“What’s the proper means for implementing motion controls in video games?” That’s the question developers and players alike have been asking since Nintendo first unveiled the Wii in 2005. Few have found a wholly satisfying answer to the question, but the release of PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s Kinect mean that nobody is going to stop asking just yet.
Nintendo’s Wii has been magnificent in introducing gaming to a broad audience, but beyond that, the success of motion controls is debatable. Some games employ them well (Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wii Sports Resort, Metroid Prime 3, etc.), but few game reviews praise motion controls for immersing the player in the game’s world. Instead, the best-case scenario usually involves a sigh of relief about how a game’s motion controls “don’t get in the way.”
So is there hope for motion controlled gaming? Even if Move and Kinect flop utterly, it’s almost assured that Nintendo will make the Wii 2 motion-control accessible from the very start. Chances are good that Microsoft and Sony will do the same for their systems’ successors, as the main drawbacks to Move and Kinect are separate costs for an audience that’s not compelled to spend very much on video games to begin with. In other words, motion controls engaged this generation so thoroughly, they’re not likely to disappear even though experienced players are generally unsatisfied with them.
But motion controls shouldn’t feel like a condemnation. They should be a new, exciting evolution in the industry. What can developers do to implement them properly?
The most obvious answer is “netter responsiveness.” This is well on its way to becoming a reality. Wii MotionPlus introduced 1:1 movement, and Sony’s Move reportedly improves on MotionPlus considerably. If you want your hero to swing his sword, then by gosh, he is going to swing his sword.
Perhaps a better answer is “Don’t feel obligated to put motion controls in everything.”
Motion controls are fun, new, exciting, and have a lot of potential. But there’s a reason why the good ol’ d-pad and analogue stick have hung around for such a long time. If you want to make Mario pick up an object, you want to do it the way you’ve been doing it since childhood. You don’t want to shake the Wii remote to make it happen. And if you’re playing an RPG, it probably means you’re in the mood for something slower-paced. You don’t want to start flailing just to fell a slime.
Motion controls need to find the Nintendo DS’s happy medium. You can play Dragon Quest IX without ever picking up the stylus, but you couldn’t imagine playing Professor Layton and the Unwound Future without it. Granted, it took developers a few tries to find their way around the DS, hence near-disasters like having to draw a “sealing glyph” to kill bosses in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.
But it’s been four years since the Wii’s release. We understand that motion controls are good to have on board sometimes, but not all the time. If we have to play through a game using the Classic Controller, nobody starts howling about the impediment of gaming progress. We just want to have a good time, and decent controls are vital for a fun experience.