The Wii U controller is, in some ways, more of a traditional controller than the Wii Remote. Its button layout is similar to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 controllers, and Nintendo’s own GameCube controller. The biggest difference from other contemporary controllers, besides the giant touch screen, is that the Wii U controller replaces dual analog sticks with dual circle pads, and analog triggers with regular buttons.
If you want to feel what Nintendo’s Wii U controller is using instead of analog sticks (like the stick found on the Wii Nunchuk), you don’t have to wait for the Wii U to hit stores. Just pick up any old 3DS right now and check out the circle pad on the upper left side. This slider functions on a basic level as an analog input — the further you push it in a direction, the stronger the effect is.
The thing is, analog sticks work much better than circle pads. There’s less friction and they are more sensitive to slight tilting movements that are so essential for tracking and popping tiny heads in the distance. Most people have been using analog sticks since the Nintendo 64, and so far the Wii Remote’s pointer functionality is the only thing that’s been an acceptable replacement for a stick on consoles (PC gamers have the all-powerful mouse).
This lack of analog sticks on the Wii U controller is especially unusual since Nintendo popularized the analog stick themselves, deeming it the only way to control Mario in 3D space. The purpose of the circle pad on the 3DS is, ostensibly, to save space. It’s unclear why the sticks fell out of style on the Wii U controller, since there’s plenty of space for sticks — the thing is massive.
The rear triggers on the Wii U controller are simplified buttons, unlike the sensitive analog triggers you would use to gradually accelerate in any modern driving game on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Again, the 3DS shares similarly lacks analog triggers if you want to check it out. This seems like less of a big deal, but the loss of the standard analog controls altogether may dissuade gamers from playing multiplatform games on the Wii U. It’s hard to imagine the various advantages of the controller outweighing basic loss of functionality that even the GameCube controller had a decade ago.
The Wii U controller is still a prototype, and if Nintendo is truly serious about wooing the biggest third party developers, you can count on those porting existing games like Aliens Colonial Marines to make a fuss about the lack of analog controls. But that might not be enough — so we’ll lay on the pressure too — and you should let us, and Nintendo, know about your concerns in the comments below.