It’s the dawn of a new era. Nintendo’s brand new games machine, the Wii U, launches today, marking the start of a whole new generation of turbo-charged consoles.
As with the Wii, the Japanese gaming giant is determined to strike out in its own - and to do that, it’s made the GamePad the star of the show, not the little box under your telly. Unlike the usual thumbpad and button combos, it boasts a huge 6.2-inch display slapped right in the middle of it that acts as a second screen for your games, and much more besides. You can even you use it to play New Super Mario Bros U in bed with the TV turned off.
But the unexplored potential for the GamePad is still vast. Here are ten ways Nintendo could unlock its powers further:
Play your console in a different country
The GamePad’s clever Wi-Fi tech lets you play games without even turning the TV on - you can play up to 100 feet away right on its screen instead. But the potential to play home console games on the go is there too: Broadcom, which worked on the tech with Nintendo, recently told Polygon that it could let you stream your feed to the GamePad through any Wi-Fi hotspot in the world with an update. Finishing playing Assassin’s Creed 3 at the airport sounds like the perfect way to pass the time when your plane is delayed - and it certainly beats taking the whole Wii U with you on the train as one dedicated Japanese gamer has done.
Control your Sky box
Nintendo’s new TVii service for the Wii U is coming to Europe next year. In the US, the app will let you control your TV from the GamePad, and even schedule recordings on your DVR. Given that it works with TiVo boxes stateside, some form of integration with Virgin Media’s own TiVo boxes seems like a no-brainer, but here’s hoping Nintendo can work something out with all the millions of Sky users out there. Using something with a screen certainly beats pressing up and down repeatedly on a clunky old remote.
Boil the kettle from the sofa
Why stop at TV control though? With a huge screen and its Wi-Fi connection, the Nintendo Wii U’s GamePad would make the perfect controller for just about everything else in your home, from your stereo to your central heating.
Add your phone as a controller
Nintendo’s quietly slipped an NFC (near field communication) chip into every Wii U GamePad. It doesn’t do much yet, but the company says “this technology will allow for a variety of new possibilities for games and activities in the future.” We can think of one: connecting your phone. NFC lets you simply tap to exchange information, so you could tap your phone to tag in as another player, and use your mobile as a controller, or even pick up where you’d got up to on Netflix. Of course, Nintendo’s famously shunned mobile phones until now, so perhaps this one’s wishful thinking.
Remote control console accessories
Nintendo’s been responsible for all sorts of insane game accessories over the years, from balance boards to a fingertrap that monitors your pulse. But the GamePad’s Wi-Fi, joysticks and screen could be used to create a whole category of new gaming add-ons: remote control cars and flying contraptions. If you can control a drone with Kinect, it’d certainly be possible with a GamePad, and you could even see a live aerial feed on the screen.
Second screen soap opera
Nintendo’s TVii service doesn’t just let you see what’s on - it also shows second screen info about what you’re watching, even interactive polls about the match you’ve got on. There’s lot’s more you could do with this tech though: it could show you everything from replays of insane goals to the various plot lines and betrayals running up to the episode of Eastenders you’re watching. Given how cutting edge the team behind BBC iPlayer like to stay, we hope they’re reading this.
The ultimate cheat sheet
Nintendo’s new social network, Miiverse, isn’t just a place to update your status about what you had for tea: you can use it mid-game to ask others for help. But why stop there? Nintendo could easily let you watch videos of others beating the level you’re stuck on, or even let them take control of your game for that boss that’s just too hard. A bit like a gaming ghost car that tries to help you.
The world’s most immersive action games
Like Sony’s six-axis PlayStation controller, the GamePad has an accelerometer and a gyroscope in - but it also has a magnetometer, a sort of digital compass. And that means it knows exactly where in space it is, and it keeps a lock on that, so you could tilt it to look around in shooters or racing games instead of using a second thumbpad, just like you so instinctively find yourself doing anyway. “I think games such as first-person shooters, driving games, or some type of flying game would be good candidates for this type of technology,” says Becky Oh, CEO of PNI Sensor Corporation, which provided the tech.
The return of the arcade
Nintendo’s gaming roots are in arcade machines: the 1981 Donkey Kong was the first game ever to feature future mascot Mario. And lately, we’ve been seeing the rapid rise of free-to-play games, where developers make the money on bonus feature, items and replay options. What if NIntendo were to bring an arcade mode into the Wii U? It’s the logical extension of its Virtual Console retro game download shop: play any game you want for a few pennies a go. You could even pay by tapping your GamePad with an NFC credit card - it might be bad for your bank balance, but it’d be fun while it lasts.
Look closely and you’ll see the GamePad’s got a front facing camera built in. It’s there for video chat, but we can think of a much more entertaining use: film your frustration when you’re killed in a Call of Duty online firefight.The big esports are the ones that attract online spectators - perhaps with this sort of humiliation replay the next one will happen on the Wii U.