Gimmick: “a special feature that makes something ‘stand out’ from its contemporaries that is typically thought to be of little relevance or use.”
Ever since the launch of the Wii, the word “gimmick” has been used more and more in the world of game journalism. Here I separate those pieces of hardware that rightfully should be called gimmicks from those that have the potential to legitimately advance gaming.
1. Nintendo Wii (without the Motion+)
You could argue that the Nintendo Wii (without the motion+ add-on) is the very definition of a gimmick. When Nintendo first revealed the Wii, hardcore gamers salivated.
Finally the promise of virtual reality, which has loomed over the horizon since the early 90s, would be realized. We thought the Wii would take gameplay to new places - beyond what was possible with traditional gamepads. Sword fighting games would just be the tip of the iceberg.
But within a year of the Wii’s launch, it was clear that it would not deliver on these promises. The technology just wasn’t capable. Advertisements where japanese children made sword strokes and their avatars followed suit were misleading to the extreme.
The wii remote wasn’t capable of being tracked in 3d space. Gamers soon figured out that they could produce the same result waggling their wiimotes in their laps as they could swinging it like a tennis racket. It was a glorified trigger button. Games like Zelda: Twighlight Princess and Red Steel, initially thought to barely scratch the surface of the Wii’s power, turned out to be sobering demontrations its limitations.
The Wiimote’s one redeeming quality is its pointer control. The on-screen cursor’s sensitivity rivals a computer mouse and is superior to the Xbox360’s or PS3’s analog sticks. This feature could have made the Wii the system to beat for 1st person shooters. Unfortunately the system’s graphical limitations and pathetic online infrastructure prevented this from happening.
The Wii may have expanded the demographics of gaming but it did nothing to expand gaming itself.
2. Nintendo 3DS
The 3DS has only been on the market for about a month and people are already calling it an expensive and annoying gimmick. Are they right?
There’s no doubt that the 3DS is an amazing piece of hardware. The 3d effect is the best you can get outside of a movie theater - far better than the LCD shutter technology you get with 3DTVs - and all without glasses.
But does this 3d technology - that causes headaches in some people - actually enhance gameplay? Yes it does.
We’ve been playing “3d” games for years, but with the 3DS, we finally have true depth perception. 3d platformers will finally allow the player to accurately gauge jumps into and out of the screen. Players will no longer need to watch their shadows or readjust the camera to make these types of tricky jumps. 1st person melee games might suddenly become popular now that the player will know whether his sword will make contact with his enemy. Even close-quarters racing games like Burnout will be enhanced by 3d.
So then why do people think the 3DS is a gimmick? Because Nintendo has utterly failed to make the case for 3d in its launch lineup. The biggest 3DS title is Street Fighter IV, a strictly 2d game! Nintendo’s 1st party launch titles were Steel Diver, a strange, predominately 2d sidescroller, and Pilot Wings Resort, a game where objects are either right in your face or 300 yards away. None of these games substantially benefit from 3d. It’s no wonder a lot of people opt to turn off the system’s 3d effect.
It’s really baffling as to why Nintendo didn’t wait for a games like Super Mario 3DS or Mario Kart 3DS before releasing the system. What was the hurry? The Sony Vita isn’t coming out until Christmas and the DS is still going strong.
Also not helping was Nintendo’s decision to include only 1 analog stick on the 3DS. For a system designed for 3d, wouldn’t it make sense to allow a functional control scheme for 1st person and 3rd person shooters? They could afford to put in a camera, so why not a 2nd analog stick?
When Mario 3DS and Mario Kart 3DS release, the gaming world will utter a collective “Duuuuuhhh, I guess 3d is pretty cool afterall.” Until then, Nintendo has no one but themselves to blame.
Verdict: Definitely Not a Gimmick
3. Xbox Kinect
One thing is for sure, and that’s that no gamer would have designed the Xbox Kinect. Clearly the system was created when a Microsoft executive, with a cursory knowledge of videogames, realized that casual gamers liked the Wii because they didnt’ have to press buttons. So clearly the next logical step was to remove the controller all-together. Then all they had to do is get Peter Molyneux to say some nonsense about controllerless being the future of gaming and boom! They had a gimmick!
Let’s make something clear. The Kinect is NOT the future of gaming. Taking away a controller doesn’t expand the player’s interaction with the game, it limits it. How can you hope to control the actions of an avatar in 3d space if you can’t manipulate the avatar’s viewpoint or control where you want him to go?
At E3 microsoft revealed a Star Wars lightsaber game for Kinect. The player can move his jedi in two directions - forward and reverse, but only in 10 foot increments, and only by waving his arms as if he’s doing a breast stroke through the air. This is the future of gaming?
