The Wii U has a controller problem (it’s just not the one you’re thinking of)

The Wii U has a controller problem (it’s just not the one you’re thinking of)

The Wii U Gamepad: Love it or hate it, at least you’re sure when you’re supposed to be using it.

As both Chris and I own a Wii U, we would like to throw our hat in the ring as technically the single most-Wii U focussed multi-platform gaming site on the web. So, allegiances pledged, let’s clear one thing up about the oft-overlooked console once and for all: the Wii U GamePad – that my PR connections inform me should always be capitalised as shown for maximum brand synergy – is in itself, far from the console’s weakest link. True, it’s rarely used as much more than a map and inventory screen and the battery life is pitiful, but it’s awfully comfortable to use and crucially, whenever I have any other controller in my hands, I now miss the little dashes of precision and functionality that the touch-screen brings, no matter how inconsequential they can sound.

No, if the Wii U has a controller problem, it’s all the other controllers that you’ll have to own if you want to get the most out of the damned machine. Some of them only work with some games. Some of them are poorly fitted for games they’re nonetheless compatible with. The entire mess has its own infographic on the Wii U subreddit, but good luck figuring it all out if you’re part of the game buying mainstream that the console is failing to attract.

Presented in the rough order that you’ll consider buying them, here are your deeply unsatisfying options in all their incredibly similarly named glory:

Wii Remote Plus

Wii Remote Fake Pez Dispensers
Some knockoffs are so good, they don’t even dispense real Pez.

Pros: Huge library of compatible titles. The only controller that ever did anything interesting with motion control.

Cons: Secondhand market a minefield of fakes and old non-motion plus remotes. Incompatible with Virtual Console and WiiWare titles that require a large number of inputs. Suboptimal experience for more traditional games. Expensive.

You probably already have several dust-covered examples kicking around since the last generation: a compulsory purchase anyway, because it’s required to be able to use the backwards compatibility and most Wii U games are compatible in some way.

Trouble is, not all Wii Remotes were born equal. In the Wii’s dying days, the MotionPlus add-on (later built into the “Wii Remote Plus” that currently retails) was introduced. Some Wii U games specifically require the enhanced motion tracking abilities of this model – including the Wii Sports HD remake, Wii Sports Club, and launch title Nintendo Land. Of course, what these titles both have in common is that they’re focussed on multiplayer – so basically, you need at least two “Plus” controllers if you need one at all. Which you do.

Oh, and your Wii Remote isn’t enough for most games anyway – you’ll need a nunchuck attachment for most decent less-waggle focussed titles. Inexplicably, two extra buttons and a miniature joystick costs you £15 on top of the £30-£40 you’ve already dropped on (just one) of the main unit. Think you can find something cheaper? Good luck negotiating over a half-decade of rampant counterfeiting. Besides, you really want the Princess Peach themed one anyway.

And after all that, you’ve got a controller that while compatible with most of the Wii U catalogue is always just a little frustratingly off in most titles. Even in a game as simple as Mario Kart 8, being the player with the wiimote is still the gaming equivalent of being sorted into Hufflepuff. At least you get three different ways to feel slightly unhappy using it: twist side to side for imprecise motion controls, turn on its side for a traditional d-pad experience with sub-NES ergonomics or feel the airy weirdness of holding two parts of controller a metre apart for no real reason.

Wii U Pro Controller

Fake Wii U Pro Controller
Nice try, China.

Pros: Comfortable to use, compatible with wide range of Wii U titles, reported 80 hour battery life.

Cons: Not compatible with Wii mode. Lack of two to four player games that actually make it a compulsory purchase. Triggers are digital. Expensive. Got it cheap? Congratulations on your fake.

Oh but hey, real gamers don’t want any of that motion control stuff anyway right, what you want is close control parity with the Wii U GamePad (should that be Wii U GamePad™?). Two thumbsticks, a d-pad and 10 buttons, as god himself intended.

The Wii U Pro Controller is as good as a solution as you’re going to get. The first complaint you’re going to get from your guests is about the configuration of the sticks – as is the case with the GamePad itself, both sticks are on the upper face of the controller. I can sympathise to an extent – I used to struggle to switch between PS3 and 360 games because of their stick differences – but it’s something you get used to.

