BITMAPS 88: Nintendo’s Real Revolution

The anticipation had filled the night air with magic. I’d invited a few friends over because this was going to be an event too big to enjoy alone. I’d scheduled an entire week’s worth of vacation around this night, and a Double Gulp from the local 7-11 ensured that it would be a long and memorable one. I remember carefully slicing open all the retaining stickers (after taking pictures for posterity) and marveling at the pearly plastic ensconced in fitted cardboard. After years of promises, speculations, and jarring name-changes, the Wii was finally out. Unfortunately, three years since, things didn’t turn out the way I pictured.

Oh, to be young and foolish.

Playing Wii Sports that night filled me with sublime hope. Bowling, golfing, and tennis-ing delivered every tactile experience I could’ve asked for. I still remember that night fondly, partially for the great time I shared with close friends, and partially because it was a time of such hope and anticipation. Wii Sports seemed to deliver the experience that gamers had expected from Nintendo’s new console. It seemed precise, immersive, and responsive. What’s more, it was a launch title, a mere glimpse of wonders to come. Surely, we thought, once those capable developers donned their lab coats, goggles, and clipboards, they would push the tech to new and exciting levels – surely.

However, the years since haven’t seen bigger and brighter. In fact, games struggle to even be as immersive as the Wii’s hallmark title, let alone surpass it. Wii Sports was more of an elaborate wool-pulling than a promise of future achievement. As I’ve since learned, the Wii Remote’s tech is actually clumsy in that it detects acceleration rather than tracking movement. A swing of the Wii Remote registers in terms of ‘I moved right’ or ‘I moved down’, rather than ‘I moved six inches left and rotated 45 degrees’. This ham-fisted tracking reduces game input to a binary register (either you moved left or you didn’t) so any input tied to this is functionally no different to pushing a button. This reduces motion controls to being a button-replacement, equal parts novel and annoying.

And so, motion controls became a novelty. Like petting a cat, the benefit is more in one’s head than in reality. Because of this, developers had to trick players into thinking their motions were worth more in the game than they actually were. Wii Sports did this very well. While the game only registered slight acceleration, visual cues subtly convinced players that more was required. Other developers either weren’t comfortable with obfuscating the controls, or not as gifted at smoke and mirrors as Nintendo. While I’ve enjoyed my Wii and several of the games I’ve played since, nothing’s quite captured that feeling of wonder and excitement as that first play of Wii Sports.

The best for three years? Really?

But maybe there’s hope for motion controls offering more than an illusion, and it’s fitting that Wii Sports: Resort is the game to bring back that hope. MotionPlus remedies all the shortcomings of the original Wii Remote, and Resort expertly demonstrates what this new technology means for interactivity. Throwing a Frisbee is inordinately satisfying, and archery just “feels right,” according to a friend that I suspect has had several meals in which a bow played an integral role. However, hindsight begs the question – is this the true rebirth of the Nintendo Wii, or merely another dose of smoke and mirrors? Have their beards all grown longer overnight?

While I’ve been fooled before, I have to say that this time the Wii is for real. The ingredients are finally there for the Wii experience gamers wanted three years ago. The MotionPlus is every bit as accurate as we all assumed the Wii Remote would be – several events in Resort demonstrate that. Waving the sword around in Speed Slice is eerily satisfying – so much so that I want a game based entirely around cutting things. What’s more, MotionPlus units are surging into the market. Selling 374K units in June (the month before Resort released) has to motivate developers, and I’m sure July’s numbers will be even better. The hardware works and it’s already in people’s hands. While the Wii’s failure to deliver that promised revolution has burnt me in the past, I’m yet again convinced that this time it’s for real. Hell, Ubisoft might even nail Red Steel this time around, too. While the shame may be on me for this second fooling, I can live with that as long as I can squeeze in another round of Frisbee Golf.

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