it might seem. Could it be the button we’ll press to toggle between displaying gameplay on the TV and on the Wii U touch controller? Previous demos of streaming gameplay either had players switch between screens by tapping touch screen icons (in the case of the Zelda HD Experience demo) or displayed the same information on both screens simultaneously (New Super Mario Bros. Mii), but obviously that won’t necessarily be viable in the hands of consumers. I know I don’t want to have icons cluttering the screen when I’m playing games on the controller, and having the system stream continuously even when I’m playing on the TV will be a huge battery drain. Having some kind of face button to switch between display modes seems the most reasonable option. I’m just surprised there’s no button icon (the “U button,” perhaps?).
These are of course just guesses - I have no idea what the truth of the matter is, and won’t know for sure until E3. But since it’s something that I’m sure is on a lot of people’s minds, I thought I’d give you all something to chew on.
One of the first things I thought when I saw that big black bar at the top of the Wii U controller was “what if that’s a sensor bar?” Judging by the Wii U Golf teaser, there has to be some way that the Wii U tablet can interact with the original Wii Remote, right? Turns out my guess was exactly right - there appears to be a sensor bar built into the Wii U controller. The patent is supposedly related to some kind of multiple screen setup, letting you interact between two different screens at the same time. That’s cool, but it got me thinking…
What if the Wii U controller could be used as an alternate screen for playing Wii games? Nintendo’s talked a lot about how the Wii U controller’s streaming capabilities mean that families no longer have to fight over the TV - what if that’s true for Wii games as well as original Wii U titles? If that’s the case, then Wii U will have something to offer players’ backlog of Wii titles right out the gate. Now, obviously I don’t expect anyone to willingly choose a smaller screen, but for those for whom TV sharing is an issue this will give them more freedom, even if that freedom is limited. For me, it may actually be an improvement over my current TV - I’m still using an outdated set from before the age of 480p - so if this turns out to be the case, I’ll be pretty stoked.
In the end, I’m sure Nintendo’s already thought through all these controller enhancements very well, and will have an avalanche of related information come E3… just two and a half more weeks to go! I’ll be bringing you my hands-on impressions from the show floor, just like last year, so stay tuned come June!