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.

6 thoughts on “Wii are not amused”
  1. I read that, as always, with interest.

    However, I fundamentally disagree with your analysis of the Wii’s controller, but not in a way you might think.

    I agree with many of the points your raise on the controller’s flaws and inaccuracies, especially in regards to Wii Sports.

    But the point is, despite that, I’ve played Wii Sports in the region of 90 hours. Why is this?

    Well, very simply, I believe that while the movement on the screen of the Wii do not represent the movements I make in realspace, the mere fact that I make a movement at all makes me feel more connected to the game, and feels more natural.

    Take bowling for example – in real life I actually cannot bowl. I mean by that that if I break 100, I used barriers and that apparatus for five year olds that allows the ball to be rolled down to the end of the alley with a simple push. But in Wii bowling I have had on several occassions 300 – a perfect game.

    Now quite clearly there is something quite unrealistic about the Wii controller in this respect. My action on Wii bowling actually resembles an uppercut in boxing. But even so, I find the game fantastic, captivating and indeed fun. I would guess that the same would not be true if I was merely using a standard controller on another console.

    The same is true on Tiger Woods PGA Tour – if one uses a proper golf swing, it actually harms your ability to hit the ball. But if one uses a swing which in real life would hit the ball 50 yards, the ball goes 300. But the game itself is more interactive and enjoyable than any of the preceeding games, and the current games on the Xbox 360 and the PS3.

    The Wii does not, as you suggest, an accurate simulation of real life. What it does however, when it is at its best, is intergrate the gamer into the game far more effectively than a normal control method.

    Personally, I do think the Wii’s controllor is an improvement for the games I have mentioned, and indeed Resident Evil 4. But that is not to say its control scheme will be advantageous for all games.

  2. Like I said, as a pointing device it’s up there with the mouse. Games that require pointing throughout, such as FPS and shooting games – they’re going to feel good. The rest? Not so.

    And, let’s be accurate here, it’s not ME that’s claiming the controller emulates real life activities and replicates them on the screen – it’s Nintendo. And it’s Nintendo that program the software to fool most people into thinking that’s what’s happening. But as my very simple analysis proves, the claims made of the controller are, in fact, a sham and covered up by suggestive icons and pre-programed nuances.

    As for whether the games are fun – that’s a different topic. If you can do things in bowling on Wii that you can’t manage in real life then, welcome to the world of videogames. I can’t double-jump in real life. I can’t snowboard either. Videogames allow me to feel empowered by giving me the impression I’m competent at both those activities and more.

    That the games allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment is great. I’ve long beleive that Nintendo ‘magic’ is not so much magic but the fact that their games are not especially challenging and, as such, empower most users and frequently bring a sense of satisfaction to the player. This is frequently interpreted as unmatched play mechanics produced by masters of the trade. I say it’s the same as someone you give money to that whispers nice things about you in your ear. You’re inclined to believe them because you’ve given them money to talk and they’re talking about how great YOU happen to be. Doesn’t mean they’re being truthful, does it?

    Nintendo flatter the common gamer and most gamers love to be flattered and told how great they are. Hell, we all know what happens if you try and criticise your average gamer, right? Right.

    With regards to challenge (or lack thereof) – that’s one of the reasons I like Metroid. It’s a properly challenging game. I literally WALKED through Zelda:TP without dying. I was never challenged. Metroid presents challenge for me – which is why, despite being a fan of the series, the frequent comments about the lowered difficulty of the Wii version is a great concern..

    ..and if you want to cover up poor and imprecise controls then lowering the challenge is a good way to distract people. Let people think they’re doing well and they’ll not be so likely to question your methods.

  3. “And, let’s be accurate here, it’s not ME that’s claiming the controller emulates real life activities and replicates them on the screen – it’s Nintendo. And it’s Nintendo that program the software to fool most people into thinking that’s what’s happening. But as my very simple analysis proves, the claims made of the controller are, in fact, a sham and covered up by suggestive icons and pre-programed nuances.”

    Of course Nintendo claim that it simulates real life – they’re object is to sell as many of them as possible. I’m afraid to say that all companies make claims like this one, where they exaggerate the affects and abilites of their machine. Even hair care companies tell us that their product can “change the way we feel”, so is it any surprise Nintendo or anyone else are doing the same?

    “As for whether the games are fun – that’s a different topic. If you can do things in bowling on Wii that you can’t manage in real life then, welcome to the world of videogames. I can’t double-jump in real life. I can’t snowboard either. Videogames allow me to feel empowered by giving me the impression I’m competent at both those activities and more.”

    I think you’re misinterpreted my point – I’m not suggesting that I find it enjoyable because I can do things in games that I cannot normally – I’m suggesting that the unrealism does not get in the way of the fact that movement of the controller is more involving and engaging than the pressing of a button. The fact that the motions themselves are not realistic is irrelevant to that fact.

    “That the games allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment is great. ”

    Again, I’m not suggesting, nor did I suggest, the reason I enjoy the games is any such accomplishment. By their very nature, games are a form of escapism, and all involve some accomplishment which one is unlikely to achieve in real life. So that is not unique to the Wii.

  4. The level of connection, to me, is not as good as a conventional controller. As I mentioned, the thing the Wii motion-controller isn’t especially good at is, ironically, control. I’m left with an uncomfortable degree of guesswork in many of the actions the remote is said to enhance. I really don’t regard that as a feature – more as an issue with the controller that has been covered up by the software and the excuse that the controller is only as inaccurate as the person using it. That last part is an absolute load of rubbish – as I anyone who wants to try out that little bowling test wants to see.

    But that’s the crux of the matter. People want to believe it’s all these things. They’re tripping over themselves to give it the benefit of the doubt. And, in years to come, we’ll have muppets telling me that Nintendo invented motion control and, even if they didn’t, they were the first people to make it work. Which, to me, they haven’t. You will NEVER see a true 1:1 realspace to onscreen activity occur on the Wii. It simply can’t do it. Anything that gets close is cheating the player.

    And I’m left wondering why Wii Sports Tennis may look prettier but doesn’t actually improve on the depth of control or accuracy that Pong offered.

  5. My point is simply that, fundamentally, whatever the problems with the Wii remote, I believe the very fact one makes a motion helps improve the feeling that one is “inside” the game as it were. A motion, on, for example, Tiger Woods is far more satisfying that pulling the control stick back, especially if you play golf in real life anyway.

    Wii Tennis does provide more depth of control than Pong – the fact that one can swing the Wii remote like a tennis raquet shows this. I agree, the Wii is “cheating” the player – you don’t have to use the remote like a raquet – but if you do it does improve the experience, and that, I believe is the key.

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