Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Dislike of the Wii Part Two: The Control Scheme

The Wii remote was an innovation and quickly became the darling of the Wii's late 2006 release. Rather than "thumbing it" with the joystick, with the bundled Wii Sports, you could actually use the Wii remote to use semi-"real" motions: swinging golf clubs, playing tennis, bowling, boxing, or baseball. But what began as an awesome control setup quickly fell apart almost from Day One. Why?

1. What Can You Do With This Thing, Again?
The Wii remote was highly praised in the beginning, and hopes were that some truly awesome game (such as Star Wars lightsaber duels) would make the Wii remote so awesome compared to the traditional joysticks of the Xbox 360 and PS3. But it was quickly realized that it just didn't work that way. The Wii remote has a weak rumble and no force feedback. Try this: swing your forearm around as if you had a Wii remote in it. Now try to stick your other forearm out and block it while swinging. In the Wii world, there's no way to feel force-feedback. Physically, you can't tell if you hit a wall, a tree, or someone's internal organs.

Red Steel, a highly-anticipated launch title, was disappointing and in the worst cases, caused nausea.

2. Tied to a Cinderblock
The Wii has a special port on the bottom of it for attaching other peripherals, such as the Nunchuck. With the Nunchuck, you get a joystick and another button. But the whole system becomes woeful when you factor in everything else. The Classic Controller, for instance, can allow you to play traditionally, but rather than plugging into the USB port on the Wii (yes, it has one), you have to get a Wii remote and plug the not-quite-long-enough cord into the Wii. To play four player on the Virtual Console, you'll have to get four Wii remotes and four Classic Controllers, which would set you back well past $150. Guitar Hero and Rock Band share an even more irritating puzzle. Rather than plugging them into the USB port (or better yet, wireless), you have to plug the Wii remote into the actual systems. For Guitar Hero, this is particularly cumbersome, kind of destroying the "pick up and play" type atmosphere.

3. Main Menu
You can use the Wii remote to navigate around menus, but it is not fun to do. If you have a shaky hand or a ray of sunlight entering the room, the little "hand" will be extremely fidgety. Even less fun is using an onscreen keyboard for Internet browsing (and yes, you have to pay for the browser). In a more ideal world, you can bypass the awkward remote by plugging in your keyboard and mouse of choice into the USB port. But you can't!

4. One Controller Fits All But Not for Wii Users
In every single console ever released (there may be a few exceptions), all games minus some obscure special ones, were playable with a regular controller. In the original Atari 2600 games, such as Pitfall!, Space Invaders, and Kaboom!.

The NES saved the industry while the directional pad replaced the kludgy and hard-to-use joystick. Fun to use on games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., and perhaps Mega Man 2.

You can go on and on.

But the Wii remote is NOT fun. With just the Wii remote, games become too easy or too hard. Games are not ported or changed significantly to fit into the Wii's system. The Classic Controller is needed make it resemble a good game.

5. Don't Rest on Your Laurels
Meanwhile, Xbox 360, which did hold to the "one controller" scheme is finally introducing something that will eat Wii's lunch. Unlike Microsoft's other competitors to other products, "Project Natal" looks like a defeater to the Wii. Unlike the EyeToy, Project Natal "enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360 without the need to touch a game controller through a natural user interface using gestures, spoken commands, or presented objects and images." That way, you can keep your Xbox 360 controllers while you just use your hands, controller free. Will it work? We'll see...

Tune in next time for "Games and Functionality".

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