Fads are strange little devils. They appeal to a mass audience, become trendy, and eventually fade away as a novelty from the past. Before the Wii launched back in 2006, the entire gaming audience, and even Nintendo stock holders, were convinced it would be nothing more than a gimmick that would send the Big N into a big black hole.
Of course, we all know that didn't happen, and whether you still whip out your Wii for a little fun or cringe at the mere mention of it, the fact remains that it is the best-selling console of the current generation. Nintendo's target audience couldn't resist its appeal, with simple controls, motion inputs that kept your body active, and for the most part games that brought families together. Paired with a modest and attractive price point, systems kept flying off the shelves.
But looking at its current place in the market, and the attitude toward it from most mainstream gamers, its status as a "novelty" would appear to be its destiny. I'll admit, I was more excited for the launch of the Wii than any other system, and found myself (and my supportive wife), waiting in the cold, outside of Walmart for the midnight release. I had been playing with conventional controls for two decades prior, and this radical change was the freshness I craved.
As expected though, the honeymoon phase eventually faded for me. The reason, of course, was that the Wii's motion controls were not as precise as control sticks, with many frustrating incorrect registrations in the games. My spirits were lifted with word of the Wii Motion Plus, which did improve the response, but this still wasn't perfect.
It's possible the technology wasn't advanced enough to elevate motion controls to the new standard, but another key reason for its downturn was the lack of proper implementation from many developers. Motion control programming is an entirely different beast to put together, and, when not given the proper dedication, oftentimes results in poor sales and critical remarks from reviewers. Nintendo seems to take the most care and pride, obviously, when creating their own titles, and have put together the most enticing games of the bunch. Super Mario Galaxy—and its sequel even more so—was near flawless. It was designed around the motion controls, not making them too intrusive, but adding flare to the platforming formula, a genre you wouldn't typically think of when considering the best fit for the innovative control scheme. Perhaps if other developers had embraced the same enthusiasm, we'd be looking at motion gaming through a whole different scope right now.
It's clear why Sony eventually created the Move and Microsoft the Kinect; they were trying to tap into a market Nintendo held a monopoly over. But we all know the demographic these two powerhouses cater to: the hardcore rather than the casual. So Sony does very little to promote its motion controls, and while the Kinect gets a little more press, the hardware needs a lot of fine tuning to be deemed successful. It still puzzles me, then, that the Kinect is expected to transition to the next Xbox system, and rumors that the Move will shift to Sony's next-gen platform are strong.
But let's not forget that motion controls aren't all wands and Kinect peripherals. Gyroscopes and accelerometers are built into the PS3's Sixaxis controller, as well as the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS. So where do these fit into the conversation?
The 3DS has some hurdles to jump, because any developer stupid enough to make a game that simultaneously focuses on the glasses-free 3D display and the tilt-controls will soon realize it's like mixing oil and water. Sony, on the other hand, seems to have taken a better approach, allowing motion controls to function where they're legitimately a good fit, such as in racing and snowboarding games. They pop up in other games, but usually as an added feature, and one that's usually optional as well.
So perhaps this is the future of motion controls, not overpowering a game, but adding innovative features that are optional and being content with taking a backseat to the "old fashioned" analog sticks. With the Wii having been in a lame duck period for the last two years (at least), gamers are going back to traditional controls. At this point, I would be shocked to see any further developments regarding motion controls, even with major advancements. Simply put, the fad has fizzled, and many gamers are hesitant to stick their hand into that pot again.
Date: June 14, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*