Pac-Man Vs. – Wii U’s Unexpected Origin

“Funtime happy land? Or versatility and potential in a design where they’ve integrated basically everything built up to and learned from gaming up to this point seamlessly into one device, paving the way for pretty much anything? But really. Funtime happy land.”

Brother is excited about Wii U. I am more cautious.

The main problem that I foresee is this. The gimmick selling point of the Wii U is its controller. Building on the success of the original Wii Remote, they went and shoved a touchscreen in there. Like the Wii before it, it’s the unique controller, packing prolific technology into an Applesque user-friendly device, that makes the Wii U stand out from its competitors. However! Although the Wii U will, of course, support multiplayer, the controller will only be sold with the console. Yes, it’s an expensive device in its own right and the name Wii U implies a greater focus on single-player experiences, but I foresee a future in which prospective buyers ask their local games shop for extra controllers and, when told that they have to buy a whole other console, believe that they’re being ripped off and refuse to buy one.

But my predictions aren’t as dire as some other commentators, making scaremongering claims that Nintendo is dying and that the Wii U will be its final gasp. What nonsense. Yes, Nintendo is going through a rough patch at the moment (along with other Japanese companies due to the current value of the yen), but it’s been through worse – the never-released-in-the-UK Virtual Boy is remembered as a disaster, and the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube consoles were overshadowed by Sony’s PlayStations. They’ve seen it all before and they’ve always come through. For better or for worse, Nintendo is as proud company and it’s not going to listen to the media to decide what it does next. One article, “Never Count Nintendo Out” by Kotaku’s Chris Pruett, says that Nintendo succeeds because they’re willing to take risks. They don’t always pay off in the short term, but occasionally, as with the Wii and DS Lite, they strike gold. They don’t follow trends; they make trends.

But there’s one particular line in that article that caught my attention. “The key difference between Nintendo and Sony or Microsoft is that they build their hardware around their games, rather than the other way around.” See, when the Wii U was announced, I was reminded of a specific game that, today, has almost been forgotten…

This is Pac-Man Vs., a multiplayer remaining of the original Pac-Man game. It works like this: There are four players. Three of the players each control one of the ghosts and one player controls Pac-Man himself. As in the original game, Pac-Man has to eat all of the dots in the maze while avoiding the ghosts. This game, however, is played using the Gamecube’s Game Boy Advance connectivity functionality; while the ghosts use standard Gamecube controllers, they are only given a small window on the TV screen to find their way around. On the other hand, Pac-Man can see the whole maze on the GBA screen. The ghosts cannot be defeated (without a power pellet), but with the handicap of not knowing where Pac-Man actually is, it becomes a game of hide-and-seek. It’s designed as a party game; when a ghost catches Pac-Man, that player gets to switch controllers and have a go. I, personally, never got a chance to play it – it was only available with a couple of obscure Namco games in the UK – but if you can get four players in a room together, it sounds like great fun.

Nintendo seemed very proud of this game when they announced it, pointing out that the idea came from none other than legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. But, aside from a DS re-release, it never gained the popularity they were hoping for. The GC-GBA connectivity was used in a few additional games (I had great fun annoying Brother with the Tingle Tuner in The Wind Waker), but it still required one to own a Gamecube, Game Boy Advance AND a connection cable. The Wii and DS shared some wireless connectivity, but, again, few games bothered.

So it strikes me, if we accept that Nintendo designs their machines around their games, that the Wii U is a console designed primarily to play Pac-Man Vs.. Think about it. One touchscreen controller per console with others relegated to Wii Remotes? Sounds like it’d be perfect! With the amount of Wii Remotes already sold, expense will not be a barrier to entry. So why hasn’t Pac-Man Vs. been announced for the Wii U yet?

Actually, it was one of the very first games we saw being played on Wii U. It just wasn’t called Pac-Man Vs..

Chase Mii. Same game, different branding.

And Nintendo’s been working like this for years. Just look at the Nintendo 64. They wanted to give fine control over Mario’s movement, so they put an analogue stick on every controller. They wanted a controllable camera angle, so they added the C buttons, which would later evolve into a second analogue stick. They wanted to give greater immersion and feedback, so they made a force-feedback “Rumble Pak”, later built-into the Gamecube controller and Wii Remote. Nintendo pioneered all of these features primarily because these were the gaming experiences that they wanted to share. And, sure enough, its competitors followed suit – Sony’s DualShock controller, released some time after the PlayStation’s debut, added all of these features more than a year after the release of the Nintendo 64.

Nintendo is constantly seeking out new ideas, new designs and new experiences. They may sound crazy at first, but you can be sure that they’re here to stay. Even if, sometimes, it takes a couple of attempts to get them just right. ㋼

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