OPINION: The Wii U Gamepad is the Best Controller Ever

Monday, February 4th, 2013

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Note: This article is the author’s personal opinion and may not reflect the opinion the website as a whole. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and we’d love to hear yours in the comments below.

As a little kid, my parents wouldn’t let me own a Nintendo Entertainment System. Maybe because they knew I would spend all day glued in front of the television set. Maybe it’s because they saw the prices and knew it would become an expensive hobby. Maybe they just wanted me to be a normal kid and play outside. Whatever the reason, thankfully my older cousins and kindergarten friends all had open access to the NES. Meaning that although I didn’t have one to come home to myself, I still had ample opportunity to get my grimy little five-year-old hands on that now iconic rectangular gamepad.

In the time between then and today, I’ve managed to own every handheld and home console released by Nintendo (aside from the Virtual Boy), both the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, and an Xbox 360. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time playing games on PC, from keyboard controls on DOS and Windows 3.1, to point-and-click adventures, and even a handful of flight-sims using a gigantic flight stick. I even have a dusty old Atari 2600 with some bulky joysticks that feature only a single button.

That means I’ve had my hands on a lot of different controllers. In the past, I always insisted that the DualShock 2 for PS2 was my favorite controller. It had the perfect button placement inherited from the Super Nintendo, silky twin analog sticks, comfortable hand grips, and smooth force-feedback (unlike the N64’s rumble pack… ouch). The GameCube came in at a close second place with the oversized A button and analog triggers. And then, the Wii U was announced.

It Starts

I was not in attendance when the Wii U was unveiled at E3 2011, but I had avidly followed the “Project Café” rumors popping up across the web and had seen fan-made art showcasing what looked like a Classic Controller Pro with a screen slapped in the middle. When actually shown off at E3, from where I sat in front of my computer, I was simultaneously overjoyed and completely dumbfounded. Overjoyed because it was a brand new Nintendo console. Dumbfounded because “Wii U”? Seriously? And that controller was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Well, almost.  It looked clunky, bulky, and it didn’t even have real analog sticks, just little circle-pad sliders. Those fortunate to be in attendance said it’s more comfortable than it looks, but without getting my hands on the actual controller, I couldn’t really believe them.


Fan art posted by IGN before the official Wii U unveiling.

Fortunately I was able to attend E3 2012, and that’s when my perception started to change. Previously constrained to what I had been reading on some of the bigger video game blogs, my original thoughts were that the Wii U Gamepad was attempting to compete with the tablet market. Or maybe handhelds.  What was the Gamepad trying to compete with?

What kind of controller is the Gamepad?

Major gaming blogs were reporting all types of rumors about what type of tech would be included in the Gamepad; the touch screen would not feature multi-touch, and it would include near-field communication (NFC –what connects Activision’s Skylanders to the “Power Circle” and payment key fobs you may swipe when buying gas). It would be wireless, and by E3 2012, the circle-pads had been replaced with real analog sticks.

The biggest piece of misinformation that was being spread, however, was the comparison of the Wii U Gamepad to tablets. Some secular journals and even a majority of gaming blogs were trying to shoehorn the “tablet controller” descriptor onto the Wii U Gamepad, writing articles about how a “tablet controller” would be doomed to failure in an ecosystem where everyone already owns a tablet and smartphone.

But here was the underlying problem: the Wii U Gamepad is not a tablet. It is not in competition with tablets. It is not seeking to replicate the success of tablets. In fact, once I got my hands on the actual controller at E3, it all started to make sense. The Wii U Gamepad is a regular video game controller – with a touch-screen in the middle. That’s it. In theory, I could play any game for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 using the Gamepad.

Wii U Gamepad


After E3 was over, I couldn’t be more excited to actually own a Wii U. Sure, I would have preferred a different console name (seriously? Wii U?), and yes, Nintendo should have done a better job of explaining what made the Wii U so unique. But all told, I personally couldn’t wait until Wii U launch.

What I really didn’t understand post-E3 was how the internet continued to blaze with comments about the so-called “tablet controller”. Some developers even went on the record to say that they couldn’t port their future multi-platform games to Wii U because it was such a radically different controller interface.

