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Let's Click Again

by David Trammell - January 25, 2005, 6:32 am EST

Whatever happened to the shoulder button click in the GameCube controller? When's the last time a new game was released that actually uses it?

Three and a half years ago (or about half a year before the GameCube's North American release) I wrote The Click!. It was almost entirely speculation on the topic of what developers might do with the newly introduced click function in the GameCube controller's shoulder buttons. At E3 2001 just one demonstrated game truly used the click, and since then that number has barely increased. I know of only six games (not counting sequels) that use the click today. Rogue Squadron II, Luigi's Mansion, Eternal Darkness, Super Mario Sunshine, Star Fox Adventures and Metroid Prime. Although I haven't played every GameCube game out there, I'm sure that my tally is not far off the mark, because I have played most GameCube-exclusive games. This lack of usage is something of a concern considering the added functionality of the Nintendo DS and the promise of the Nintendo Revolution.

Before speculating on what went wrong, let's take a look at the games that do use the click. Just as it did at E3 2001, Rogue Squadron II (and its sequel) make excellent use of the click. The R button intuitively speeds your craft up, and then clicking locks your wings for additional speed at the cost of being able to fire. The L button will slow the craft down, but will not unlock the wings until you click. While using the snow speeder, the L button click has a purely graphical function--it causes your air brakes to change from a 45º position to a 90º position, but this kind of detail is certainly welcome. The alternative is etched into silicon in the way of the original N64 Rogue Squadron. In that game a separate button was used to lock the X-Wing into its fastest flight configuration. That works, but the click works better.

In Luigi's Mansion toward the middle of the game you would gain the ability to fire elements from your vacuum cleaner. A light press would fire a stream while the click would fire a concentrated glob.

Next up is Eternal Darkness. I get the feeling that Silicon Knights pushed themselves to come up with a use for the click but came up a little short. In Eternal Darkness holding the R button causes you to lock onto a nearby enemy. To lock onto a new enemy you simply release the R button a little and click again. This is technically a use of the click, but in reality it could have worked precisely the same with an ordinary shoulder button. The N64 incarnation of Zelda proves this by having the exact some functionality using the digital Z button.

Then there is Super Mario Sunshine. This is the only internally produced Nintendo game I know of that uses the click. After you find F.L.U.D.D. (your trusty, water-spewing, robotic, backpack friend) you can use the R button to spray water. Using the first portion of the R button's movement range, the spray is slightly analog-sensitive. When you reach the clicking point, the spray is on full blast. Clicking locks Mario into place and allows you to aim the spray with the control stick instead of moving Mario. Unfortunately, this prevents you from using a weak spray while manually aiming, but that wasn't necessary given the gameplay design.

The click is used in Star Fox Adventures during the flight sequences just as I envisioned it would be in the original editorial. On the N64 L and R would cause your Arwing to bank to either side, while a double tap would send you into a barrel roll. With the GameCube controller, the need to double tap the shoulder buttons for a barrel roll was simply replaced by the click. It will likely be this way in the forthcoming Star Fox game as well.

Lastly there is Metroid Prime. Unlike the previous games, Metroid Prime's click functionality is undocumented (no mention of it is in the instruction book of either Prime game). When you hold the R button, the control stick switches from movement to standing free-look allowing you to look at your environment. However, in a few instances you also have to manually aim at targets. If you press the R button all the way in you'll find that a targeting reticule appears to assist you in this. It's hardly necessary (which is likely why it was undocumented) but a nice touch nonetheless. The L button's click functionality is quite a bit more useful but also undocumented. If you press the button all the way in, Samus will lock onto the nearest target, which causes the control stick to change from movement and turning to movement and circle strafing. However, if there is no target, the same thing occurs but instead of circle strafing (which would not be possible without a target) you simply strafe side to side. What if you want to strafe side to side when there are plenty of targets to lock onto? Simply press the L button in without clicking.

There are a few other things to note about how the shoulder buttons are actually used. Most games don't even use the analog sensitivity of the triggers, much less the click. Also interesting is that when the buttons are used digitally, developers (even Nintendo) can't seem to decide where the digital function should activate. In a few games (like Pikmin and its sequel) you have to press the button all the way down to the click for it to respond. However, in most games, the developers wisely choose to have the game respond just before the click. The few games that do use the analog sensitivity generally just treat the click as a further extension of the analog portion of the button.

So why aren't more games using the click? One clear problem is that multi-platform developers (even if there is just the possibility of a game going multi-platform) wouldn't want to make a game function dependent on the GameCube controller. If the function is superficial (such as Metroid Prime's R button targeting reticule) then it could be simply left out or simplified for ports, but why bother including it in the GameCube version under those circumstances? Clearly, it's hard to expect anyone but GameCube-exclusive developers to use the click. This is why I'm not surprised that no one used Mike's idea of having the analog triggers determine the accuracy of your shots in a first person shooter. No third party developer would want to make such an integral part of the gameplay reliant on the GameCube controller, and Nintendo doesn't make first person shooters themselves (not traditional ones, anyway). I'm also not surprised that no racing games used the analog portion for acceleration and the click for turbo. Third party or not, that was just a bad idea.

But what about Nintendo's first and second party games? They should be rife with click functionality, yet only three Nintendo developed games that I know of use it (and that's if you count both Eternal Darkness and Metroid Prime). Notable Nintendo games that didn't use it are Pikmin, Wind Waker, and Mario Kart. In my previous editorial I had suggested that if you were firing a bow in Zelda using the R or L button, you could press the button in half way to draw the arrow and then either click to fire or release to change your mind. However, the problem with this is that the bow was always assigned to either X, Y or Z. Which button does what is understandably more important than forcing an action onto the shoulder buttons just to try and make use of the click. Yet they didn't even make an effort to use it with the functions they did assign to the shoulder buttons. The L button activates lock-on targeting in Zelda and rotates the camera behind you if there is nothing to lock onto. As I suggested in the previous editorial, they could have made the analog portion of the button gradually rotate the camera toward Link's back with a full click activating lock-on targeting as usual. They also could have taken a page from Retro's book and had a partial press activate targetless lock-on and the full click activate lock-on targeting. The R button, which brings up Link's shield, could have been used more effectively as well. The full press and click would have to activate the most vital functionality (locking Link in place and allowing you to aim his shield), but a partial press could have allowed Link to do something else like move with his shield out, just as Mario could move while spraying water in Super Mario Sunshine. As it is, moving with the shield up is only possible if you are locked on. They could also have made a full press of the R button auto-target any nearby projectiles with the shield (an intuitive functionality that would have been right up Nintendo's alley of making games more user-friendly).

This brings us to the Nintendo DS and Revolution. Somewhat like the GameCube's click, the DS features a lot of new controller functionality that is being poorly utilized by many games released and in development. In the long run, how many games are really going to use the microphone? How many will use the touch screen for superficial purposes? The DS sequel to Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is probably my most anticipated DS game, but it only uses the second screen for a map, and the touch screen will only be used to finish off bosses (which sounds like a clever gimmick at best). On the other hand, the N64's analog stick shows that a new but clearly useful (if not vital) addition to a controller will be used extensively (and copied). My second most anticipated DS game, Wario Ware, will apparently use nothing but the touch screen and microphone, so there is hope. This begs the question, just how revolutionary will Nintendo's Revolution be? As with the DS and the click, will third party developers be able to ignore the new features on a whim? If not, will developers ignore the entire platform? One thing is for certain. If Nintendo fails to innovate and set standards as they largely did with the click, they can't expect other developers to do it for them.

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