Gamecube Controllers on WiiU

Gamecube Controllers on WiiU

The best designed controller returns

Nintendo announced via Twitter that the next Smash Bros. game will be playable using the good old Gamecube controller. For me this was one of the best announcements for the game so far and is every bit as exciting as a character reveal. I was a little worried about using the WiiU's pro controller. It is a fine controller but the Gamecube's controller is best.

Is the Gamecube's controller that good?

Yes it is. A lot of people love the Gamecube's controller and this has gotten some other people to wonder why. There are some obvious aspects of the controller that can be improved. Fore example, the second analogue stick doesn't have a lot of grip and the head is small and the thumb slips off it and there are only 3 shoulder buttons (compared to four on the Playstation and Xbox) but it's what the controller does right that has endeared it to people so.

First I would like to retort to the first of the two criticisms I mentioned above. Yes the C-stick is a nub and is difficult to use in shooters but let's be honest, how many shooters were there on the Gamecube worth playing? Sure there were a few but mostly shooters stayed on the other consoles. The C-stick allows for something else though. In the middle of intense gameplay it's very easy to move your thumb down and flick the C-stick. This is used to perfection in games like Resident Evil 4 where you can move the camera position quickly to get a bearing of your surroundings, Killer7 to reload, Pikmin to roll out of the way and Smash Bros. Melee to smash. The C-stick probably also influenced the design of Metroid Prime forcing Retro Studios to think of alternative controller schemes for their title (which worked extremely well and is a phenomenal game). The C-stick suited the games on the the Gamecube which may have hindered it's success in the broader market but looking back, removed from the context of competing along side the mighty PS2, it meant that some truly remarkable games were made.

As for only having three shoulder buttons. Yeah I think they should have added in a fourth. As a side note I feel that some games don't use the shoulder buttons very well. DMC by Ninja Theory was a pretty slick brawler but having the angel/devil attacks assigned to the 'bumper' shoulder buttons meant that in the thick of battle it was difficult to remember which button did what. Especially when you were trying to pull of attacks and evade at the same time. Compare this to Bayonetta, a stunning game that easily tops it's genre. The shoulder buttons are used to taunt (a purely optional move) and to lock on which is only really used in one-on-one boss encounters. The difference between these two is that Bayonetta doesn't ask you to keep tapping the bumpers to perform quick critical moves. It's used more methodically. I tend to find that you can tell the truly great developers from the good ones by their use of the bumper buttons.

I'm not saying that this justifies the Gamecube's missing bumper button but I believe that Nintendo probably realised this would be an issue and opted to not have a forth button. In doing so they gave us an asymmetrical shoulder button layout which was instantly recognisable in the heat of a game. Smart design choice but a limiting one (so maybe not so smart).

Asymmetry. That's the genius of Gamecube controller

The asymmetry in the shoulder buttons meant that the user would be easily find the Z-button instead of faffing around trying to remember where it was and which one it was. This idea was extended to the button layout. On the Playstation and Xbox controllers the buttons are arranged in a pleasing diamond shape. The Gamecube, in comparison, is rather strange and sort of lop sided. What were they thinking? They were probably thinking that with the Playstation and Xbox your thumb would naturally rest in between all the buttons and that each button had the same feel and identity on the controller's face.

With the Gamecube your thumb naturally rests on the big A button, which is just as well because it's size gives that button authority over the other buttons. It's your first choice of button when picking up the controller. Due to it's larger size it is very easy to hold down the button and slide your thumb over to the surrounding buttons and press them easily. The X and Y buttons can be easily pressed with the tip of your thumb (Y) or with your thumb's joint (X) completely removing the need to pull your thumb back to press any of the face buttons. The design of the button face layout is nothing short of superb and hasn't been bettered since. And as mentioned previously the C-stick is easily available at all time for a quick tap and a nudge.

There are also the more obvious features. The shape of the controller fits right in your hand, the shoulder buttons curve to allow for your fingers, the buttons are different sizes, shaped and colour so you have three points of reference when trying to locate them and a D-pad that isn't complete trash. For me though the asymmetry really stands the Gamecube's controller out as the best around. It was a bold move on Nintendo's behalf to forgo the pleasing nature of symmetry. A move so bold that in the 3DS, WiiU tablet and WiiU pro controllers they haven't tried it again. Instead opting for the traditional controller layout as defined by it's rivals. This conformity was undoubtedly so that consumers and developers could more easily switch platform without having to modify/get familiar with a new controller.

This more pragmatic approach is undoubtedly a better business move but I prefer a bolder, stranger Nintendo. At least I can have a bit of the old Nintendo when playing the Smash Bros. game

Imran Khan - 30/05/2014

PS. This announcement is also nice because I didn't think Nintendo would bother making the game compatible with a controller from two generations ago. Nintendo can be aloof at times which means we can get these really cool ideas from them but at the cost of some useful and sensible features. Luckily it seems that Masahiro Sakurai really is as savvy as he seems. This game is in good hands.