My question is this: Did any of these people actually get their hands on the Wii U Gamepad?

Why the Wii U Gamepad is Possibly the Best Video Game Controller of All Time. All Time.

Now you know why I’m writing this piece. It has been over three months since the Wii U launched. I’m having a blast playing games with it, while many others, some even long-time Nintendo fans, have already dismissed the Wii U as a gimmick.

I’m here to tell you that the Wii U is not only not a gimmick, but in many ways improves the standard controllers of the last-gen Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

First, the Wii U has nearly everything you’ve come to know and love about standard controllers:

  • Four well placed face buttons (A,B,X,Y)
  • Start (+) and Select (-) buttons
  • Four digital shoulder buttons (L, R, ZL, ZR)
  • Twin analog sticks that can be clicked down to function as auxiliary buttons
  • D-Pad (a real one, not like the mushy Xbox 360 ones)
  • Home button (instantly takes you to the eShop, internet, or Miiverse without leaving a game)
  • Force-feedback/rumble
  • Gyroscopic sensors (similar technology to Wii Motion Plus)
  • Accelerometer (not simple 6-axis, this is the same tech as the original Wii Remote)
  • Infrared sensor
  • Wireless (although battery life does leave something to be desired…)
  • Ergonomic design

On top of these standard features, the Gamepad also has:

  • The signature touch screen with stylus
  • Built-in speakers with volume control
  • Built-in microphone
  • 3.5mm headphone jack (meaning any headset, including those with a mic, will work – no more proprietary headsets)
  • Near-field communication (although we’ve yet to see any titles make use of it)
  • Front facing camera (used in some games and for the console’s free video chat service)
  • “Sensor Strip” (technically a Wii sensor bar built into the Gamepad – could potentially be used to play Wii games on the Gamepad off-screen in a future update)
  • Universal TV/device remote

Wii U Details

Now, the list of features above in itself may not hold much weight by just reading them, so allow me to try to explain… First, take everything you love about the Xbox 360 “S” controller or DualShock 2/3, stretch it out slightly, and add a screen and speakers, and THAT is the Wii U Gamepad. In addition, unlike the DualShock and S controllers, the Wii U Gamepad fits quite comfortably in my hands, for both one handed play using a stylus, or classic play with both hands. The Gamepad is slightly larger than last-gen controllers, but for someone with bigger hands such as myself, that is actually preferred. The shape of the Gamepad is nicely contoured so your fingers naturally slide into place with your index finger resting on the shoulder buttons.

The touchscreen on the Gamepad is crystal clear. And unlike my TV, which has a locked-in overscan that the Wii U can’t compensate for, the Gamepad displays the full extents of the screen, providing in essence a “bigger”, more vibrant picture than my 1080p TV (technically, the Gamepad has a 6.2 in display at 854 x 480 resolution with 158 ppi).

The built-in speakers provide a much better sound than the Wii or 3DS. Although that’s not saying much and there are always higher quality options, the speakers are more than adequate, and some games even make use of the built-in speakers to create a “surround” effect, even with a stereo set up.

Currently, most Wii U games only support wired headsets that plug directly into the Gamepad, and games with online multiplayer (such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Trine 2: Director’s Cut) support voice chat nicely using wired headsets. Another nice thing is that the headset jack is standard 3.5mm, meaning you won’t have to fork out extra cash for a proprietary headset if you already have one for your PC, smartphone, or MP3 player.

The Wii U Gamepad also functions as a universal TV remote, allowing you to change channels and input or turn the TV on or off without the need to dig around for a remote. This may not sound like much at first, but the first time you can’t find the TV remote but the Gamepad is sitting on the arm of the couch, you’ll be thankful that Nintendo included the feature. The TV remote feature even works when the Wii U is off, meaning it could effectively work as a substitute for a standard remote in the event that your dog eats some of the buttons (hasn’t happened to me yet).

