If you mention ‘motion controls’ to some gamers they’ll instantly recoil – “good grief no, I want the immersion that only buttons and sticks can bring”. Oh ok, I’m exaggerating a little, but there is a contingent of eager gamers that shun motion controls at every turn. In some cases they simply prefer purely physical inputs, which is fair enough, but I think others resist motion controls as they’re put off by the negative impressions left by gimmicky games and flawed execution. Going back to the Wii, it’s worth remembering it had some games that handled pointer and motion controls brilliantly – such as Wii Sports Resort and Metroid Prime Trilogy – but also some that were horrendous and practically broken.
One motion controlled game that got a lot right was Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition; anyone that’s read enough of my articles over the years will know that I’m rather devoted to this game and revisit it at least once a year. I play it on Wii, too, having wasted money – in hindsight – on the HD PC re-release. I just prefer the pointer controls, and even tolerate the waggle-time (quicktime events with a greater risk of injury) parts of the game. It’s simply hugely satisfying to nail those headshots with absolute precision, and that applies in pretty much any shooter on Wii with well calibrated Remote controls.
The difference with Resi 4 compared to something like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the limited aim, forced by the semi-tank controls that the game utilises. You’re not constantly aiming and working the camera like you do in a standard first-person shooter, so you’re only pointing when you draw your gun. I like both approaches, but I had memories of Resi 4 and its controls in mind when I bought Resident Evil Revelations and Resident Evil Revelations 2 for my Switch. I reviewed the first game on 3DS and Wii U (and played it more times besides) and own the second from its episodic phase on PS4, yet I double / triple dipped because of the promised motion controls or, to be more precise, motion aiming.
In Revelations 1 & 2 the controls follow the same approach as Resi 4, understandably as these games came before the recent (and critically acclaimed) switch to first-person in Resident Evil 7. I’ll say right now that I’ve ignored the motion reloading that supposedly uses the IR sensor in the right Joy-Con – it’s fiddly, and frankly it’s easier to hit Y. That’s my defence to anyone eager to dismiss my praise of motion controls – I only like them when they make a game better or more fun. Motion-based aiming = fun. Reloading with a temperamental gesture = meh.
In any case, I’ve played both games on the TV with detached Joy-Con; the difference here, of course, is that the Joy-Con utilise gyroscope technology as opposed to the sensor bar on the Wii. Although the Wii’s (technologically primitive) sensor had its flaws, such as limited angles and an aversion to bright sunlit rooms, it was extremely effective in the right conditions. One thing that helped, too, was that the bar was a focal point – you knew you had to aim at it, and if controls freaked out it was a reminder to actually point at the thing. In other words, it gave you a target (the TV) and made you focus on the controls.
Gryo aiming, theoretically, should be better. You don’t need to worry about where a sensor is, you simply move the Joy-Con as you please. In Revelations 1 & 2 Capcom has done a good job – the right stick is still important for putting your aim in the right zone, but once you’re holding ZL the motion kicks in and you can make precise adjustments. It suits claustrophobic combat in particular, aiming for headshots as a zombie / goo thing shambles towards you. It gets trickier in action intensive sequences, though, and it’s in those sections that I miss the Sensor Bar.
With Gyro aiming it takes its centre point from the moment it’s activated, in this case when you raise your gun with ZL. In a frantic battle I sometimes get mixed up when rapidly disengaging aim, turning around and then aiming again. If my right Joy-Con – in the panic – is ever pointing anywhere other than straight ahead when I start aiming it throws me off, as the position of the controller no longer matches the reticule on screen. It hasn’t happened too often, but when it does I temporarily ignore the motion to use the right stick, scramble to safety and then sort out the aim. Occasionally this occurs in quieter moments if I inadvertently have the Joy-Con pointing down when I started aiming; gradually I’ve taught myself to be more disciplined in pointing at the TV, even when it’s not strictly necessary.
So far it’s solid, then, but I actually prefer the discipline the Wii sensor bar gave me. That said, you can use motion controlled aiming in handheld mode (with the Joy-Con attached) on Switch too, and that’s marvellous. It was actually an option with the first game on 3DS too, but I loved the 3D effect too much to really use it. On Switch it’s 2D, but it’s also HD visuals at 720p on a phablet / tablet-sized screen, so it looks great. The first game looks nice on the handheld though its 3DS origins are obvious, while Revelations 2 is pretty impressive on the portable (it looks good on a TV too).
Anyway, the motion aiming. Because of the semi-tank controls and limited viewpoint you’re not moving the system much, if at all, and what makes it so effective is that the hardware is always nicely centred. After all, you’re holding the thing right in front of your face and straight on for the best view, so from the off the gyro’s ‘centre’ matches your own. Subtle movements to add precision to shots works beautifully in these games; in fact, although the sequel looks particularly nice on the TV I find myself playing on the portable late at night with headphones in. That’s pretty immersive, and the subtle aiming control adds to the experience; the only downside is going back to waggling the left stick when grabbed by a monster.
Overall, then, these games show that the Switch Joy-Con are pretty handy for motion controlled aiming. We also knew this from Splatoon 2, of course, in which the Pro Controller is also utilised – that’s a bit different because of the playing angle, but is a nice example nonetheless.
What I’m not sure of is how effective gyroscope-based motion aiming would be in a full first-person shooter where you’re aiming and managing the camera all at once. DOOM didn’t even try it, for example, and I do think the issue with constantly having to manually ‘centre’ the sensor could be a factor. When you do get mixed up between the Joy-Con position and the aiming on the screen it feels like a minor version of the disconnect some experience in VR – if your brain, manipulated by the Virtual Reality, doesn’t feel like actions match reactions, it can lead to discomfort. It’s far more minor when it comes to working a pointer with a right Joy-Con, but there is the question over whether the controls feel right.
Which makes me wonder what Nintendo will do with Metroid Prime 4, assuming it’s a first-person adventure like the trilogy. Will it try to perfect the Joy-Con motion controls for immersive pointer aiming, or scrap that in favour of conventional dual-stick controls? One thing’s for certain – if Nintendo feels it can’t get ‘pointer’ controls absolutely right for a first-person experience, it won’t use them. While I think the Switch motion control options work well – and add to the experience – for third-person experiences like Splatoon 2 and the distinctive approach of Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, I’m hesitant that they’ll suit a full-fat FPS.
That’s just my opinion, what do you think?