Disclaimer: Let me get this out of the way from the get-go. This is in no way a hate letter regarding the WiiU Gamepad. Personally, I love it and I am quite glad that I have one. This is also not to suggest that Nintendo discontinue a SKU that includes it. This is simply about providing a new SKU for the WiiU without the Gamepad.
Up until a few months ago I was a big advocate for not separating the WiiU and the Gamepad. There are several negatives that would ensue by doing this, the most prevalent being splitting the user base and having some games be completely unplayable for those without it. However, I do believe that the positives of introducing a new SKU sans Gamepad would far outweigh the negatives at this juncture.
Looking back on history, Nintendo is no stranger to multiple SKUs of their consoles coexisting. Here in North America, the NES was released in several different SKUs including the launch Deluxe Set which featured R.O.B. the robot – something that was quickly discontinued. Among SKUs that featured the light gun with the console and later, the Power Pad, there was also the Basic Set that included only the console and control pads. People who purchased the Basic Set would not be able to play Duck Hunt or Hogan’s Alley without buying the light gun separately, for example. The same goes for a WiiU Basic Set featuring only a Wiimote/nunchuck. Obviously I’m not equating the Gamepad’s relevance to R.O.B. the robot or even the light gun, but what I am saying is that Nintendo has pretty much squandered their time to make the Gamepad as crucial to the console’s library as the Wiimote was to the Wii. With the majority of games on the horizon appearing to work perfectly fine without it, it’s now time for Ninty to adapt.
Let’s look at the impending repercussions of a Basic WiiU SKU with only a Wiimote/nunchuck and what Nintendo could do to rectify them:
Splitting the user base – Yes, it’s unfortunate, but let’s look at just how many currently existing WiiU games that absolutely require the Gamepad would present a problem for people with a "Basic" WiiU by having to purchase the Gamepad separately:
ZombiU is pretty much done selling. The Wonderful 101 was (unfortunately) sent out to die so no huge consumer demand there. Rayman legends performed poorly on all consoles anyway. Nintendoland, Wii Party U and Lego City are a few that might be an issue, but would it really be that problematic to just include a physical list in each Basic Set that made note of games that required the Gamepad to play? The aforementioned games could be rebranded with a "Gamepad Required" alert on the box (same with future games), and pretty much the rest of the WiiU’s library is perfectly playable without the Gamepad, either with just a Wiimote (NSMBU) or a pro controller (WWHD). Other than off-TV play, DKC Tropical Freeze doesn’t use it at all, and the majority of upcoming games like Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Bayonetta, X, and Zelda U will all likely be perfectly playable without it as well.
User Interface – I love how the Gamepad is the central point for WiiU’s UI, but at the same time, I can just as easily boot up the console with a Wiimote without touching the Gamepad. And this is even before any future patches to the UI that Ninty could provide. Honestly, I don’t see it being as big of an issue as it may first appear; updates and patches would almost certainly suffice.
As I said before, I love the Gamepad. I like off-TV play and it functions as a wonderful browser. There’s great potential for gameplay in my opinion and the way it enhances games like Wind Waker HD makes going back to playing it the "standard" way seem like a big step backwards. But let’s face it. Nintendo seems to have brought the device to market without the ingenious ideas that warranted its inclusion in the first place. The console is still retailing for a full $100 more than what the Gamecube launched at and is still $50 more than the Wii’s launch price with the complete opposite sales performance. The only way Nintendo can get the price of the console down at this point without taking some heavy losses is to release a new SKU without the pricey controller to sell alongside the existing $299 Deluxe Set. The Gamepad could retail separately (perhaps with Nintendoland 2) at around $99 or so for those choosing to purchase it in the future.
It’s virtually impossible for the WiiU to do impressive numbers at this point, but I believe that a $199 Basic Set that included only the console and a Wiimote/nunchuck that released around May 2014 could at least result in some respectable numbers, and would be enough to make the console a successful and profitable endeavor for Nintendo overall.