One of the greatest things about having children - aside from the free manual labour and the unspoken understanding that you'll have someone to wipe your bottom for you when you're old and infirm - is getting to reappraise video games. I have a seven-year-old son who, over the past few years, has become increasingly obsessed with all things Nintendo (don't look at me!) and most recently has taken his first tentative steps into the world of Hyrule. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD was his entry point, and when he became bored of sailing the oceans looking for pots to smash, I decided it was time to introduce him to Skyward Sword via the Wii U's backwards compatibility. The experience has been enlightening to say the least - not just for my son but also for me, as it has made me reassess Nintendo's recent shift away from motion control - and I'm becoming increasingly of the opinion that it might have been one of the biggest mistakes perpetrated by the Kyoto firm.
Turning the controller in his hand, he was amazed at the fact that Link would do the same on-screen with his sword; it reminded me of just how cool this kind of control really is
When Nintendo released details on the Wii U and showed off its GamePad controller, there seemed to be little dissent from fans. It seemed that they were more than ready for a different control scheme after relentlessly waggling their arms for the previous five or so years, and many even embraced the fact that the new console would have a more "traditional" setup. This viewpoint is, with hindsight, easy to understand; "waggle" control seemed to have run its natural course and a huge proportion of Wii games bolted on erratic arm movements almost as an afterthought. Little wonder then that the relegation of the Wii Remote to a secondary interface on the Wii U gave little cause for lamentation.
However, sitting down (or maybe standing up?) with Skyward Sword and its limited edition gold Wii Remote MotionPlus, I was instantly reminded of how awesome motion controls can be when they're done right - and seeing my son's reaction was a real eye-opener. He wasn't even alive when the Wii launched so the motion control craze largely passed him by, and his exposure to it on Wii U had been limited mostly to Mario Chase in Nintendo Land, where the device is used in its horizontal configuration as a standard controller. As such, he was experiencing the Wii Remote at the top of its game; the MotionPlus version of the controller offers superior accuracy and shines with Skyward Sword - surely one of the most refined uses of motion control on the Wii - and after getting access to Link's first sword he could barely contain his excitement. Turning the controller in his hand, he was amazed at the fact that Link would do the same on-screen with his sword; it reminded me of just how cool this kind of control really is.
Former Nintendo Life editor James Newton was effusive in his praise when he reviewed Skyward Sword back in 2011. "MotionPlus isn't just a way to make the sword fights more engaging...it informs the game's entire design, from transportation to inventory management," he gushed, branding the game "a culmination of years of Nintendo design and ideas, all brought to new life by motion controls." Our friends at Eurogamer took it one stage further, claiming that motion controls gave "a more direct link to Link" and that "MotionPlus...is as integral to this game as the analogue stick was to Mario 64." Praise indeed. So why around a year later was the entire industry so happy to see the back of the wand-like device?
It seems that the industry has collectively been too keen to forget that when used right, this control system was untouchable
As I said before, only the most blinkered Wii fan would attempt to argue that motion controls were used effectively in every single game for the Wii. Outside of a handful of developers, most studios were content to bolt-on pointless waggle commands purely to exploit this innovative controller, and this has unquestionably sullied public opinion over the device. However, it seems that the industry has collectively been too keen to forget that when used right, this control system was untouchable - Metroid Prime Trilogy and Wii Sports Resort are both good examples, the former providing the ultimate FPS interface and the latter making use of the MotionPlus accessory to avoid the limitations that impacted the original (yet still insanely fun) Wii Sports. MotionPlus is perhaps what the Wii Remote should have been from the get-go, as it offers true 1:1 movement and therefore opens up more opportunities. Sadly, many developers didn't bother to support it as there was the age-old issue of splitting the audience - there was no way of guaranteeing that every player had the MotionPlus device or a newer MotionPlus Wii Remote.
The general public's apparent shift away from motion control could perhaps seen as a justification for Nintendo abandoning the controller as the Wii U's main point of interaction. Sony's flashier PlayStation Move system didn't find the audience that many expected it would and Microsoft's Kinect - while carried across to the Xbox One - failed to live up to its potential as an entirely controller-free option. Move is at least being resurrected as a control option for PlayStation VR, but in general the industry seems to have dropped back to more traditional control options - so one can hardly accuse Nintendo of not following the trend.
