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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Failing to maintain the "experience" on a game console

Super Mario World

I've been noticing something about games on the Wii U. There are games which "get" the whole gamepad thing, and then there are those which don't. I get the impression that Nintendo is not "managing the experience" with their system very well, and it's going to confuse and annoy people.

The system launched with a new 2D Mario game. That's what got me to buy it. I can't stand those 3D games where you're basically this little person who can move in any direction and the camera swings around all over the place. So, when they finally get back out of this 3D world and bother to make a normal 2D "platformer", I jump at it.

New Super Mario Bros Wii U (what a mouthful) works just fine on the gamepad. You can pick it up, turn it on, play through the game, save your position, and turn it back off. You don't need to commit to using the actual TV, and this means you have a whole range of places where you can play it. Basically, any place which is halfway comfortable and is in range of the base unit will work. The TV can actually remain off (or in use by someone else) during all of this, and things will be just fine.

A couple of months after the system came out, they updated the emulation so you can now play some of the old games without going into "Wii mode" which is just a laggy pain. Now these old games exist right on the top menu and can be launched without going through yet another Inception-type scheme. The best part is that they also work right on the gamepad.

This means I was able to go back and play Super Mario World on the gamepad with just as much flexibility as NSMBU. One of them is from 2012 and one of them is from 1991, but they're both just as "portable" within my house. The emulated games even have the ability to take snapshots and restore arbitrarily and repeatedly, so I can make progress even when I'm really bad at something.

Is it effective? I think so. Just look at this proof.

Super Mario World: 96 stars, 3 profiles

More recently, they released an even older Mario platform game for this emulator, and so I downloaded a copy of that as well. It was just as enjoyable, but it was quite a bit shorter. That's OK, though. It worked out just fine.

Super Mario Bros. 2

If you stick to these games, there's a complete experience with the gamepad. Everything works just fine. Aside from a few early parts during initial system setup where you have to turn on the TV to twiddle some settings, you can leave the TV off the whole time. I like this.

You might get used to this. You might assume everything will just work the same way: pick up the gamepad, turn it on, start the game, and play. You'd be wrong, and there would be little to suggest that anything was amiss. Here's what happened to me.

Back in January, I wrote about downloading a free trial of some zombie game. It didn't have any sort of instructions or anything like that since it was just a download. It's the kind of thing where it just appears on your menu and you tap it to start. It did a whole bunch of dumb stuff and then I was dropped into some kind of room. Only, like I said at the time, nothing worked. There was nothing to suggest that the TV should be on. It occurred to me much later, and I was annoyed by it.

This has happened again. I downloaded some kind of Pinball game, and everything seemed to be fine, and then when it came time to start playing, all I got was an unresponsive set of buttons followed by a high-speed uncontrollable ball. This time, I knew what was coming and turned on the TV just to see what had happened: the game itself was running on the TV, and the gamepad was only showing a high-speed replay after you lost the ball. During actual gameplay, the gamepad was useless. What's the point of that?

Then, more recently, there was yet another demo which did this same thing. There was absolutely no indication that yes, you should switch on your TV. Until you did that, all you could do was flip between a bunch of characters while not accomplishing anything.

For a system which had a whole bunch of advertising about how you could do stuff on the gamepad while someone else in your family used the TV, they sure aren't delivering on that promise. Sure, it seems to work if you stick to actual Nintendo software, but once you go out from there, it all seems to fall down.

The only exception I've personally experienced so far is Little Inferno. It went just fine using nothing but the gamepad.

As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't work on the gamepad, it's not a viable game for me. I bet I'm not alone, either, and if they don't figure this out, they're going to miss the boat on a certain market segment.

SMB2: The End