Goodbye, Nintendo

And Sayonara Motion Controls

April 30th, 2013

I finished up Skyward Sword last night, and let me cut right to the chase: this game was an utter SLOG. It speaks mountains about the kind of company that Nintendo has become. As a decades-long Nintendo fan that literally grew up with the company, it grieves me to say that I am entirely, completely done with Nintendo.

Skyward Sword has almost universal praise from critical reviews, and currently carries a 93 on Metacritic. I am beyond dumbfounded, and am wondering if I played the same game. I must be incredibly dense to have missed the innovation, freshness and rejuvenation that just about every review claims this iteration brings to the series.

Skyward Sword tries to tell a new story but ends up rehashing what has come before, time and time again. It's got a Princess Zelda to save, a big bad enemy to defeat, some nonsense about goddesses and demons and creation, and a number of characters to meet and interact with. When it's all said and done, it really is not that interesting. The pinnacle of storytelling in this universe has come before, and there's really nothing new to see here. Nintendo does get some credit for better animation and facial expressions, but that's about it.

Which brings me to my first major gripe: where is the voice acting? Nintendo is still employing awkward grunts and sound effects laid over on-screen text boxes, an approach first popularized on the Nintendo 64. Why in the world, in this era of gaming, do we not get fully implemented voice acting? Nintendo made the argument about ten years ago that voice acting would somehow diminish their iconic characters. It's time to get over it.

One of the biggest draws of Skyward Sword is its implementation of Wii Motion Plus, the add-on that supposedly brings true 1-to-1 motion control to the Wii. Ignoring the fact that Nintendo should have designed the Wii with this functionality in the first place, it does indeed bring tighter and truer controls to the Wii. It also reminds us that motion controls are inherently horrible for anything other than gimmicky mini-games.

The motion controls in Skyward Sword are the main instigator fueling my rage-saturated playthrough of this game. The motions work fine for things, like throwing a bomb or shooting an arrow from your bow. However, the majority of your time will be spent with swordplay, and it is infuriating. The problem is that, at some point, the game still has to fire off an animation or an action based on your input, and the hardware is not smart enough to interpret your intention.

For example, many enemies in the game force you to swipe your sword in a particular direction to damage them. They can also quickly change that direction. For me, I'd like to be able to quickly reposition my sword so that I can strike in the direction I need to. However, this quick repositioning triggers the sword swiping animation, which in turn causes me to attack the enemy incorrectly, which in turn causes the engagement to start over or allows an enemy to slowly reduce Link's life. Frustration mounts, not because I intentionally made a wrong move, but because there's no way to tell the hardware "this isn't a strike, this is a quick movement". In a truly motion-controlled game, I'd quickly move my sword to one side and actually strike in the opposite direction. This simple example demonstrates how current motion controls are simply half-baked.

The controls were so frustrating and mind-bendingly annoying that I didn't even fight the last boss. By the end, I realized I was absolutely hating the experience, and that it would be much easier to simply watch the ending on YouTube. This would satisfy my daughter, who played the game with me. I would have quit much sooner if she'd not been interested.

A hallmark of the Zelda series has been a plethora of environments and areas to explore. Skyward Sword skips this and instead focuses on only four areas. One area serves more or less as the overworld, and is a sparsely populated region above the clouds. The other three form the main environments where you'll be spending your time. A lot of your time. That's because instead of opening up entire new areas to explore, the game forces you to return time and time again to the same places, unlocking the next section of an area you've already been to. It's repetitive, boring and annoying.

There are a ridiculous number of poor design decisions in the game. Here's just a few:
  • A common event in Zelda games is to trigger a mini-cutscene when you gain a new item. It's a pause in the game that gives you more details on the item you found. This even happens when you find one of the numerous collectibles in the game. Typically, this cutscene is only triggered the first time you find any given item. That's fine...except the game resets whether or not you have previously found a collectible item every time you restart the console. For example, the end game throws many enemies at you, and in the chaos of hacking and slashing and fighting for my life, I apparently picked up a collectible skull, which then paused the entire game to trigger the cutscene. I had 22 of the same skulls already in my inventory. Why did the game need to tell me about this item that I'd found over and over again?

