The Wii that Wasn't


Staff member
Market analysts call the Wii a return to form after the relative flop of the GameCube. Design analysts call it a potential return to form after the relative rut of the previous fifteen years. Whatever the spin, when people look at Nintendo's recent misadventures, generally the GameCube sits right on top, doe-eyed and chirping. Its failure to do more than turn a profit has made its dissection an industry-wide pastime. Everything comes under the microscope, from its dainty size and handle, to its purpleness, to the storage capacity of its mini-DVDs. The controller, though, has perplexed all from the start.

The idea was simple enough: encourage tighter game development and make games more intuitive to play by establishing a button hierarchy. As with touch typing (Dvorak more than QWERTY), there is a home position, bringing priority to the most important actions. Less critical functions, meanwhile, are placed out of the way so as not to be accidentally triggered. In theory, this scheme would help to focus both design and play, preventing button sprawl and the ominousness of a new and convoluted control scheme for every game. In reality, it just freaked everyone out.

Granted, the execution was flawed: the Z button is placed ridiculously; the X and Y buttons are not distinct enough; and the D-pad is horrible. Other functions, like the "digital click" of the triggers, were random and sort of pointless, if interesting. What really bothered people, though, is that it was different enough to seem bizarre and non-standard without being different enough to seem truly novel.

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