Pretty sneaky, Sis.
Knock em dead

The waggle wanes


My left index finger hurts like the dickens. Yesterday I played Sin & Punishment: Star Successor into the wee hours (the Wii hours?), and my poor digit took quite a beating. I've mapped the 'dodge' button to the left bumper on my controller, and this game has me dodging ninjas, frogs, missiles, lasers, fireballs, and any number of other projectiles with my name on them. 

If you're a fan of the genre, Treasure's new bullet-hell shoot-em-up on rails is everything you could hope for. It's an an old-school game re-tooled for a modern audience, with a difficulty spectrum broader than any I've seen in other games. Played on Easy with a Wiimote and nunchuck (and a co-op partner helping you), this beast is positively tamable. Played on Hard, however, the game delivers a seismic beat-down the likes of which I haven't seen since Ikaruga, the only game to provoke me into an apoplectic fit of digital media disc destruction. Ah, the Dreamcast days. But I digress.

I'm playing S&P with Nintendo's new Classic Controller Pro, which ought to come with a 'scratch and sniff the irony' sticker on the box. Here we are 4 years and 71 million units into the life of the Wii, and Nintendo finally devises a gamepad properly suited for its Virtual Console catalog of SNES, Genesis, N64, et al games - but it only works if you tether it to the wireless motion-control remote that made such gamepads 'obsolete.' Sadly, despite the Wii's backward compatibility with Gamecube games, the new gamepad won't work as a Gamecube controller, even though it matches all its buttons, triggers, and d-pad. Grrr.

Taking nothing away from Nintendo's elegant implementation of motion-control in games like Super Mario Galaxy 1&2, it seems to me developers (especially 3rd-party) have finally embraced the notion that waggling the Wiimote may not always be the best or even necessary option. Looking over the list of Wii games I've played over the last 6 months, I see lots of terrific games that made little or no use of motion-control (or rendered it purely optional), and none suffered for the loss.

Sin & Punishment aside, the two Wii games I've spent the most time with in 2010 are Monster Hunter Tri and Cave Story, both exceptionally fine games that simply have no use for motion-control. I can imagine that someone at Capcom must have briefly considered the possibility of whacking monsters by waving the Wiimote around, but mercifully abandoned the idea. In years 1-3 of the Wii's existence, I'll wager those waggle chops would have made it into the game.

An Art Style game like Orbient could easily have tacked on pointing or tilt control, but the designers wisely kept things simple. If you haven't tried any of the Art Style games available on WiiWare, I encourage you to give them a look. I especially like Orbient and Rotozoa, but they're all graceful games with simple, intuitive controls.

And then there's the forthcoming Metroid: Other M. Here's what Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi had to say recently about his team's decision not to use MotionPlus:

"It [Metroid] is not compatible with the Wii MotionPlus. One of our major goals with this game is beautiful game design and as we were progressing through development we discovered that it [MotionPlus] was actually not working with what we were shooting for."[1]

"Beautiful game design" may be enhanced by smooth, smartly implemented motion-control (Metroid Prime 3: Corruption), or it may undermine an otherwise wonderful concept. Consider the case of Max & the Magic Marker

Max & the Magic Marker's core mechanic is based on drawing with the Wiimote. The goal of the game is to get Max to the end of each level, and the player draws objects onscreen to enable Max's progress. Unfortunately, the imprecise nature of the Wiimote renders what might have been an inspired design into an exercise in frustration. 

But let's say those controls worked perfectly and I could easily draw whatever Max needed. The real problem with Max & the Magic Marker is a lack of imagination in its most basic element: level design. A platformer that requires the player to draw items on-screen sounds like an ideal twist on the genre for the Wii...but if nobody bothers to design interesting levels, you're left with tiresome derivative gameplay based on a gimmick, and gimmicks wear thin quickly.

It took awhile, but maybe we've finally turned the corner designing games for the Wii with control schemes that suit them. We'll see what happens next with Kinect and Move. Something tells me I'll be waving my arms again soon.