Motion control neither revitalized nor ruined video games in 2010, the year when finally everyone was doing it. You could find motion control games everywhere, joysticks and buttons be damned. It wasn't all bad. But much of it was wild.
How much arm-waving did we all do to control video games this year? How many times did you tilt an iPhone or iPad? Will you be nostalgic in 2020 for that year a decade ago when you considered re-arranging your living room so you had the space to hope around in front of a Kinect? Was there ever a year in which I said so many times, to so many people, describing so many new video game controllers that "It's like Minority Report"?
The Original Motion Gaming People
First, we had Nintendo, the people who got everyone excited about motion gaming in 2006 when they released the Wii. Their motion-sensitive Wii Remote made living-room bowlers and tennis pros out of all of us and all of our grandmothers. Nintendo put out a gadget called MotionPlus in '09 that made the Wii Remote more sensitive to our arm swings and wrist flicks, then spent the first 10 months of 2010 releasing no games that supported it. On the 11th month they did release one; it was not good. It was bundled with the new Wii Remote Plus that included MotionPlus in its shell.
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Motion control was used subtly or minimally in Nintendo's best Wii games of the year, games such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Kirby's Epic Yarn.
Perhaps Nintendo was in on the secret that motion control doesn't make all games better. They tended to leave it out when they could, showing motion-control restraint in the same year their competition was falling over itself to add motion control to their own consoles and make sure half the world knew they were doing it.
Sure, Nintendo threw in a motion sensor into their new Nintendo 3DS (we knew it!), which they revealed in June. They'd been wanting a motion sensor in a portable for a while — but that wasn't even the draw for the 3DS. The system's glasses-free 3D was. The motion-sensor in the 3DS did appear to empower the system to do some cool augmented-reality tricks. It is all preview and tease for now. The 3DS won't be out until early 2011,.
In June we did get to test the MotionPlus-required controls for the next Wii Zelda game, a 2011 adventure that plays well and looks a little like a Cezanne painting.
The most complex, advanced and impressive motion controls in a game on a Nintendo platform in 2010 were in February's Red Steel 2 from Ubisoft, a first-person shooting and sword-swinging game that used MotionPlus to know how you moved and turn you into an excellent combatant. Oh, but whatever you do, don't fall for the motion controls of the DS' Face Pilot. We heroically warned everyone about this in August.
Not Sure What Apple Was Doing
There were about as many games added to the App Store this year as there were bedbugs added to New York City beds in 2010, though it seemed that in the war for popularity, '09 millions-sellers like Angry Birds (not a motion-game) had a leg-up on millions-selling Doodlejump (a motion game.)
Motion control — call it "tilt control" — could be good on the iPhone. Exhibit A: Let's just assume that a minimum of one person on the Kotaku staff spent the better part of early 2010 obsessively playing iPhone motion game Tilt To Live.
By mid-year we got the iPad, which didn't have any more buttons or joysticks than the iPhone did. We could play games on this machine by swiping our fingers across the screen. Or we could tilt the thing.
Thankfully, most of the better games didn't force us to do that. Well, except for The Incident. And a UFO game called UFO On Tape. Oh, and Labyrinth 2 HD. That one was neat.
But no, we were not loving motion control gaming on the iPad.
Sony Moved Everything
There would be a motion controller for the PlayStation this year — the one we'd first seen at E3 in June 2009 — and it would be called.... Arc? Right? Seemed that way early in the year.
It was called Move when it was shown to the press at a big hype event in March during the Game Developers Conference.
Many jokes were made about what the Move looks like. For the sake of all the kids out there, let's pretend that the most common comparison was to an ice-cream cone.
The Move seemed kind of like a super Wii Remote with a glowing ball at the end that helped it gauge depth. The Move could control boxing-style games, sports games, and shooters. You know, Wii stuff. It even had its own Nunchuk and its own gun-like shell.
As the year went on, Sony started showing less obvious ways to use the Move, like for throwing fireballs and climbing a branch in lizard-like fashion. Sony also promised to put Move in the next LittleBigPlanet and in a game about magic called Sorcery.
We reviewed Move when it came out in September: loved the tech, didn't love the games. Our favorites were 1) the Wii-Sports-alike called Sports Champions that included a great gladiator mode and 2) the game that showed off the Move's ability to enable augmented reality (No, we are not actually holding a cartoon hammer in our hand; it only looks that way on television). Shockingly the Move game about riding an office-chair down the slopes of a city in China was a dud. (We reviewed every launch Move game and tested its ability to withstand bright sun and a bright son.)
