Hindsight is a wonderful thing. In hindsight the GamePad has been a problem for the Wii U, a system that has stumbled as a result of multiple issues. It contributed to a higher-than-ideal launch price for the hardware, and has been largely underutilised for most of this generation. The Wii U, home to some wonderful games and a standard-bearer of key Nintendo improvements in areas such as download sales, has laboured in stores for a variety of reasons, and the GamePad is part of that legacy. It's a shame, as the controller arguably deserved better.
The GamePad, in some senses, was a good idea when conceived of but too slow to actually reach the world. The concept behind Wii U was sound, introducing dual screen gaming to tap into and - in some ways - confront the modern trend that sees many of us staring at small screens for large chunks of the day, even when in the company of others at home. The controller was designed to do multiple things - to allow for home console gaming when the TV is unavailable with off-TV, and to add new angles to gameplay when combined with the TV. Throw in motion control capabilities and the NFC scanner that was eventually put to use with Pokemon Rumble U toys and then amiibo, and it's a controller that's full of tricks. You certainly can't accuse it of being half-baked in terms of features.
History, though, is unlikely to be kind to the controller and its host system. It'll be judged against the context of poor sales, as Nintendo went from 'winning' one generation with Wii to badly losing the next with Wii U. Its unconventional look and feature-set may be held up as the opposite of the affordable simplicity of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, a mess of ideas that cost too much and appealed too little to the public.
A lot of that negativity will be hard to deny outright, too. Being late in the technology world - as we suggest the GamePad was in arriving after the boom of tablet devices in particular - is to be last. The Wii U is proof that past success is no guarantee of ongoing glory if you fail to excite the public and meet their expectations, and the cruel reality is that plenty looked at the Wii U, its controller and all it had to offer and simply shrugged in response. Let's remember, though, that in a parallel universe it could have been different. Second-screen gaming was once considered 'the future' by the likes of Sony (with Vita / PS4 integration), Microsoft (Smart Glass) and game publishers like Ubisoft. When it fell flat they had the option to quietly ditch it, however - a luxury that eluded Nintendo, whose fate was tightly bonded with the concept thanks to it being the Wii U's 'selling point'.
As it stands now, and as I write this, I'm getting ready to try out The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild here in the UK, and a burning requirement will be to check whether (as seems to be the case) the GamePad fails to even show a dynamic map, once considered the bare minimum for a large adventure game on the system. If it is indeed hidden away in pause menus in the traditional pre-GamePad way, then it will be a strong indicator that the dual screen home console gaming era is coming to the end, especially as this is a game also in development for the mysterious NX.
If this is the final call for the GamePad, soon to be forgotten as 2017 becomes the year of NX, then I think an ode to its charms is due. Moving past the problems and issues that have been covered over the last few years, including Nintendo's own neglect of its features, a number in our team feel it's a controller that will always have a place in some fan's hearts. In years from now we'll look at its unwieldy form and think that, actually, it had good moments.
Though Nintendo Land didn't win over the public like Wii Sports, it was a good demonstration of how asynchronous multiplayer could be a lot of fun. Mario Chase and Luigi's Ghost Mansion in particular were excellent showcases of how the second screen could be used well. Though it was the trendy thing in some corners to mock on-screen maps, titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut put the controller to great use. ZombiU was also a showcase for how the second screen could add to a game's tension, and most recently Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is another example of how the GamePad can add to the atmosphere and immersion with a game's world; a special mention, too, for Affordable Space Adventures. There have, ultimately, been some excellent uses of its capabilities, as I've certainly missed out other notable examples.
Its motion controls also go underappreciated, I feel. Splatoon is the best showcase of how a combination of physical inputs and motion can be used to produce definitive and outstanding controls. We've also seen this in examples on 3DS, too, so it'll likely be part of Nintendo's future to keep motion controls as an option in its core controllers.
I actually warmed to the GamePad's clunky form factor over the years, too. To be real about it, the GamePad does feel a bit like a 'My First Tablet' toy, albeit with decent analogue sticks and a load of buttons. Chunky and somewhat cheap to the touch, it's also surprisingly comfortable to hold - with the proviso that you don't need to use the front shoulder buttons, I would suggest. It's the lazy boy chair of controllers, as you clutch it without any fear of actual hand cramp, perfect for lounging around and playing games for far too long. It's also incredibly resilient, as my colleague and Nintendo Life editorial director Damien McFerran can attest - his young son has put the GamePad through the grinder over the past few years, and it has come out the other side asking for more punishment. Its biggest weakness is stamina - poor battery means that a nearby power source is always a good idea.
The key point I'll end on is this - the GamePad is quintessential Nintendo. Its toy-like construction, its attempt to do so much and to please so many, and the sheer madness of a controller that has a screen, an NFC scanner and motion controls... all of these things typify Nintendo's ethos. The company wanted a controller that could expand and enhance every game, and though it failed to do so there's nobility in that cause. There's much to be said for traditional approaches and simplicity, yes, but we should appreciate what the GamePad set out to achieve. It was built to entertain in imaginative ways, and while we could have done with a few more examples, it certainly did this.
For that reason alone, it'll always have a place in my collection. I look forward to talking it up when, a decade from now, someone spots it in my home and asks - "what's that?"