A more serious issue that the Pro Controller shares with the GamePad is that it is entirely incompatible with the Wii U’s Wii mode. This is particularly an issue when factoring in Virtual Console and WiiWare titles that are exclusively available through the Wii’s store. If you want to play any N64 or some Mega Drive titles, or a number of SNES titles, you’re going to have to look for yet another solution: the former platforms and several titles from the latter aren’t available on Wii U, and they require more buttons than a Wii Remote can furnish you with.

In fact, as much as people criticise the Wii U GamePad for lacking any games that properly utilise its features, it’s the Pro Controller that looks like the accessory designed for a bunch of games that never came. Because Nintendo dances to a different tune and the third parties collectively decided to sit this one out, there just aren’t that many games on the system that require a second two-stick controller.

Gamecube Adapter and Controller

Gamecube Wavebird
You have a woman’s controller milord! I’ll wager this controller never turned items off and fought fox-on-fox in final destination!

Pros: Wired models relatively inexpensive and easy to come by. Analog triggers. Wired for low latency. Adored by hardcore Smash community.

Cons: Currently incompatible with everything, bar Smash. Not even close to being a solution to your clutter issues. You’re going to need to invest in some wipes, unless you game wearing gloves or something.

The Wii U Pro Controller’s redundancy is highlighted when you consider that the biggest two-stick game on the horizon is bringing yet another controller into the mix. Or rather, it’s reviving yet another old controller. Hardcore Super Smash Bros players swear by the Gamecube controller (though the community is apparently happy enough with the Pro Controller), and since the Wii U doesn’t have Gamecube controller ports (because, I don’t know, perhaps Nintendo thought they may have enough controller options already), we’re getting a Gamecube controller adaptor and even a Smash Bros. themed controller.

So there are certainly reasons why this is a supremely smart move when it comes to servicing this particular niche, but it doesn’t help the rest of us find a decent controller setup. At the time of writing, it has been confirmed that the adapter will only be compatible with Smash – there was a general assumption that Nintendo would make it usable in other games, though as the GC’s controller is a couple of buttons short of a current hardware generation, it’s not entirely clear why.

Besides, the adapter setup involves up to four wired controllers leading into a little box wired into the Wii U – perfect for the latency concious 1% but irrelevant for the rest of us worried that this will be the most cluttered option of a clusterf*** of cluttered options. There is the option of tracking down a bunch of second hand Wavebird controllers – roughly cost equivalent to buying a freshly manufactured Pro Controller that doesn’t have twelve years of someone else’s hand-flakes in every seam.

All of which leaves you wondering: why wasn’t the Wii U Pro Controller just a wireless Gamecube controller with a couple of extra buttons?

Wii Classic Controller Pro (and derivatives)

PDP Fightpads
And no love for Luigi, either.

Pros: Compatible with most Wii U and Wii games. Relatively inexpensive.

Cons: Attached via umbilical to vestigial Wii remote.

But wait, that’s exactly what’s on the market right now! A Wii U Pro Controller with a Gamecube layout and a bunch of extra buttons! Oh wait, it’s not a Wii U Pro Controller, it’s a Wii Classic Controller Pro? And it’s made by a third party? And it looks as cheap as you’d expect based on that?

The fact that PDP’s Wired Fightpad is based on the Wii Classic Controller Pro template is a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, this restores compatibility with all those Wii titles the Wii U Pro Controller doesn’t work with. On the other, it must be constantly wired into the bottom of your Wii Remote, making it look exactly like the feeble idea wheeling around a motion-enabled IV drip that it ultimately is.

The original first party Wii Classic Controller Pro suffers the same affliction, cancelling out the appeal of its Playstation-style two stick configuration. A handful of Wii U games aren’t compatible with this controller though. Oh, and because Nintendo refuse to do anything right first time, there’s the original Wii Classic Controller on which the Pro built on. You don’t want that.


Even allowing for the fact that key games – Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 especially – support almost all of the above controllers making rustling up four controllers pleasantly easy, it’s difficult to see the current situation as anything but a mess. The Wii U is a system that stresses compactness – to the extent that the console itself lacks a hard disk drive – yet you’re going to have to devote considerable space to storing its crazy array of peripherals.

As any Wii U owner will tell you, the GamePad isn’t the problem. But it is a symptom of it: perhaps consumers are misunderstanding the function of the GamePad not because of its inherent shortcomings, but because Nintendo are failing to say anything decisive about how their console is controlled.

Image credits

Wii Remote Pez dispenser photo by Irina.

Gamecube Wavebird by Bryan Ochalla.

PDP Fightpad display by Nintendolife.

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