Of all the questions surrounding Nintendo's successor to the Wii--dubbed the Wii U--there's one drawing more attention than others: How will the games change to properly harness what the Wii U has to offer? This is an especially important question in relation to third-party developers and their games because, historically, third-party developers are less likely to embrace hardware that falls outside the standard development environment for a proper console. More specifically, if it's going to cost a company more money to develop a feature for the Wii U that it can properly replicate on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, then the game in question is less likely to get that treatment.
For Nintendo, this scenario doesn't apply. As the platform holder, Nintendo has always been in a position to harness its hardware in ways that fall outside conventional thinking. In some ways, its games function as a little nudge, showing third-party developers the directions they can take with their games. We've seen this happen before with games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, as well as with more recent games like Pilotwings, Super Mario 64, Animal Crossing, and Pikmin.
In fact, the news of Pikmin appearing on the Nintendo Wii U got us thinking about how the experience of playing Pikmin, and other Nintendo games, will change when they make the leap to the next generation. The GameSpot editorial staff put its brightest (and semi-delirious) editors together to think of obvious and perhaps some not-so-obvious ways that Nintendo's most beloved properties can utilize the new hardware and its controller.
Predictable: Nintendo's first racing game for the Super Nintendo put forth a dazzling display of Mode 7 sprite scaling effects that created pseudo 3D tracks and worlds in which to race around. For its Wii U incarnation, one of the first things that came to mind was a track editor--easily manipulated with the Wii U controller's touch screen. Of course, there are some other obvious uses. The controller's gyroscope and accelerometer also make it an effective steering wheel and the controller can display a map of the track.
Out There: Picture laying the Wii tablet controller flat. Now, imagine having a cockpit control panel displayed on the touch screen, complete with an interactive throttle lever and turbo button. Actually moving your craft around the track still requires the Wii Nunchuk's (because the system is backwards compatible with all Wii hardware) analog stick.
Super Mario Bros.
Predictable: When Mario goes into a warp pipe, he appears on the controller screen where he moves around in a 2D space. The game switches back up to the TV screen when he goes back up the warp pipe. This would probably make more sense in a game like Super Mario Bros. Mii than any of the 3D Mario games like Galaxy, but we still like the idea. An even simpler idea would be to use the screen as a special magnifying glass that can detect boos in the haunted mansion portions of the game.
Out There: Imagine playing a side-scrolling Mario platformer where Nintendo's mascot has to make his way across gaps too large to jump across. By holding up the Wii U controller to the screen, you can bridge individual gaps with a warp pipe, allowing Mario to move safely on his way to the other side of the gap.
Predictable: Like F-Zero, steering your kart using the controller's gyroscope and accelerometer seems like an easy implementation because it has the track display on the lower screen. But for some slightly less obvious uses, how about holding the controller up to the screen to aim projectiles or to block those fired at you from competing players (not unlike blocking the arrows in the Shield Pose demo at the show)?
Out There: Let's say Mario Kart has pit stops, and you pull in during a race to switch out your tires. What if you could hold the controller up to the screen (or put it down on a table) and use your finger to unscrew the nuts on the tire? Then you take the tire off the axle by picking up the controller and setting it down before moving to the next tire. This might be a bit much for the driver to handle during a race and because it's not clear if the Wii U will support multiple tablet controllers, maybe one player would become the designated mechanic.
The Legend of Zelda
Predictable: We already have some idea of how a Zelda game would function on the Wii U, thanks to the tech demo of a reimagined Twilight Princess sequence on display at E3 2011. A map and inventory items are fairly obvious choices, but we're interested in whether there's anything beyond being able to switch the main action from the TV to your controller. Additionally, we wouldn't be surprised if spyglass functionality were incorporated through the controller as well.
Out There: One of the best aspects of A Link to the Past was how it presented the idea of alternate dimensions. What if the Zelda Wii U game took the same concept but integrated it in a way so that the screen on the controller was a constant window into the other dimension, allowing you to see how that same location looks (or how it's affected by your actions) in real time.
Predictable: The worst (or best, depending on how you view it) thing Nintendo could do with a Wii U Sports game is just do the same things it did with the original Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, but…
Out There: Thankfully, the Wii U trailer shown at E3 2011 already illustrated some great uses for the screen in a Wii Sports scenario. Being able to look down and see the golf ball at your feet was particularly neat, as was the idea of using the controller as a virtual mitt for baseball. We don't have anything to add except maybe a game of horseshoes where you flick the Wii Remote at the tablet on the ground?
Predictable: There's so much little stuff you can do with an Animal Crossing game on the Wii U that it's almost daunting to consider. Being able to actually write letters, design clothing patterns with the stylus; and unwrap presents received from other townspeople offer limitless possibilities when it comes to things that would be easy to integrate.
Out There: There really isn't anything that would be too out there for a game like Animal Crossing. The game has continually been used as a demonstration for innovative ways to use hardware, starting with the GameCube version and its connectivity features with the GBA.
Predictable: Given Metroid Prime's mechanics, scanning with the tablet screen seems like a no-brainer idea. The same goes for the map and inventory screen, as well as tilting the screen to control Samus while she's in morph ball mode.
Out There: When we started thinking of out-there ideas for Metroid, we had to look toward one of the lesser-known details of the Metroid Prime series. Whenever Samus changed the firing mode on her arm cannon, her hand and fingers changed inside the cannon to compensate for the weapon's transformation. Spreading your fingers out in specific shapes on the touch screen might be an incredibly annoying feature, but it's still kind of out there.
Predictable: Pikmin took the core attributes of a real-time strategy game and turned it into something much more intimate. But the Wii U could give you a chance to have more precise control. Imagine drawing attack patterns on the touch screen. A group of blue Pikmin could draw an enemy toward water while your burly purples come up from behind to take the beast unaware. Here's another idea: Use the tablet to fling Pikmin at enemies. Or what about controlling multiple sets of Pikmin at once with a bird's-eye view of the entire map?
Out There: Pikmin are cute (don't try to deny it!), but they're kind of lazy. A little time in the gym would give them brawn to go with their beauty. Put them through training routines on the touch screen to make them stronger when you go into battle. In the first two Pikmin games, they grow a flower on their heads if they stay planted long enough. But this would give you a more hands-on approach to leveling up.
Super Smash Bros.
Predictable: Super Smash Bros. isn't really known for pushing hardware in any particularly innovative way, but there are some opportunities to do some cool things with the Wii U. Imagine if the player holding the Wii U controller took on the role of the Master Hand, poking characters or dropping specific items in the battle.
Out There: This one is too much of a challenge. Let us know what you think would work in the comments below!