The Sidewinder Freestyle Pro: Microsoft's late 1990's attempt to take the legendary Sidewinder controller and make it worthless.

This week’s Wednesday Rant covers needless motion controls in modern games.

Graphics, story, music…there are many aspects of video games that determine what your experience is going to be like.  However, the way you interact with a game can, in some cases, completely change your experience.  The DS and the Wii are good examples of this; they both enabled games that were previously impossible to create on traditional gaming platforms (with the exception of the PC, of course.)  Some games use motion control brilliantly; Boom Blox and Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword are two such examples.  Unfortunately, with the inclusion of new control options, some developers/publishers will inevitably use them simply because they’re present, not because its a good design decision to do so.

Why am I forced to use the Wiimote's motion controls for these levels, instead of using the analog stick? Seriously...there is no excuse for this malarky.

The most recent example of this I’ve personally encountered is in Super Mario Galaxy 2.  Overall, Galaxy 2′s control scheme works great; the controls never feel like they get in your way.  Using the Wii’s “patented” waggle to perform a variety of tasks feels smoothly integrated and works well…except when going through one of the flying courses.  You hop on the back of a giant bird , and have to fly through the course.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, it would be, except instead of steering your bird using the analog stick, you have to use the motion controls in the Wiimote.  The response varies from overly sensitive to non-responsive, depending on your speed and location on the course.  This also applies to the levels where you’re riding atop a ball, and have to navigate the environment (if memory serves me right, these stages were also present in the first Mario Galaxy.)  These levels have to be played over and over again due to the difficulty in steering your bird or ball.  If we were allowed to just use the analog stick, there wouldn’t be a problem.  Don’t make the courses hard because of some stupid control decision; just make them genuinely difficult.

Another great example of “let’s use motion controls just because we can” is present in the otherwise excellent DS game Scribblenauts (yes, I’m counting the stylus as a form of motion control.)    The stylus implementation of manipulating objects that you’ve brought into the world works quite well…but what’s with using the stylus to control how your character moves on screen?  There are parts of the game where accurate movement is required, and using the stylus to control movement in a side-scroller is anything but accurate.  According to Creative Director Jeremiah Slaczka, 5th Cell originally went with stylus control because Maxwell (the main character) was programmed to interact with his surroundings…meaning that traditional d-pad controls weren’t considered.  The developers are thankfully rectifying this problem in the sequel.

Kinect and the Playstation Move were created in response to the Wii, regardless of what Microsoft and Sony say.  They both saw the crazy numbers that the Wii was pulling in with the “casual” market, and decided to get a piece of the action themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with motion controls when used intelligently (Metroid Prime Trilogy comes to mind)…I just don’t think all this focus on them is healthy for the gaming culture.  It’s healthy for the gaming industry, but not the gaming culture. Expanding the industry to include more customers makes more money for publishers, but it also causes gaming culture to implode by pitting “hardcore gamer” against “regular gamer” against “occasional gamer” against “casual gamer”.  Who knows, perhaps Kinect and Move will bridge this gap by providing games made with motion control in mind from the very beginning, but it will likely serve to only seperate us further.

Lair: contender for worst motion control implementation EVER.

If any developers or publishers are reading this, please please PLEASE stop putting motion controls into games just because you can.  If you are creating a game with the intention of utilizing motion controls in a way that compliments the game type, that’s fine; many games, such as the aforementioned Boom Blox, rely on such a design.  That being said, don’t make us waggle when would could just press a button instead…all it does is diminish the experience.