In case you haven’t noticed, this current game generation seems to be big on requiring video game peripherals that alter how you would normally interface with your game console. Now, this did start last generation with the Wii, but that’s arguably more of a non-standard take on the traditional controller with added motion functionality. A fine line, but I’m willing to toe it, and wouldn’t argue back if you disagreed with me.
First up was the WiiU. Yes, it is current generation, so stop rolling your eyes. As we all know, the key selling point of the WiiU was the Gamepad, a controller with a decent sized touch screen included. This was going to change how we played and looked at games. I’m not sure how, but that was the claim. Along with allowing for additional information to be displayed while you play in-game, the Gamepad could be used for off TV play, essentially turning the WiiU into a portable device of sorts. It is 100% required for the WiiU, according to Nintendo.
Next up, let’s hear it for the Xbox One! Microsoft loved the Kinect so much for the Xbox 360, that it became an integral part of the Xbox One. Now, full disclosure, I have a Kinect for my 360 and really enjoy it. It’s not the perfect peripheral, but I never expected it to be either. The Kinect for the One is a more advanced model though. It allows for the motion and waving actions to be read, takes pics and videos, takes voice commands, etc… It’s fairly advanced…and is 100% required for the Xbox One, according to Microsoft.
Finally, the PS4. Sony has integrated their handheld system, the Vita, into the PS4 console, meaning that it works in much the same way as the WiiU gamepad. There is off TV play for it (download play, essentially) as well as other features. This is still in its infancy so full use probably hasn’t been seen yet. What’s important to remember is that it’s 100% required for the PS4, according to Sony.
No…wait. My mistake. It’s 100% NOT required for the PS4, according to Sony. On a totally unrelated note, let’s check in on which system has sold the most as of the end of February.
NPD February: PS4 still top of US retail chart
Okay, so I’m not going to suggest that the PS4 is ruling the roost solely because it doesn’t come packaged with a peripheral that changes how you control the games on the system. I don’t believe that at all. I also have to point out that the PS Vita is an entirely separate system that has to be purchased whereas the Gamepad and Kinect are part of your purchase of the console. Still, while both of those statements are true, I do believe that it has had an impact on sales. Of the three current generation consoles, the PS4 is the only one that hasn’t wedged new control schemes into their games in an effort to justify a packaged peripheral.
If only it was a more traditional controller
See, I think that’s one of the key issues here. With the WiiU and Xbox One, both Nintendo and Microsoft are trying to sell more than just a console, they’re also selling a new, more advanced way of playing. Therefore, when they release games for their systems, or work with third parties, they’re going to want to have at least some focus on that aspect. The problem is, even if both work fine and are generally good ideas (theoretically!), you can’t just wedge new interfaces into every game. For every Pikmin game where a new control scheme seems like a stroke of genius, there is a Batman: Arkham City where the controls seem to detract from the game rather than add (speaking of the WiiU version).
Even as a diehard Nintendo fan, I will admit that game controls don’t always need an overhaul. The gamepad is at its best in a game like Darksiders 2 (inventory) or Lego City Undercover (map & video calls) where it’s supplemental to the game. It doesn’t force you to change your play style, it just gives you additional information and saves you some time in pause menus, similar to the use of the screen in the Castlevania DS games (map display = simple, yet brilliant). The same is true of Kinect use, though I don’t believe it to be as intrusive…so far.
Both Nintendo and Microsoft have stated that their systems will not be sold without their respective control methods, but not everyone is sold that this is the case.
“Don isn’t there anymore. You have a new boss over the Xbox division, who has no skin in the Kinect game,” Pachter said.
“Sure they’re gonna unbundle. Not in 2014. They will not change the SKU that dramatically in the first full year. It’s a 2015 event.
That would be Michael Pachter, video game analysis and frequent target of fanboys everywhere. He doesn’t address the WiiU, but I’ve seen similar chatter suggesting that Nintendo would do well to ditch the gamepad. The reasoning here goes beyond intrusions on gameplay however, and is the second key point about these peripherals. See, neither the Kinect or Gamepad are included for free. Each is an expensive peripheral that drives up the price of the system. The WiiU is already fairly cheap, comparatively, but would go even cheaper should the Gamepad be jettisoned. For the Xbox One, dropping the Kinect at some point may allow Microsoft to price match Sony’s PS4, which is currently ahead in the console race by about two million units. As I’ve written earlier, after four months of being on the market, two million units is a sizable number to be behind by.
Microsoft, hearing that Sony is ahead in the console race
Now, none of this is meant to disparage either the Gamepad or Kinect. I happen to like both, but can also see where it may help both Nintendo and Microsoft if they found a way to not require one for each system. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may be an indicator that Nintendo is moving in that direction. When playing on TV, the gamepad goes dark. The only use for it is for off TV play. This is a second party Nintendo title not using the Gamepad in any way. I can’t help but feel that that could be a bit of a hint about Nintendo’s plans for the WiiU Gamepad in the future. For Microsoft, as stated above, it would put them in a more competitive position with the PS4 with a reduced price. Both the Xbox One and WiiU find themselves behind the PS4 currently, and while I don’t believe that dropping the non-traditional inputs is the answer to catching Sony (especially for the WiiU…ouch), I have to admit that, despite enjoying both inputs, it would probably help.
In further defense of the Kinect, it did give us this.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.