The Wii MotionPlus, Nintendo's hardware patch to make true on the promise of true motion-control gaming, is here. While it's pretty damn amazing—it truly is 1:1 motion detection—it still isn't perfect. And part of that is the software.
The Hardware: The are two components the the Wii MotionPlus, the hardware attachment itself and the software that supports it. The hardware, which consists of a sensor which detects rotation that hooks into the expansion/Nunchuk port of the Wiimote, allows the setup to feed back exact 3D positional information to the console. It still requires the other motion-detection systems of the Wii, including the sensor bar, which may contribute to the flaws of the overall system.
Here's the best example of what we're talking about. In Wii Sports Resort's Swordplay mode, where you swing around a kendo sword, there's a game called Showdown where you advance along a fixed path and swordfight about 50 continuous people. Even after calibrating your sword (Wii MotionPlus) at the start of the fight, the sword will go about 20-30 degrees askew after a few minutes of swinging, requiring you to recalibrate the system quickly by pressing down on the D-Pad. That wouldn't be bad, except for the fact that the Wiimote is still susceptible to interference from bright sunlight through a window or any pair of incandescent lights it thinks are the sensor bar, which totally screws up your orientation.
But for the most part, it's 1:1 motion. Wave your Wiimote around and the sword follows. You bowl or throw frisbees or swing a club or shoot a basket and the Mii on screen actually traces the actions of your controller. It's a very different experience than the past three years of flicking around the Wiimote. If you control your environment (limit the amount of sunlight, don't have any light bulbs to interfere), the hardware does what it claims.
We tested it with the three types of games that are out now, Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo's own offering that it's been working on since the MotionPlus unveil at E3 2008), Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (Golf) and Virtua Tennis 2009 (Tennis). We passed on Grand Slam Tennis since we didn't think we needed to test two tennis games to get the idea of how tennis worked for the platform, and reviews on Amazon rate the two titles as more or less equivalent in MotionPlus usage.
Tiger Woods: The game lets you go 1:1 motion in terms of your swing, but still manages to keep the game a game. There are three modes of difficulty, basically how realistic you want to map your motions, with the advance mode putting the most control of drawing and fading into your hands. I'm not a golfer, so I can't say with any kind of expertise how realistic this is, but it felt like what I was doing actually made a difference on screen. Instead of just going through any old swing, I had to pay attention to my form and keep the Wiimote face pointing the right way through contact with the ball.
The two questions that you have to ask are if the implementation actually makes you feel like you're making 1:1 motions with the golfer on screen, and whether or not it's fun. It is definitely fun, but it's not exactly 1:1 in terms of being ultra realistic. As good as the Wii MotionPlus hardware is, the developers took the liberty of not making the speed of your swing reflect the speed of your swing in game. Point being, very few people can actually swing as hard as Tiger, so in order to make the game entertaining, they had to level the playing field. If you really wanted to do 1:1 golfing, you'll have to pony up some club fees and go outside.
Virtua Tennis: Now tennis I do know, and Sega's implementation definitely is not 1:1. In a MotionPlus tennis game you would imagine the avatar on screen taking his backswing at the same time you do, mirroring your forehand, backhand or even overhead smash windup. It does not. In fact, it still gets confused half the time as to whether you're even doing a forehand or a backhand!
Trying to direct the ball crosscourt, down the line or up the middle is equally as futile—I could only get this to work accurately at most three shots out of five. The positional data from the Wiimote is there obviously, since other games have that data, but the game chooses to process it in a weird way. Like in golf, swings don't map 1:1 in that the speed of your swing doesn't quite determine how fast you swing. I can hit a decent serve, but I'm nowhere up into the 130s.
But the most annoying part of the game is the constant calibration. You have to point your Wiimote at the middle of the screen before every point (screenshot above), holding it still so the game knows where "front" is. Again, a huge waste of time when you want to be playing, and it puts the limitations of the platform in your face every few minutes.
As for the two questions of whether or not the game lets you feel like you're playing 1:1 and whether or not it's fun, we have the same answer. It is fun, but it's definitely not 1:1. It's a few steps up from Wii Sports Tennis (the first one, without MotionPlus), but it definitely isn't a "realistic" tennis experience. You will, however, be able to get more of a workout since you're trying to go 1:1 instead of just flicking your wrist. I'd imagine that this is similar to experienced golf players playing Tiger Woods; because you actually know what you're doing, the fact that this isn't quite 1:1 makes the process more frustrating.
Wii Sports Resort: The fact that Nintendo's own game is the best, both at showing the potential of the MotionPlus and in the implementation, should be no surprise. They developed the hardware and they've had the most time incubating their game, which makes Wii Sports Resort the most polished of the bunch.
I won't go through each of the games—you can catch that on Kotaku's review—but I will touch on some of the highs and lows. The previously mentioned Swordplay is pretty great, despite the quirks in the mode that caused frequent calibration issues, and really translates your swinging into sword motions well.
Frisbee and basketball and bowling and table tennis all fare equally well, and actually make you feel like you're controlling what's happening on the screen. It's a feeling that was lacking from Wii Sports. Letting go of the frisbee (B button) at just the right time determines angle, height and power, and flicking your wrist in basketball actually determines the angle your ball approaches the hoop.
But the flaws of Wii Motionplus show up in games like archery and canoeing. In archery, you hold the MotionPlus with your non-dominant hand to aim the bow and pull your string back with the Nunchuk. The MotionPlus gets de-calibrated super easily so that "front" often means 30 degrees off to the side and 20 degrees down. And in canoeing (as well as table tennis), you have the problem of the Wiimote not knowing which side you're pulling your controller to, so precision is not as perfect as you'd imagine.
Verdict The hardware is a big step forward, but it's not the end of the road. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say this was 80% of the way there to delivering true 1:1 motion detection in the hardware. Unless Nintendo releases a Wii MotionPlusPlus, I don't expect that it will get all that much better in this generation, hardware-wise.
However, even with the slight limitation that the hardware platform has, the software can make up with it by allowing you to do things that cater to its strengths and avoid its weaknesses (like detecting which side of your body you're pulling the controller towards). Sega's tennis implementation, for example, is one that needs refinement, whereas swordplay and frisbee and basketball—for the most part—are fine.
But if your question is if the Wii Motionplus is fun, it definitely is. It's the closest you'll get to 1:1 motion gaming until either the Sony or Microsoft motion solutions come out in 2010. Go and give Nintendo some more of your money. [Amazon]
Really gives you the sense that you're doing 1:1 motion
Wii Sports Resort is actually fun, and comes with one MotionPlus adapter
Not all games use motion equally well, with Wii Sports Resort being the best of the bunch now
Constant calibration in certain modes and certain games are annoying and somewhat of a waste of time