Now for the big clincher – every multiplatform game that makes its way to the Wii U will always be better on Wii U, not because of gimmicks or special UI assigned to the touchscreen, but for just this one feature: Off-screen play. The ability to seamlessly switch my game from the main family TV to the Gamepad is fantastic. Now, I prefer to play on the big TV in the living room. But I’m not the only one in the house. My wife likes to watch shows and movies on Netflix, and she also enjoys playing the Zumba games and Wii Fit. In the past, if I was hogging the big TV with an intense single-player game, and my wife wanted to use the bigger TV, one of us ended up S.O.L… Now, we have a smaller TV in the bedroom, but it isn’t always practical to unplug the Wii U and move it every time I want to play my game in the other room. With off-screen play, I no longer need to turn off the game. Sometimes, I don’t even need to pause the game. I just switch from the TV to Gamepad play, and voila – I can keep playing Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and the wife gets to enjoy Jillian Michaels or Pretty Little Liars. I actually don’t even need to leave the couch. Now this – for someone with a family – is a godsend. Granted, not all games include off-screen play, and some (such as NintendoLand and ZombiU) require both screens, but the games that allow it are that much better for it. Next time a developer says they can’t create a multiplatform game for the Wii U because of the “unique interface”, I can confidently reply with “bullcrap” while pointing to Call of Duty BO2, Assasin’s Creed 3, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge, Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper and many other multiplatform games that have been released that include off-screen play as the only real touch-screen feature.

Now, in the midst of all this fawning over the Gamepad, don’t think it isn’t without its faults. First off, the battery life is atrocious. At best, I can only get 5-6 hours straight from a fully charged Gamepad until the red warning light starts flashing. Compare that with the Wii U Pro Controller with its 50-70 hour (some report over 120 hours between charges) charge lifespan, and you get the picture. This could easily be fixed with an extended battery. The Gamepad also lacks analog shoulder triggers, preferred by some for racing and first-person shooter games. It isn’t a huge omission, but it may be missed by some gamers. Again, for them, there is always the Wii U Pro Controller. But these are only minor quibbles in comparison to everything else the Gamepad has to offer.


Don’t like the Gamepad? Get the Pro Controller.


As a kid, I fell in love with the rounded contours of the Super NES controller. Later on the DualShock took that same design, added twin analog sticks, two more shoulder buttons, and comfortable hand grips. All these years I’ve been waiting for the next evolution of what I considered to be the perfect controller – and the Wii U Gamepad does just that.

If you haven’t had a chance to play a game with the Gamepad, seriously find a friend with a Wii U or try it at a demo kiosk. But be warned that real value in the Gamepad will really shine through when you are at home and realize you want to play splitscreen Call of Duty with your own screen or play Tekken on the toilet or let your wife and kids watch Netflix or play Wii while you sit next to them playing Assasin’s Creed.

Now if only developers would move out of archaic development practices and move on to modern console development, we’d see more third-party games on Wii U.

Move over waggling and flailing in front of the TV. Forget oversensitive tablets that absolutely suck for gaming. The Wii U Gamepad is just about everything you want in a controller, and is the best video game controller of all time.

What is your favorite controller? Have you had a chance to play games on the Wii U Gamepad? What are your thoughts? Have you accidentally dismissed it as a tablet wannabe because of reading other gaming blogs? Let us know in the comments below!

Haven’t bought a Wii U yet? As Reggie would say, “What’s wrong with you?!” Buy one from Amazon today!

  • Seth

    I am in love with every aspect of this article. The Wii U Gamepad is the best.

  • MusubiKazesaru

    I agree the gamepad is incredible, though you forgot that the analog sticks are clickable

    • Forth bullet point: “Twin analog sticks that can be clicked down to function as auxiliary buttons”

    • pppppp

      it was added later because i didn’t see it earler either

  • WiicardoBA

    I agree this WiiU gamepad is awesome, when you play Batman ACAE it becomes the most incredible thing ever, but the weight and the Battery life are the stains in the “Best ever” title. I think the best controller ever is and will be the Nintendo GameCube Controller hands down.

    • AKT4

      I think the controller feels quite light too. Not heavy for me at all.

    • Donovan Tull

      I haven’t really noticed it being heavy. Shame about the battery life, but I think it can just push ahead from behind the Gamecube, even though that controller is very good.

  • I have to agree but I think the Pro Controller is my number 1 now.It’s just unbelievably comfortable,light and the battery goes forever.