"But wait," I hear you say. "What about the motion controls in Splatoon, or the interface used in Star Fox Zero which seems to be causing so much consternation within Nintendo at the moment? Don't they suggest that Nintendo still sees the benefit of motion control?" Yes, it does - and certainly in the case of Splatoon, this facet of the GamePad is incredibly effective, giving what many refer to as "a third analogue input" for refined aiming. But this control arguably lacks the immediacy of the Wii Remote, which could be placed in the hands of a complete novice and still be understood. It personally took me several hours to become accustomed to Splatoon's motion controls and while I wouldn't play without them now, the process of grasping them fully wasn't anywhere near as instantaneous or elegant as when I first picked up a Wii Remote and played Wii Sports Tennis.
The more time I spend with the Wii Remote in Skyward Sword and the more I see my son become hopelessly immersed in the accurate replications of his swipes and stabs, the more I become convinced that ignoring this controller on Wii U was a big, big mistake for Nintendo. The GamePad gamble has failed and even Nintendo itself struggles to communicate exactly what makes the controller so essential, and anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that many casual consumers are confused by the console, assuming the GamePad is merely an additional piece of hardware for the original Wii. Illustrating the benefits of asymmetric gameplay to mainstream players is significantly more difficult that saying "Hey! You swing this controller and your character swings their bat in the game!", making the Wii U a hard sell from the start.
I honestly feel that Nintendo would have been better off taking a more focused approach and putting the Wii Remote front and center - after all, it is the controller that drove interest in the firm's most successful home console
A while back I did another opinion piece where I claimed that the Wii U should really have been a "Wii HD" with no GamePad and a complete reliance on Wii Remotes and Pro Controllers. Fast forward to the present and I'm even more of that mindset; Nintendo should have produced an upgraded Wii Remote for the Wii U, providing Wii owners with a familiar controller which would allow the machine to more effectively communicate its appeal. Sure, one of the selling points of the Wii U was that all your original Wii accessories would be compatible, but the device was effectively abandoned outside of select titles like the remastered Wii Sports Resort and Pikmin 3 - even when it would have made perfect sense, like with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, Nintendo refused to use the device's motion controls. I honestly feel that Nintendo would have been better off taking a more focused approach and putting the Wii Remote front and centre - after all, it is the controller that drove interest in the firm's most successful home console.
Of course, Nintendo doesn't like to stand still and, keeping in mind the Wii U would have been in development for many years prior to its announcement, I can forgive the company for trying something new. In fact, looking at the timeline it's easy to surmise that the conception of the Wii U happened alongside the rise of tablets, and Nintendo may well have identified that as an exciting field to expand into. The issue is that by the time the GamePad arrived on the scene a few years later, the iPad had already undergone several revisions and cheap Android alternatives were available - all of which boasted better screens than the GamePad and true mobility. The fast pace of the consumer electronics industry may well have caught Nintendo off-guard, and what seemed like a fine idea back in 2009 has now become a commercial dud which - to the casual observer - appears to be riding on the coattails of Apple, Samsung and Amazon.
Of course, much of what I'm saying is entirely based on conjecture, and it may well be the case that gamers faced with another five years of waggle control may have rejected the "Wii HD" out of hand, preferring instead to drop back to less strenuous options provided by Sony and Microsoft. Or, it could be that the casual audience which made the Wii such a smash-hit simply wouldn't be ready to invest in another console, seeing the system as a short-term purchase for parties but quickly shoving it in a cupboard the moment the novelty wore off. Or maybe, as I've claimed in the past, that same audience was prepared to support the Wii for a little longer, and a replacement system wasn't strictly necessary - at least not to pacify the people who bought a Wii for local multiplayer and keeping fit.
With NX just around the corner, Nintendo is no doubt looking to innovate in different ways. Whatever form the final machine takes, I'd be willing to state right now that motion control won't be a feature - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the NX makes a clean break from the Wii family and abandons connectivity with all associated accessories as well as removing gyro controls. That means our Wii Remotes will once and for all be consigned to the scrapheap, forced to endure a ignominious future of sitting in pre-owned bargain bins all over the world, unwanted and unloved. It's my opinion that the controller will, in time, be considered a design classic and an iconic device; just as gamers who grew up with the NES, SNES, Game Boy or N64 now become weak at the knees with nostalgia whenever they clap eyes on the original hardware, I imagine those who matured alongside the Wii will have the same tangible connection with its groundbreaking interface - an interface which really deserved more love over the past few years.
Do you think that Nintendo should have retained the Wii Remote as the Wii U's primary interface? (543 votes)
Yes, I miss motion controls being at the forefront, they would have given the Wii U a unique edge
No, motion control was a craze and we're better without it - and I love the GamePad
I think the Wii U needed to make more of both the GamePad and Wii Remote
I was personally happy with how the Wii U used the Wii Remote
I don't really have an opinion either way
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