Furthermore, the lack of a physical controller is not always going to be the more immersive choice. Sure in a boxing game, its more realistic to use your fists rather than a controller but what about a shooting game? Snapping your fingers to fire off a shot is actually less immersive than pulling the trigger on a wiimote. Having to pretend the base of a lightsaber is in your hand is less immersive than holding the PS3 wand.
Dance Central is the one game that really seems to benefit from Kinect. It works because it’s the most fundamental use of the technology. The player does a motion and the Kinect tells him if the motion matched the one the Kinect wanted him to do. It’s hard to imagine that this idea can be taken much further.
Verdict: Big Time Gimmick
4. PS3 Move and Nintendo Wii with Motion+
The PS3 move and the Wii motion+ are similar in alot of ways. They look very similar for starters. More importantly, they both offer actual one-to-one motion. I think the PS3 Move has the technical edge, but both are far superior to the original Wii remote.
Both technologies offer the potential for the kinds of games that simply aren’t possible with traditional gamepads. Imagine a Castlevania where the player controls with the finesse of an actual whip, or a lightsaber game where the player fully in control of botht the jedi’s swings and his movementsto his every strike. The Wii Motion+and the PS3 Move offer an opportunity for real gameplay advancement. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet.
The PS3 Move and the Wii motion+ are being held back by the massive investment needed to make software that takes advantage of these devices. We’re talking games where enemy models will respond to being stabbed in any direction, where AI can react to all of the subtle nuances of moving a sword, or whip, or lightsaber. Making a 9.0 game is expensive in its own right, and these devices just make it worse.
Thel install bases for the Wii Motion+ and PS3 Move are just too small for companies to make that investment. We’d all love to see an Elder Scrolls game designed for the PS3 Move, but Bethesda would rather make a game for the 100 million Xbox360 and PS3 owners than the 3 million PS3 Move owners. This is why all we’ve seen for the PS3 move are cheap, shallow, tech demos such as The Fight: Lights Out and The Shoot. Unfortunately this is all we’re likely going to see.
Fortunately the Motion+ is not very expensive to prodce. This will allow Nintendo to invest heavily in Zelda: Skyward Sword because it will most likely ship the game bundled with a motion+. With Zelda: Skyward Sword we might finally see a game that lives up to the years of motion control hype.
Verdict: Not a gimmick, so shutup already.
5. Wii U
The Wii U was a strange reveal for Nintendo when you consider its last 3 console reveals. The DS brought the promise of touchscreen controls, opening up console gaming to genres that typically could only be played on PC. The Wii brought the promise of true -to-life motion controls. The 3ds brought the promise of 3d gaming. The Wii U brought the promise of.....not having to share the TV with grandma?
The Wii U is a dissapointment for anyone who still held out hopes that the Wii signalled the start of a new age of immersive gameplay. Before all the Project Cafe rumors appeared, most people assumed the Wii 2 would expand on the ideas of the original Wii. Perhaps it would have even better motion tracking than the motion+. Perhaps it would involve some sort of head-mounted display. Nope. With the Wii U, Nintendo seems to be moving on from motion controls and into the iPad space...sort of.
It’s unclear who the Wii U is made for. Nintendo of America claimed that it was Nintendo’s attempt to reclaim the hardcore gamer. Naturally then I assumed that the LCD screen controller was an attempt to bring multiplayer gaming back to the living room (from the internet). I imagined myself and a few buddies, each with our own screen controller, playing a first person shooter. It would be like a LAN party in a box. But then Nintendo said the console will only support ONE screen controller at a time.
The demos Nintendo showed at E3 were cute, but the fact that they all involved splitscreen gameplay shows how far Nintendo has to go with hardcore gamers. Hardcore gamers may have tolerated splitscreen in 1997, but we’re used to online gaming now. How many years has it been since Microsoft or Sony showed a splitscreen in an E3 presentation? 5 years?
The original Wii was a bait and switch for hardcore gamers. With the Wii U, Nintendo seems to have forgotten the bait.
But Nintendo’s biggest problem with the Wii U may be the casual gamer. It remains to be seen whether casual gamers will upgrade with every console generation the way hardcore gamers do. They may treat consoles the way they treat vacuum cleaners; the one they have isn’t broken so why buy a new one. It’s unlikely that HD graphics are enough to persuade the average casual gamer to upgrade from his Wii. And the extra screen isn’t going to make Wii Fit or Wii Bowling any better.
Verdict: Nintendo wishes it was a Gimmick