  • Yes, the GamePad is awesome. It’s such a handy controller, for all the reasons you listed above. It’s a great controller, except for the piddly battery life, which isn’t a huge problem.

  • John Ellis

    My problem with it is the size, something I’m going to be holding for an hour or more I want to fit comfortable in my hand. Also I have small hands and reaching the buttons isn’t easy. Thank god for the Pro Controller:)

    • thomas

      I’ve got preetty small hands too and it works well for me. but I still prefer the pro controller because the battery sucks in the gamepad

    • AKT4

      I’ve got quite small hands too but it’s really comfortable for me still. Power outlet is nearby where I’m sitting anyway, so battery time isn’t a problem either luckily.

      Though I must say that Pro Controller is really comfortable too, and as a minor thing of note, it also looks extremely nice comparing to PS3’s and 360’s controllers.

  • Does the Wii U Pro Controller work with Wii VC and Classic Controller setups?

    • Riki

      Wii U Pro Controller doesn’t currently work backwards with the Wii. However, most Wii U games will let you use your old Wii Classic Controller Pro, including the Wii U Virtual Console.

    • RichieBerry

      It does not currently work with Wii Virtual Console games, but it does work for all Wii U Virtual Console games released through the Wii U eShop. This is currently just one game, Balloon Fight. Also, you can apparently fully customize the control lay out, so you could map A to Z and B to ZL and play the game one handed. I mean, not that you’d really want to, but…

    • Gittin Clipped


      Look up Wii U Pro controller to USB adapter.

  • Vinicius

    The WiiU ame pade is the controller that I wanted since the SNES. There is so much that can be done with a screen on the controller. It’s the perfect controller for RPGs, Strategy(bothe RTS and Turn based), dungeon crawlers and survival horror.

    • Lightthrower

      Ok but for that we’d need “RPGs, Strategy(bothe RTS and Turn based), dungeon crawlers and survival horror” games. The gamepad can only be fun if there’s games to play.

    • TrueWiiMaster

      All those are on the way, with Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem probably covering turn-based strategy and Pikmin covering RTS (though a somewhat light RTS). For RPG’s we have “X” from Monolith Soft, and various confirmed eshop games like Two Brothers.

    • Lightthrower

      However we don’t have them now, nor will we have them in 2013, they might get cancelled, etc, so how can you say it’s the perfect controller for RPGs and SRPGs if there’s none to play?

    • AHA! Actually, nintendo has made the announcement for just those types of games a while back, and we won’t need operation rainfall to bring them over to the Americas! Stay optimistic 😀

    • pppppp

      pikmin 3 and two brothers are definitely coming this year (pikmin in summer, two brothers is coming late spring/early summer)

      this year we also have wonderful 101 (summer 2013), yarn yoshi, monster hunter tri ultimate, rayman legends, lego city undercover, wind waker hd, and indie stuff like toki tori 2

      smt x fe, zelda wii u, bayonetta 2, and x will probably come next year.

    • TrueWiiMaster

      Well, we know Pikmin’s coming in the next few months, barring further delays. We don’t know exactly when the other games are coming, but I’d wager it’s sooner than expected. Though Xenoblade released just last year in the States, it’s been over two years since it came out in Japan. By the end of this year, Monolith Soft will have had 3 years to work on “X”. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it came out in Japan even as early as this year, though I’d lean towards 2014. Localization, however, is another story. Hopefully it won’t be as long as last time. SMT X FE is pretty much completely unknown, but Iwata did say that the games they’ve been talking about aren’t too far in the future, and, though FE: Awakening just came out, the new game will likely involve development by Atlus, meaning it could have been in development while Awakening was being worked on by the Intelligent Systems, kind of like how development of Pokemon Conquest was handled mostly by Tecmo Koei while Game Freak made Pokemon Black 2/White 2.

    • Gittin Clipped

      I’ll care when they put Seiken Densetsu 3 (aka Secret of Mana 2) onto the VC…

  • Kamille

    having a screen on your controller is pointless just like the second screen on the DS was equally pointless and time will prove me right. Having a second screen pulls you out of the immersion because you have to remember that you’re holding a controller with a screen and that sooner or later there might be stuff that will require your attention there.

