Nintendo’s Wii gaming system motivates first-graders, senior citizens and everyone in between to get off their couches and play video games by swinging a motion-sensing remote control. These motions are similar enough to those used in real-life games that people find the Wii less intimidating than other video games with confusing controls.
After almost three years of Wii success, Nintendo recently reported it sold in its first quarter less than half the Wii consoles it sold a year earlier. The Wii needs a shot in the arm, and Nintendo thinks it has just the solution: the Wii MotionPlus remote accessory.
This small piece plugs into the bottom of Wii remotes and costs $20 by itself or $50 when bundled with the Wii Sports Resort game, which includes 12 sports that take advantage of Wii MotionPlus. The Wii console costs $250 and comes with a remote and a Nunchuk. The Wii MotionPlus has a gyroscope that helps the remote detect slight twists or rotations made by one’s wrist and/or arm and reflects these movements on the screen. It adds more precision to games like bowling and golf, so you don’t feel like you accidentally made a good—or bad—shot. And it lets you add spin to a ball while swinging a golf club or ping-pong racket or while bowling.
I’ve been playing games with the Wii MotionPlus, and this small accessory adds a much more satisfying, realistic element to Wii games. In some cases, this meant that I played a game with less success than with the original Wii remote because the MotionPlus add-on is more responsive and sensitive. But I eventually got used to it and liked it more than the plain remote.
However enjoyable, the Wii MotionPlus is more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary change. If you’ve never played video games on a Wii before, you wouldn’t know what you were missing if you used the remote without MotionPlus.
The real excitement in video gaming and general broadcast TV controlling will come when we don’t need any remote controls at all and cameras will sense our movements, reflecting them on-screen. In June, Microsoft (MSFT) announced its Project Natal, which would potentially work with all Xbox 360 consoles to directly sense movements and sounds, and to recognize faces. This would encourage users to swing, throw, run and jump in a completely natural way without the need to learn anything about how to hold a remote control or operate its buttons.
On a similar note, Sunnyvale-Calif.-based Canesta Inc. wants you to use your hands as remote controls for your TV. The idea with Canesta is that users could, for example, walk into a family room and wave at the TV to turn it on, move a hand in a rightward circle to turn up the volume and flip through channels using motions like those used to page through a large book. I tried Canesta in a demonstration and can testify that doing things like turning the channel with your hands is a powerful and somewhat magical experience. But of these, Nintendo currently has the only product on the market to use technology that echoes natural movements, albeit with a remote control. Project Natal is still just a research project that isn’t used in any products, and it won’t be coming out any time this year.
Canesta has a partnership with Hitachi (HIT) so that it will be used in the company’s TV sets, though Hitachi says these TVs won’t be available until 2010 at the earliest and would likely show up in Japan first. Canesta is also building other partnerships, or it could work as a standalone product for TVs, computers, set-top boxes or other devices.
Wii MotionPlus makes the remote smart enough not to require as much button pressing. For example, shooting basketballs in a three-point shootout only required holding the remote in my right hand so it followed my shooting motion. Bowling no longer requires letting go of a button just in time to release the ball, a former menace to Wii’s beginner bowlers. And I threw a Frisbee by moving the remote with the same motion as if I were tossing one in real life. At first, my friend and I found ourselves trying to make stiff motions that seemed more video-game-like, but when the on-screen instructions encouraged us to move naturally, we did so and had much more success.
Wii Sports Resort includes 12 different sports but omits some of the old favorites from the original Wii Sports. Tennis has been replaced with table tennis, boxing has been replaced by sword fighting, and though bowling and golf remain, baseball is gone. New sports include wakeboarding, Frisbee, archery, basketball, power cruising (jet skis), canoeing, cycling and air sports like parachuting.
I bowled and put a little extra spin on the ball by twisting my wrist just before letting go. The ball was surprisingly reactive, so much so that I had to tone down my spin before I got the hang of it. Wakeboarding works by holding the remote horizontally like it’s the cross bar you hold onto and use for steering in the water. The Wii MotionPlus works with the Nunchuk attachment, and my friend and I attached this piece to the remote to compete against one another in several rounds of archery (he won by seven points). With the Nunchuk attached to the remote, we held the remote like it was the bow and slowly pulled the Nunchuk attachment back as if it were the arrow—stretching sound-effects and all.
The MotionPlus can stay attached to the remote while playing games that aren’t made specifically for its use; those games won’t be affected. However, a regular remote can’t be used with games made for the MotionPlus. Along with Wii Sports Resort, three other games are made to use the Wii MotionPlus: Sega’s Virtua Tennis 2009, EA Sports’ (ERTS) Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10.
If you’re hoping to give your tired Wii a boost, you’ll like what the relatively inexpensive Wii MotionPlus accessory brings to your game—though you’ll also need to buy new games that work with it. Generally speaking, it’s exciting to know that technology is almost advanced enough that we could very soon stop letting our remotes have all the control and take some of it back with just the wave of a hand.