Alternative Controls and Gimmickry

Alternative Controls and Gimmickry

Though I write my fair share of reviews for Cheat Code Central, I’m still a gamer who likes that there’s a broad range of opinions out there, especially on games I have a personal interest in. I’ll read several other articles on any given game, mostly to decide whether I’ll buy it outright or rent it first and test it out.

Of course, not all the digital literature I find makes me tingle. One common thorn I seem to find when reading about a recently released game that features non-traditional controls is the word “gimmick.” This word is starting to drive me nuts. The taboo that has now been ingrained in gamers’ heads will instantly turn a potential consumer off of a game at the mere sight of the word. It’s become a dirty word in gaming, much like “streamlined” has become, and it’s time reviewers stopped slapping “gimmick” on every alternative control criticism.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this stigma began after the launch of the Wii, a system that completely polarized the gaming community. The Sony and Microsoft brands had done a great job land-locking the populace into a pure, hardcore demographic, since the GameCube posed no threat to their supremacy. Then along came the Wii, with radical motion controls that completely changed the target demographic of the game industry and ushered in a throng of casual gamers. The opposition needed something to point a finger at and cling to, and alternative controls were the easy cop out. Seriously, did we see unabashed gimmick comments about the touchscreen on the DS, or the N64’s Rumble Pak—a built-in standard on nearly every controller nowadays?

So now, instead of timing a button press to swing a golf club, you actually swing the Wii Remote. Or instead of spamming the A button to sprint on Kinect Sports, you actually stretch those legs and run. These are not gimmicks; they’re deliberate designs to add a little variety and fresh gameplay to an otherwise linear form of entertainment. Fine, you like to keep exercise and gaming separate, but even non-strenuous alternative controls are given the thumbs down.

The PS Vita is taking a lot of flak in this area right now. Swinging on a vine by tilting the Vita in Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a gimmick. Sliding your thumb and index finger along the top of the Vita to tear open an envelope in Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation is a gimmick. Remember, these are optional controls, and you’re more than within you power to press a button rather than swipe your finger across the screen.

The saddest part is that the outcry for traditional controls is so loud that developers and publishers are becoming more apprehensive about trying something new when designing a game. Even Sony and Microsoft are perched precariously on the fence. The Move was designed to compete for the Wii audience, but the PlayStation fan base razed it. The Kinect has had slightly more success, but Microsoft isn’t putting their full weight behind promoting it. That only leaves Nintendo, who thankfully will always think outside the box because their audience appreciates innovation. They’re much less concerned about the mindless drones who are already preparing to glue a DualShock controller to their hands when Grand Theft Auto V comes out.

Alternative Controls and Gimmickry

Okay, so I’m picking up GTA V the day it’s released too, but come on, the least Rockstar could do for the PS3 is work the Sixaxis for driving, so we at the bare minimum have the option to pretend the controller is a steering wheel.

Gimmick is supposed to be a positive noun. If you check Webster’s you’ll see it means an ingenious and usually new scheme or angle, or an important feature that is not immediately apparent. Yet every time I find it plastered in a review, it has a negative connotation. Granted, controls represent a fair portion of a game’s critique, but don’t send the score down the toilet just because there are alternative control options.

If the only available control options severely hinder the gameplay, then by all means trash the game for it. But gaming should be about exploring new experiences, not slapping the word <i>gimmick</i> in a game review then kissing your analog stick. Let’s keep an open mind, people.

Sean Engemann
Freelance Writer
Date: January 10, 2013
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