    But you shouldn’t even think about the fact that you’re holding a controller, the controller should feel like an extension from you.

    • Will.i.am

      i’m guessing you never actually spent more than five minutes with the Wii U…

    • TrueWiiMaster

      You might think that, but it really doesn’t work that way. Playing on just the remote, or using the remote’s screen in conjunction with the TV both work amazingly well. It’s much less disruptive than having to pause the game every few minutes to check the map, objectives, or items too.

    • Donovan Tull

      I’ve played on it. It works.

  • If you really need more battery life, you could set the screen’s brightness to minimum.

    • TrueWiiMaster

      It won’t be long before the Nyko battery comes out too, tripling the standard battery’s life.

  • fjurbanski

    Agreed. From a purely functional standpoint, there is not controller better than the Gamepad. And I also find it perfectly comfortable.

    Also, I find it funny (and sad) how easy it is for people to completely misconstrue what this controller is just because a few media or pr goofballs referred to it as the “tablet” controller. A simple controversial buzzword like “tablet” and people can’t even see the regular controller with regular buttons right in front of their face.

  • doublez

    the gamepad is an amazing controller. I’m using mine right now to type this while watching hockey on the big screen.

  • plsburydoughboy

    I still read complaints that the triggers are digital and not analog, and now I’m convinced this is a legitimate concern. The GamePad has so many things going for it, but I can’t help wondering if they’re redesign it to add analog in when they finally sell it separately, as 3rd parties force their hand for their racers and FPS games. Good article (:

    • pppppp

      doubt it. Wii U Pro controller has analog triggers, hardcaore gamers already have one at elast for multiplayer games.

      Wii Claassic Controller Pro don’t have analog either and those work woith most wii u games too.

      thing is, even though analog triggers are used to fire in FPS game, you don’t really use the analog function only thing it really affects is racing games

      games like Forza really need the analog but fps and otehr kinds a games don;t

      if a racing game or something like Metorid Prime is on WIi U Virutal Console then it might be a problem but even then there is always Pro Controller.

      I think everyone with a wii u has a pro controller becaue they wanna play multiplayer games anyways

    • I have a Wii U but lack Pro controllers. Don’t really have a need for them right now. So no, not *everyone* has one. I do see what you’re saying though.

    • plsburydoughboy

      Do you have one pppppp? Everywhere else I’ve read or watched says neither the Gamepad or the Pro has it, so what you’re saying completely contradicts them. And it’s affected them now playing games like COD

    • fjurbanski

      Digital triggers do not hamper first person shooters. They’re only a negative for racing sims.

    • Gittin Clipped

      Wii U Pro controller zL and zR / L and R are digital buttons, thank God… I hated the spongies and clickers on the original flat Classic. Too bad they don’t remake the old flatty with proper digital buttons, eh?


    • TrueWiiMaster

      How do analog triggers help fps games? From what I’ve heard, they’re only really useful in racing sims.

    • plsburydoughboy

      Thanks for asking TrueWiiMaster. I couldn’t phrase it better than Engadget’s review on this controller, so I’m quoting verbatim:

      “both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 2 controllers are, if anything, built for the first-person shooter. Dual analog triggers on the rear offer a meager, albeit meaningful, level of precision; pressure sensitivity helps to circumvent the lacking hyper-precision of a mouse/keyboard, offering one trigger to pull up a gun’s sights, while the other is used to fire rounds. The importance of those analog triggers cannot be understated, in everything from the annual Call of Duty game to one-off entries like Bulletstorm — pressure-sensitive triggers really matter when it comes to this genre.”


      I know people are enjoying Call of Duty on the Wii U, especially since the community is far more civil there, but let’s be honest. This is a sticking point for people who play FPS games, and I know people who are turned off by this missing feature and don’t want a Wii U because of it.

    • TrueWiiMaster

      Maybe I’m missing something, but I really didn’t get an answer from that, especially since it made a comparison to clicking a mouse, which is much more comparable to digital triggers. How exactly does pressure sensitivity matter in a shooter? I mean, you shoot or don’t. There’s no middle option.

