When first-person shooters made the transition to consoles from PCs over a decade ago, they weren't very good. Or even just good. Despite being today's go-to genre for blockbuster console game franchises (Call of Duty or Halo ring any bells?), the first-person shooter got a rough start on consoles. Game developers -- used to the precision allowed by a mouse/keyboard setup -- had no idea how to design shooters with console gamers in mind. Early approximations like Nintendo 64's GoldenEye and Perfect Dark from Rare were held up as the gold standard for years, while PC gamers snickered and stuck with their superior control mechanics.
Bungie's sci-fi shooter Halo: Combat Evolved heralded the launch of Microsoft's Xbox in 2001, and it marked the end of Nintendo's short-lived console FPS dominance. The first Halo game and its developer Bungie Studios are to thank for the modern console FPS -- a streamlined, slower version of its PC progenitor that stands on its own. In the decade since Halo: Combat Evolved launched, Bungie and many, many other game development studios have honed and perfected FPS gameplay on consoles, to the point where it's the leading sales genre in the US (for the past five years, with the exception of 2008, according to NPD). Nintendo, however, has taken a back seat in this genre -- starting with the GameCube and even more so with the Wii, Nintendo eschewed first-person shooters for the better part of the last decade. Beyond the company itself not publishing or developing within the genre (the lone exception being its Metroid series), third-parties mostly offered watered down ports for the last two Nintendo consoles.
Nintendo Wii U GamePad / Pro Controller vs. Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 controllers
The problem wasn't just one of lacking outreach by Nintendo to third-party developers -- though that was instrumental in the case of the GameCube -- but one of control: the Wii controller is dramatically different from that of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. The economics of development dictate creating a single game that's able to be published on several co-existing consoles, and the Wii controller means developers either create a game built solely for the Wii, or try to shoehorn in controls made for another console.
Meanwhile, 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. Sony and Microsoft clearly understand that, making the rear analog triggers all the more effective with the DualShock 3 and Xbox 360 gamepad.
Nintendo, however, will remain out of the game with the Wii U (at least for now) -- the Wii U tablet controller and the Wii U Pro Controller both feature digital rear triggers. Rather than pressure-sensitive ones with gradation, they're essentially buttons. In the context of Nintendo's biggest first-party games -- Mario, Zelda, etc. -- this likely won't matter. If anything, my time with the Wii U's controllers has been overwhelmingly positive. But when Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 arrives next week, I'll have a chance to test my theory with a modern console shooter: the Wii U controllers are going to keep first-person shooters from gaining any traction on Nintendo's new system. And that's to say nothing of the racing genre, which is impacted even more greatly by the situation.
Perhaps developers will figure out a creative solution employing the Wii U's tablet gamepad in place of analog triggers? Perhaps! Perhaps Nintendo will amend its triggers to appease FPS players like myself? Perhaps! As it stands, however, I'm worried that America's most popular gaming genre may once more be passed over by America's favorite console manufacturer.