Wii U Pro Controller hands-on and wrangling impressions

We found ourselves stood at the Rayman Legends booth at this year’s Eurogamer Expo, faced with both a GamePad and Wii U Pro Controller. With a friend having taken up the GamePad in hand, we proceeded to go hands-on with Nintendo’s more ‘traditional’ controller offering, where it received a good wrangling.

We’d say Nintendo’s Pro Controller – traditional Pad style aside – offers a lower barrier to entry for Wii U owners to pick up a second/third/fourth/fifth set of GamePad buttons for local multiplayer. This makes perfect sense for releases such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, where extra players have no need for a GamePad screen but would require the same buttons the GamePad provides.

So, how does the WII U’s Pro Controller fare under Nintendo Nation’s scrutiny and post-analysis? You’ll have to settle with human analysis for now as we couldn’t smuggle Doctor Robert Robot into the hall. Eurogamer operate a non-mechanoid policy apparently.

The first thing we did was twist the pad to test the build quality – what? – and within seconds any previous fears were immediately swept under the Eurogamer Expo carpet. Pad held close to our ears we gripped both prongs and gave the pad and twist – no chassis creaking could be heard at all. Nintendo’s latest traditional controller may feel light, but it’s solidly built.

We found our thumbs naturally rested on the A button rather than the B button – surprisingly handy when considering the diamond configuration’s differences.

Face button placement is comfortable enough (even if there’s no big A Button), though Nintendo’s decision to place them beneath the right analogue stick does mean you’ll need to pivot your thumbs a little to the left. Its prongs aren’t as long as a Dreamcast controller, so you can’t really move your hands further up or down the controller to keep those thumbs in the same place.

Primary triggers ZL/ZR have been placed in a vertical orientation. The omission of analogue triggers is a shame, though we’d guess one upside of having digital ones is their instantaneous response, enabling quicker shooting in an FPS, for example.

How do these buttons, triggers and D-Pad feel? We found them to be a halfway between the clicky, tactile feel to those on Nintendo’s handhelds and, say, the Wii’s Classic Controller Pro. Enough to provide directional feedback on the thumb using a D-Pad without it seeming intrusive.

What’s more important are those newly designed, clickable analogue sticks, smooth to operate and showing little resistance between each notch. While Wii’s analogue sticks weren’t too much of a leap forward over GameCube’s, with Wii U Nintendo bring forth the biggest change since the N64 era.

And it arrives as an omission. Nintendo have dropped their patented octagonal guide rings we’ve learned to love over the years, since that three pronged N64 controller.

Those octagonal guide rings were a lifesaver for games which required both 360 directions and straight directional precision, such as Super Monkey Ball. Snapping the analogue stick on one of the eight directions in the guide ring let us roll our Monkey in a straight line with minimal fuss. Furthermore, they gave the analogue sticks more precision for D-Pad functionality – we almost always used the analogue stick to navigate menus in N64, GameCube and Wii games.

We were hoping the Pro Controller and GamePad analogue sticks may gently snap to these eight directions when guided toward them, but sadly this wasn’t the case – moving forward in a straight line in Darksiders II felt very similar to how it’d be on an Xbox 360 Controller or a Dualshock 3, which also lack guide rings. In other words, it was a bit wobbly.

Nintendo opted for a parallel analogue stick setup above the buttons and D-Pad, which does seem more than change for the sake of change once we saw where our right thumb naturally rested – on the A button rather than B.

It’s different rather than ruinous, but we’d imagine it’d take longer to get accustomed to than say, the difference in left stick location between a GameCube controller and a Dualshock 3. After all, in most cases we switch from buttons to right analogue in-game far more than we do D-Pad to left analogue.

Sadly rumble appeared to be disabled in the demos we played, so we couldn’t really get a feel for it. Given the controller’s light-ish weight, though, we’re not expecting too much from it. Will be good for battery life, mind.

And so with the Wii U Pro Controller, Nintendo have crafted a competent traditional Pad experience, one that feels remarkably different to Wii’s Classic Controller Pro due to various refinements – both good and bad – despite offering similar functionality. We look forward to testing it – and those new analogue sticks – out in more depth come launch day, with a larger variety of games spanning far more genres.