    • Guest

      FPS games on PS3 and 360 may use those “triggers”, but they don’t take advantage of the pressure sensitivity. Like most games of the Xbox 360/PS3 era, the analog triggers are used as buttons. They may as well be digital buttons.

      I’ve play more than my fair share of both CoD and Battlefield, and I can say with certainty that there is no “meager, albeit meaningful, level of precision” offered by analog triggers in FPS games.

      The *only* FPS games I’ve ever played that used analog triggers to any useful effect was Metroid Prime 1 & 2.

      On Xbox 360, the only games I’ve used analog triggers for were the Forza series, Burnout, and Project Gotham.

      On PS3, I only used analog shoulder buttons with Gran Turismo.

      You’re placing value on something when it isn’t even made use of.

      NOW, if someone tries to bring racing games to the Wii U, *then* let’s talk. But not FPS games.

      Also, for the record, you can’t get any more precision playing FPSs than with a Wii Remote Plus, which you can also have two players on dual screens – One can use their choice of controller and play on the TV and player 2 can play with either the gamepad or they can also use the gamepad as just a screen and use a Wii Remote Plus or Pro Controller while using the gamepad as a screen. Now *that* is what makes local multiplayer FPS games awesome. No more screen hacking.

    • Gittin Clipped

      Digital buttons with a simple rubber tactile switch are better anyway… I wish Ninty had figured that out -before- they made the original Classic Controller with those gawd awful “mouse clicker” zL and zR and spongie L and R sliders.


  • I am excited to try the game pad out.. when I finally get a Wii U 🙂

  • TrueWiiMaster

    I have to agree here. I was a little skeptical about the Gamepad before I got it, but now that I have it, and have used it for several dozen hours, it might be my favorite controller ever. It’s extremely comfortable and surprisingly light. It has tons of features, including perhaps the best D-pad ever made, and the touch screen is just awesome. It didn’t take long for me to wish I could play every game I own on/with the Gamepad, including Playstation games. It won’t happen, obviously, but man would that be awesome.

    • AKT4

      ” It didn’t take long for me to wish I could play every game I own on/with the Gamepad, including Playstation games”

      I know exactly what you mean! I kinda don’t want to play my old VC games in Wii mode at the moment, because I can’t use Gamepad there. I’m waiting patiently they’ll come to Wii U’s VC.

    • Gittin Clipped

      I was a bit disappointed to discover that the Dpad on the Wii U Pro controller isn’t nearly as fluid-feeling as the one on the Gamepad. (easy to do rotations, feels more like old SNES Dpad) But then again, it’s their main device, so of course they were gunna throw all their chips into it.

    • Churze

      Am I the only one who finds it difficult to go in the intermediate directions?

  • I agree with this article, except that I think the non-analogue shoulder buttons are a bit of a bigger deal than you made out. I’m a big racing game fan and the shoulder buttons just feel weird… But then again, I rarely play a game which NEEDS me to hold the trigger half way, usually it’s either GO or STOP, SHOOT or DON’T… So in that sense I guess the shoulder buttons do make sense.

    The battery life is pretty bad, but the controller plugs into a wall socket rather than the console. This is very convenient for me, because my sofa is right next to an outlet, so I can use the gamepad for as long as I want, because I can just run it off the mains power while I play. This is something I could never do with previous consoles’ wireless controllers.

    Also the pro controller is pretty comfortable. It’s like a 360 controller without that awful bump on the back.

    • I just went and checked, and the pro controller DOESN’T have analogue triggers, as was indicated in this article.


    Does anyone understand the concept of quality these days? Take your gamepad, shake it, and listen for that rattle, what is it? Cheap buttons. The ‘trigger’ is just another button, and don’t get me started on the battery life. It’s just bad, not the worst but not the best, it’s ok. But the best? Nope, not at all.

  • Donovan Tull

    Completely agree, I played it at a friends house, it instantly put all other controllers out of the running for most comfortable, particularly Playstation, which I haven’t liked since PS2, when they stopped releasing any games I cared about and started ruining their controllers even more (that PS4 controller is a train wreck. Way too small, ugly touchpad…. thing….. and completely unfriendly design for hands.)

    But that gamepad is the most comfortable controller ever….