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Motion controls have existed longer than some may actually think. While the Wii managed to bring the technology into the mainstream, motion controls actually existed as far back as the 80s during the Atari era. Up until the Wii, motion controls were used in add-on experiences, while the actual system still had a traditional controller as its main option. The Wii did the opposite and instead made motion controls its primary focus. Many “hardcore gamers”, hated this. There were constant complaints from the gaming community, urging developers to have titles that didn’t include any motion controls whatsoever (or at least not have it being mandatory). While there were non-motion games on the Wii, that always remained the focus. Fast-forward to now, and it’s obvious that motion controls are no longer at the center of attention, with traditional controllers once again reigning supreme. But, there’s a catch. Now we have virtual reality—which just so happens to use motion controls extensively. And low-and-behold, there’s a lot of hype surrounding it. So, what happened? Why is it suddenly cool again?
After seeing the massive success of the Wii, both Microsoft and Sony developed their own motion control add-ons for the 360 and PS3, respectively. I can still fondly remember the Kinect commercials and PS Move advertisements that popped up all over the place. They really tried to take the fight to Nintendo and suck in the same casual crowd that made the Wii so popular in the first place. The Kinect ended up getting the most attention and being the Wii’s direct competition, but that wasn’t for long. It didn’t take much time for people to grow tired of all the motion games, and thus the market began to shrink. With the rise of mobile devices, motion controls were adopted into simple mobile titles. Once this happened, the ‘fad’ faded away and turned into a commodity.
When developers focused on traditional controls again, many gamers were thrilled. Even Nintendo moved away from motion controls to an extent with the Wii U; the Gamepad does feature an accelerometer and gyroscope, but it can still be used as a completely standard controller, unlike the Wii Remote. So, the core gaming world has spent the last few years doing just fine with standard controls again, but now motion controls are beginning to make their way back into the limelight thanks to the rise of VR. All of the new gaming VR headsets feature motion control options. Sony has even managed to resurrect the PS Move controllers thanks to PSVR. The thing is, I’m not hearing a lot of people complain about it. I’ve been seeing some complaints about VR itself, but not so much the use of motion controls. Yet, it was such a big deal just a few years ago—five to be exact.
Let’s roll the clock back to 2011. It was the Wii’s last year on the frontlines, and Nintendo wanted to have the system go out with a bang. By that point, its sales had began to decline a bit and it was facing growing competition from the aforementioned Kinect, and, to a lesser extent, the PS Move. At this point, the Wii was five years old and had accumulated a pretty large library of games. But, there was a problem. The majority of those games weren’t very good and used the system’s motion controls to such a simple extent that it just came off as pathetic. There were a few games that really tried to take it seriously, but they were eclipsed by the large collection of shovelware. That year the real hero stepped up to the plate. It was a game that came directly from Nintendo and was developed over the course of the Wii’s entire lifespan. It was a game that made full use of the system’s capabilities, both from a hardware standpoint and a control standpoint. It was the game that truly defined the system. This game was the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Skyward Sword was the true pinnacle of the Wii’s capabilities and all motion-controlled games up to that point.
Before we get into Skyward Sword, let’s go back a little further in time for a brief moment. Nintendo made a surprise announcement in 2005 when it revealed that Zelda: Twilight Princess would also be coming to the Wii in addition to the already announced Gamecube release. To set the two versions apart, changes were made to the Wii version to make use of its motion controls. It was pretty simple when compared to Skyward Sword, but it was there. This was the blueprint for Skyward Sword’s whole development process.
Armed with the MotionPlus technology which was released two years earlier, Skyward Sword was a completely motion-controlled game in almost every aspect. Most activities were carried out by means of swinging, aiming and moving the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Nintendo wanted to create the most immersive and interactive motion controlled experience ever, and that’s exactly what they did. Initially, the game received high praise from critics and fans alike. It won a bounty of awards, and became the fastest-selling entry in the series to date. But after all that fanfare, something happened. As time passed, players began to look back on the game and complain about it. Some think it was too linear and confined, but the main complaint that began to pop up more and more were the controls. The game got great reviews and won a lot of awards, but now suddenly the controls were seen as a nuisance. I was honestly surprised at the change of tone coming from a lot of fans. That brings us back to the present.
With virtual reality looking to become the ‘next big thing’ in gaming (and entertainment, in general) motion controls are now once again being used extensively. While there are a lot of VR titles that can be played with a standard controller, the most immersive experiences all require you to use a pair of motion controllers. Instead of the jeers and snide remarks of just a few years ago, motion controls are now being praised, just like they were in the early days.
Now don’t get me wrong—it’s very clear that VR and standard motion controls are different. VR is an infinitely more immersive experience than the Wii, Kinect and PS Move could ever hope to be. Even so, I just find it pretty amazing that after all the whining, it seems that motion controls are now once again the best thing ever since sliced bread. VR itself is drowning in hype, but one of the reasons is because it feels so immersive thanks to the use of motion controls. It wouldn’t be nearly as cool of an experience if it were relying on standard controls.
I didn’t write this article to try and call out anyone or start a feud—I’m just a little shocked. The motion controls themselves haven’t really changed much from how they were a few years ago, they’re simply just being used more efficiently. So, what was up with all the complaints? Why was it hated so much? As I already mentioned, there were a lot of bad games that ruined the reputation of motion controls, but then there are critically-acclaimed titles like Skyward Sword which also started to receive negative comments over its controls after it launched. Now, we’re back to that same “Oooooh! Ahhhh!” phase from when the Wii was in its infancy. But hey, I guess I should just be happy that it’s making a comeback, right? So, continue loving VR. Continue falling in love with motion controls all over again—just don’t start complaining again a few years from now.