Move didn't get the hype of a certain other motion controller that came out in 2010, but it also didn't get so squarely targeted at people who avoid video games that contain guns. Killzone 3 and SOCOM 4, shooting games coming in 2011, earned Move support. So did 2010's MAG and some weird non-shooters: one about helping a man walk across shadows and one about painting music — or is that musically painting? We would also see previews of a next-year Move game starring Ratchet and Daxter and four other Sony icons.
It began to seem like more of a news event when an upcoming PlayStation 3 game wasn't supporting Move. So many of them found a way.
By the end of November, Sony was saying they'd sold more than 4 million Moves to stores, but didn't say how many Moves those stores had then sold to human beings.
Oh Yeah, Kinect
At the start of the year, Microsoft's no-controller-needed sensor device Kinect was still called Project Natal. It would be a big deal in 2010 and even made guest appearances on TV throughout the year. Microsoft slipped the Kinect in TV shows such as Smallville, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the made-for-TV-movie The Jensen Project. They also got it in the windows at Macy's.
Microsoft renamed Project Natal in June, calling it Kinect, though some of us game reporters kept accidentally calling it Kinetic for a few days.
A day before we were shown Kinect games for real, we were invited by Microsoft to a circus performance to see actors pretend to play it. There, we were forced to wear white smocks whose shoulder pads lit up. (If you don't get it, you're incapable of appreciating the convergence of marketing and art.) Look, they even snuck into our bathroom to get us excited about Kinect.
Microsoft had their bunch of games for Kinect that seemed like Wii imitators: dancing games, party games, and simplified sports games. We were more pumped for the Kinect Star Wars game, but that didn't come out in 2010. Neither was the unofficial sequel to Rez, darn it (it's also coming to Move).
Early on we and just about everyone who got their first round in with the real Kinect were gaga over Dance Central, the dancing game made by the creators of Rock Band. Sadly, some video proof of our enthusiasm has been stripped from the Internet.
We were never sure all year long whether ambitious game designer Peter Molyneux's Kinect game about a virtual boy named Milo was ever going to come out. No? Yes? No?
We did at least nail down the fact that a tomato-throwing Kinect mode in Fable III had been squashed out of existence. We heard that around the same time we heard about the Kinect That Never Was.
In June, we were stunned to hear that you couldn't use Kinect while sitting down, which Microsoft said wasn't a problem by the time Kinect launched. In fact, in November we learned that you could wave through the Kinect's menus while seated, though Microsoft's attempts to convince us that you could play a game while seated consisted of releasing zero Kinect games in 2010 that could be played while seated. Whatever. We became fans of using Kinect to control our Xbox through the power not of gesture, but with voice.
One of the oddest turns for the Kinect hype train in 2010 ran through Tokyo in September, where suddenly the Kinect was no mere audience-expanding device designed to attract the Wii crowd. It was the controller for ... the next Steel Battalion?? Some crazy game from punk rock game designer Suda 51? And an unofficial Panzer Dragoon sequel? Well, ok then. 2011 for those games.
We reviewed Kinect when it came out in November: loved the hardware; didn't love the games. The best ones of the launch bunch were 1) Dance Central and — who'd have guessed it — 2) the tiger-petting game that was secretly a good mini-game compilation and even more secretly included hidden Halo content.
We tested Kinect with dogs, children and a rubber mask — not all at one, due to our failure of imagination. (Our minds were mush after reviewing every Kinect launch game).
Kinect needed a lot of room, staking claim to the space formerly occupied by coffee tables throughout America. It also needed time, like, say, nine days for someone to record a video diary of using the thing.
Kinect came out in early November. By the end of the month, Microsoft had sold 2.5 million of them.
People broke their TVs using Kinect. They hurt each other. But at least we knew that the Kinect would be less invasive than the TSA.
The other Wii cliche that Kinect fulfilled was that it became a toy for hackers. This was good. We got Kinect-enabled shadow puppets, Kinect Super Mario Bros., Kinect anti-dieting, a Kinect helicopter of sorts, some artsy stuff, and even crude breast recognition.
We confirmed that Kinect was coming to PCs officially in less than a decade. Start saving.
We couldn't shake this Motion Control stuff in 2010 if we tried. Full disclosure: we didn't try. We filled our homes with better and better motion control tech. But then we looked at our shelves and sighed.
For all the motion fervor this year and all the impressive devices from Sony, Apple, Nintendo and Microsoft, December ended with one glaring problem: a lack of great motion control games. The good ones are still oh so rare.