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Why the best thing about Wii U is not the thing you've been getting excited about for the last year

The same goes for Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, in which four players race to co-operatively collect 50 sweets from unlockable dispensers while avoiding two hunters controlled independently by the two analogue sticks of the GamePad. The combination of the stressful situation (the more sweets you carry, the slower you move), the inherent giddy confusion of split-screen gaming, and the on-the-fly tactical choices demanded (“SHIT THEY’RE COMING! DROP YOUR SWEETS AND RUN! FOUNTAIN! FOUNTAIN! ONE IN THE TREES!”) makes for a killer sense of fun that the separation of online gaming would not and could not provide.

Above: However you feel about Animal Crossing, you've never been able to describe it as 'frantically exciting'. You can now

As for Rayman, it grows entirely different bonuses from the moist fertility of couch-co-op. With one player controlling Rayman on the TV and the other tweaking, adapting and editing the level around him on the GamePad by opening up new routes, moving platforms around and even holding enemies down so that he can beat the crap out of them, it’s not only a beautifully bonded co-op experience, but also creates a wonderful sense of a shared whole focused through two completely different lenses. By giving the players such completely different roles, it creates a much stronger sense of purpose for each through the knowledge that they’re accomplishing things for the other that their partner just could not do for themselves.

Similarly, the two different experiences are tailored to provide little flashes of exclusive fun only available to one or the other. During a hectic chase sequence for example, every jump and punch is choreographed stunningly to the soundtrack, creating an almost platform Guitar Hero vibe for the person playing Rayman. But then as soon as you switch over to the GamePad, you’ll discover a whole load of completely different percussion parts synched to helpful taps of the screen.

Above: Watching this video is really annoying because it makes me want to play Rayman Legends again and I do not currently have access to Rayman Legends

In fact that literal instance of two players playing different parts to make up a whole tune is a rather good metaphor for the Wii U’s asymmetric multiplayer stance in general. Whether it’s five players creating both sides of a mini-Metal-Gear scene or one player operating the world that the other romps through, there’s as much a sense of collaboration as there is competition. With players interacting with and affecting completely different aspects of the game world in completely different ways, there’s a really human sense of the players actually making the game as well as playing it. And with so much of that heaped upon and amplified by the proximity of one’s gaming compatriots, frankly stalking through Gotham under the stoic, lonely mantle of the bat suddenly feels like a complete waste of the Wii U.

Maybe the lack of local multiplayer this generation caused us to forget what a vital part of gaming’s DNA it used to be. Maybe that’s why we’ve been concentrating on the shiny AAA big-hitters all year. Maybe the Wii’s proliferated stink of insipid party-game waggle-horror has given the concept a dirty name. But whatever the reason, we’ve been getting excited about the wrong thing with Wii U for over a year. And the thing that really is most worth getting excited over at the moment really is far more fun than you could imagine without trying it.

Let’s just hope that the potentially problematic reliance on multiple different controllers (exacerbated by Nintendo’s seeming assumption that the whole world already has a stack of Wiimotes and nunchucks ready to go) doesn’t stop too many players from experiencing what the Wii U can really do. Because at it's best, it's brilliant.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.