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Games

Nintendo’s Wiimote Has Unfinished Business

The motion control mechanics of the Wii were rarely used well—but the setup should be one that we look to again as gaming embraces virtual reality.

by Sean Thomas
Mar 13 2015, 2:40pm

I miss the Wiimote. You know, the pointy, wavy thing that you held when you played the Wii. Don't be all, "I never played on a Wii, it was for people who didn't like games," or something like that. Everyone played the Wii.

But I understand why (some, foolish) people hated the Wiimote. The batteries died constantly, using it did make you look like a total dickhead, and it could occasionally have a hissy fit, the cursor on the screen bucking as wildly as a wildebeest with its ass on fire. Yet I believe it was the most important innovation in gaming control since we first clicked a mouse, as we know them, in the late 1960s.

Like the iPhone, the beauty of the Wiimote—OK, the Wii Remote, for the pedants—is in its immediacy. Want to select that button, or go to that section of the screen? Just point at it. Want to hit that ball? Swing your arm. The Wiimote made sense just by watching someone use it, and welcomed inexperienced gamers with open arms.

Hours were spent on the console's 2006 launch title Wii Sports with family members who had never touched a gamepad, while my more gaming-savvy friends enjoyed its sequel, Resort, for not having the barrier to enjoyment most modern multiplayer games have, such as steep learning curves, complicated controls, or disproportionate XP levels.

The only crime those titles ever committed was that Nintendo created and perfected the motion-controlled sports game genre at the first attempt. And, for many, the Wiimote fad died there and then. Returning serves that only really existed as an alien construct of code, playing a round of golf in your living room without ruining the carpet.

But for me, it was once the sports-centric games had lost their instant-click novelty that the fun began. Plugging in a Nunchuk transformed the device into a magic wand, able to improve just about any genre. Three-dimensional platformers that had struggled to step out of Super Mario 64's shadow on previous Nintendo platforms were reborn. Moving with the Nunchuk's analogue stick while chaining together your movement using the pointer elevated the Galaxy games to the pinnacle of their genre. Those worlds were a joy to navigate through, to experiment it, overflowing with ideas that could only work with this unique interface.

'Metroid Prime'

Similarly, the Metroid Prime games felt even more like you were behind that visor using these controls. Moving the controller and cannon in parallel was hypnotic, and adjusting the Wiimote's direction mid-jump allowed for passage through tricky platforming sections—the kind that could prove incredibly frustrating in other games with other controllers (I reckon Mirrors Edge could have solved many of its issues using these controls). The extra tasks in the series, such as welding, rotating keys to solve puzzles and pulling levers come Corruption, represented interesting uses of motion control.

First-person shooters now seem lacking to me after playing CoD:MW and GoldenEye 007 using the Wii's singular setup. The default settings the games shipped with were woeful, but a few adjustments made both a joy to control. Using the Nunchuk to take down someone as you lined up your next shot with the Wiimote made GoldenEye's linear campaign far better than it had any right to be. Subtle touches like twisting the Nunchuk to lean round corners to shoot were also game changing, allowing you to play the game both stealthily and as a full-on firefight. These touches would have benefitted Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored hugely.

The Wiimote's MotionPlus add-on made close-up combat in games just as interesting as it became in guns-and-ammo experiences. Red Steel 2 was a brilliant set of fighting mechanics held back by a repetitive game world, but credit must go to Ubisoft for building a game from the ground up exclusively for the Wii and its individual controller. Fighting ninjas armed with both a sword and gun simultaneously made for some epic battles.

'Skyward Sword' made great use of the Wiimote's motion sensors—once you clicked with it

These mechanics were built on further in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but a lot of people struggled to master Link's new, physical skillset. If you flailed around aimlessly you were going nowhere, but methodical timing and angled movements with the Wiimote yielded incredibly satisfying results. Skyward Sword had its issues, but the forthcoming Zelda for the Wii U has its work cut out to improve on its predecessor's combat, once it'd comfortably clicked into a riot of rhythmic aggression.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories used the device to terrifying effect. The internal speaker on the Wiimote rang occasionally and talked to you like a possessed phone, while the pointer on screen acted as a torch in darker areas. Sounds entirely standard, yet the game psychoanalyzed where you pointed at most, working out if you were a completest exploring every corner, or a pervert constantly shifting the camera to look at a nurse's cleavage.

Resident Evil 4 (and, indeed, third-person action adventuring) was perfected with the updated controls the game's Wii port brought into action, and Okami's central gameplay mechanic of drawing Japanese characters on the screen suddenly felt natural after it'd debuted with only the PlayStation 2's analog sticks for support.

'Zack & Wiki'

The Wiimote continually opened up opportunities a traditional gamepad could not: it brought much-needed physical interaction to on-rails shooters, freshened up point 'n' click puzzlers and made using your console to browse the internet rather less of a chore. Zack & Wiki felt like the logical evolution of Monkey Island-like puzzlers, World of Goo felt like a spiritual successor to Lemmings, and the awesome Sin & Punishment: Star Successor took on-rails shooters to their peak by adding free-flowing movement as you moved and fired There is a blueprint within its mechanics for the best Starfox title yet to be realized.

Like the scrum that follows any innovation, as soon as there was money to be made a host of less-able advocates of the Wii's motion controls set about exploiting them. Developers crowbarred in completely inappropriate moves and gimmicks which did nothing to play to the platform's strengths. And the Wii certainly suffered its share of games where waving the Wiimote around was pretty much all you did, with no real reason to, or weight behind your actions. But when people did embrace the scheme in the right way, realizing its flexibility and potential for accessible yet surprisingly complex play mechanics, the results were often spectacular.

I wonder where a second iteration of the Wiimote would have taken us? A revised model would no doubt have linked the Nunchuk wirelessly, and perhaps taken on a more ergonomic design. Alas, it seems we'll never know.

Wii-style controls would really suit VR gameplay

For most, the Wiimote was a gimmick, and despite the Wii U's compatibility with the controller, even Nintendo seems to have turned its back on it. It occasionally gets utilised in its uncomfortable sideways position, as a cheap extra controller for Mario Kart or something, but Nunchuk integration has been ignored completely bar a brief flirtation on the excellent Metroid Blast mini-game, featured in Nintendo Land. PC gamers learned to live with swapping between keyboard and mouse and gamepad, so it's a shame Nintendo haven't credited Wii U owners to do the same.

More positively, though, the opportunities the Wiimote began to open up may be expanded on in the next control revolution: virtual reality. Kinect and Move attempted to ape the Wiimote's success and failed, but VR devices have taken its principles and blown the possibilities wide open, as this interesting NeoGAF thread highlights. The Nunchuk and Wiimote combo seems like the perfect setup to use with VR headsets.

In attracting newcomers who'd not been bothered before by interactive adventures, the Wiimote was widely derided by "hardcore" gamers, and in truth 95 percent of the time it deserved the shit it got. But when used correctly, it showed that games could move in new, previously mysterious ways—something that may yet benefit the industry as it moves forward into new worlds of multi-sensory immersion.

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