So, I bought myself a Wii.
It was all a bit of a mistake really. You see, I pretty much bought myself a Gamecube in order to play Metroid Prime. Back then I was a Metroid fan and concerned with how this traditionally two dimensonal game would handle in 3D. I was very pleased with the results and enjoyed the game all the way up to the bastard that was Meta Ridley. The cheeky blighter got the better of me and torments me to this day. Anyway, by that time I’d watched a speedrun of the entire game, realised just how poor I was at it but decided that I’d seen the good ending and played 95% of the core game and got my money’s worth. For christmas one year, I got Prime 2 but wouldn’t allow myself to start it until I’d beaten it’s prequel.
Things change. The Wii is out and Prime 3 has launched in the US with a PAL version due in late October. I could feel my resolve buckling as I considered investing in the hardware in order to play the third 3D installment of the only Nintendo franchise I didn’t regard as being horribly overrated.
I decided the best way to combat this would be to get my fill of Metroid by finally plonking Prime 2 into my Gamecube and work my way through it. I was certain that once I’d got through the game (if you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been trying to stick to a one-game-at-a-time-until-I-beat-it rule this year) I would have had my fill of Metroid and wouldn’t be hungry for any more for quite some time.
Well, with the combined enjoyment of getting the better of Dark Samus and solid reviews (all of which mentioning a greatly worrying aspect of Prime 3 in that it had been made noticeably easier than it’s predecessors) I realised that my plan had backfired and I was just as keen, if not keener, to play Prime 3 than ever.
Knowing that the game comes out next month I thought I’d bite the bullet and buy the hardware this month. Despite Nintendo’s inanely smug apologies and promises of the hardware being out of stock I had no problem picking up the oversize iPod wannabe in the first vendor I went to. After a smattering of online research it appears that any of my usual digital haunts would have been able to sell me a Gamecube 1.5 too. Out of stock, my ass.
So last week I got the hardware and opened the packaging. Yeah, cables, connections, usual gubbins. Get the thing set up. Answer some questions, get the box onto my router so far so good.
I’ve now had enough time with the darling of this digital age and, frankly, I’m finding that all my perceptions of it are true and that the notion of motion control is one of the worst, most unnecessarily gimmicky conceits that ever hit our industry and, by God, I certainly don’t want a single game developed around such a broken idea let alone an entire console.
I don’t believe I’ve ever used a less accurate way of controlling a game than with the wonder that is the Wii controller – with the possible exception of those VR headsets that were around in some larger arcades in the 90’s.
Now, first things first – as a pointing device, it’s superb. Especially when combined with nice big fat on-screen buttons that are a quarter of the screen in size. Games that involve pointing at stuff such as a shooting gallery are instinctive and feel pretty accurate. Although, as Wii Play’s shooting game demonstrates – not accurate enough to have the confidence to remove an on-screen cursor to indicate where you’re firing – but still pretty accurate. When moving in the X or Y direction it’s nearly as good as a five dollar mouse. Outstanding!
Playing through the Wii Sports collection of games it’s abundantly apparent that the Wii is incapable of understanding where it is in realspace with any accuracy or, more importantly, incapable of quickly tracking itself in realspace.
Take baseball. It’s all very nice as your bat wobbles about on your shoulder. You swing and, about a third of your way into the swing, your whimsical Wii character goes into a pre-canned baseball-bat-swinging animation. At which point precise control is lost. Try it for yourself. Start a swing and stop it about halfway through. Your onscreen character will continue to swing.
Inaccuracies of the same nature are present in Tennis, Bowling and Golf. I’ve not bothered with Boxing a great deal but I’ll say that I have my suspicions.
Now, this all flies in the face of what I want from a videogame controller and what many would have me believe a Wii offers.
What I want from a controller is control. I don’t want to suggest an action and have some vague facsimile of that movement played out on screen. I don’t want to be told that a game will pay attention to every motion I make and then learn that it ignores most of that information because it’s going through a predetermined animation.
Furthermore, I play games to do things digitally that I can’t do in real life. I can’t throw fireballs. I can’t drive competently at 250kmh. I doubt I’m any good with an AK47. Obviously I’m must be so insecure that I don’t get entertainment in being shown my real life inadequacies replicated by a small box that looks like it wishes Steve Jobs was it’s daddy.
I was ready to give a degree of credit to the controller when playing the Wii Sports bowling. It felt pretty accurate. When bowling in real life I bowl with my right arm and the ball tends to travel with left spin. I get much the same performance in the game. Eyebrows got raised. Cynicism was challenged. Then, when I noticed that the game doesn’t care about your large bowling arm arc, just the orientation of the controller (try holding it in place, pointing it to the ceiling and then swivelling it so it points down. Your on screen character will move their entire arm) I got suspicious. I decided the cheat the controller. I told the game I was using my left arm (the on screen character’s stance changed to reflect this) but kept playing with my right. My cynicism was rewarded – the ball now had a tendency to spin to the right. In other words, these nuances were nothing to do with my bowling characteristics but were built into the game to suggest the controller was doing far more than it actually was. In fact, just like mind-readers and those that claim they can talk to the dead, the Wii succeeds based more on the power of suggestion that is programmed into the software than on any genuine cleverness in the control.
Now, this hasn’t put me off Metroid. Why? Because Metroid aiming is with the Wii remote and if the remote is good at one thing it’s at point on the screen. Samus’s movement, fortunately, is controlled using, of all things, a control stick. Well bugger me! Traditionalism for the win and all that gamer slang.I’ve got the Wii’s number and I’ll be able to tell what games control well and what games give, at best, a vague facsimilie of interpreting motion into game control. Here’s the deal:
Games where the remote is used as a pointing or aiming device will feel pretty good.
Games that expect the user to survive by precise control performed with the remote will crash and burn.
Some of these other games will consist of making a gesture and if that gesture approximates what the game is expecting you will trigger the predetermined outcome. Big whoop (that’s sarcasm, kids). That’s not all though. Did you know that a simple bit of misdirection is all that it takes to fool most gamers? Here’s something you can try at home with your Wii. Find a game that asks you to point the Wii at the TV and move it in a circular direction – not just the pointer end, but the entire remote. Perhaps this is a Wario minigame or some part of a game that sees you rotating a wheel to secure a lock (I dunno, work with me on this ok?). Now, because an on-screen prompt is directing you, you’re compelled to follow it to the letter. Why not try just waggling the controller in a steady motion from side to side. You’ll find it just as effective.
The Wii, from what I’ve now experienced of it, is a charlatan. The controller isn’t doing half as many things as it is claimed but with smoke, mirrors, suggestion and misdirection and a marketing campaign full of safe colours and pictures of old people enjoying themselves Nintendo have succeeded in fooling a lot of people that they really do have that miracle cure to save ‘all that is wrong with gaming’. Nothing is wrong with gaming – nothing apart from companies abusing their position in the industry and smiling their way through some pretty blatant lies that a load of gullible folk want to believe without questioning.
It’s all really quite hilariously, tragically ironic when you think about it.
Still, Metroid should be fun.