  • Speaking of collectibles, the game allows you collect a variety of bugs. After I finished last night, I realized I had a vast assortment of bugs and never did a single thing with them. It wasn't until after when I looked up a guide online that I found out you could sell them somewhere for cash. Why didn't I know about this throughout the entire game? I feel like I explored the main town in the game and talked to everyone I met. However, I never discovered what to do with the bugs I'd collected.

  • When you die, you have the option to continue or quit. If you continue, you are taken back the last save point, except only a small portion of your life is restored. If you quit, you are taken back to the title screen where you can reload your full save and have your (presumably) full amount of life. Why doesn't the game just reload your last save?

  • Fi is a character who servers as your guide and helper. All well and good, except that this is taken to the extreme. There is constant hand-holding and you are never required to explore on your own. Fi also becomes entirely annoying. Every time your hearts run low, Fi will start beeping at you, repeatedly, in the heat of battle or whatever else you're doing. The only way to shut her up is to talk to her, and once you do, she will tell you...that your hearts are low. No freaking kidding.

  • At more than one point, Link can get caught between a rock and a hard place. Enemy knocks Link down. Enemy waits. Link takes about twenty years to get back on his feet, by which time enemy is moving ahead with another strike. Fall down again. Repeat until Game Over screen.
This is already too long. I haven't touched on the fact that I played Zelda in standard definition when high definition consoles have been on the market for almost seven years now. I haven't touched on the fact that because the wonky Wiimote is the primary control interface, you get no camera control in the game and the camera is often terrible. I haven't touched on the fact that the game still uses save points and you can't save at any time. I haven't touched on the fact that I had back cramps from playing this game in order to sit in a posture that allowed me to swing the Wiimote. I haven't touched on the insane number of pointless fetch quests that pad the game out to ridiculous lengths. I haven't touched on the fact that a couple new items and a gimmicky control scheme does not equal innovation and rejuvenation.

The sad fact is that Nintendo is currently a weird mix of antiquated game design philosophy and a focus on a casual gaming audience that did not make them the company they are today. There are so many (Western) development studios that make much, much better games. Games that tell unique and emotional stories. Games that provide massive, open-world gameplay. Games that push technical boundaries and deliver amazing fidelity. Games that create truly innovative experiences using an old-fashioned controller with buttons.

The sad fact is that Nintendo does none of these things.

So I'm done. I'm straight-up done. I've grown up. I've moved on. I've played the Nintendo formula many more times that they've really deserved. I've give them more of my money than they've realistically earned. I just don't want to keep playing the same rehashed games, and I certainly don't want to play them with an entirely terrible control scheme.

It's a sad day. I have an immense love for Nintendo, historically speaking. The company has played a huge role in my story. It's time to move on. I think there is no data more telling than the current Wii U sales to date. The Wii U is moving less units than the Gamecube, a console I really enjoyed but is generally regarded as a failure. It is moving astronomically fewer units than the original Wii, which in my opinion lacks any sort of depth but was still a runaway financial success. Very few people are interested in another gimmick, and I am truly glad that the public is voting with their dollars. I hope that it will force Nintendo to return to the greatness they once held.

Video Games | Wii | Rants


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PMasta says...

Yes. Fi is super freaking annoying.

Posted April 30th, 2013 @ 11:59 AM

Ginny says...

I played this one over Christmas break and I never did quite beat it before I had to return it to the person I borrowed it from. At first, I was like, "oh Matt, it wasn't that bad." And then I remembered Fi and I was like "oh, yeah that's right you don't get to do any decision making and right when you're about to die she reminds you of it constantly." Apparently, 4 months was enough to forget how awful those "features" were.

Posted April 30th, 2013 @ 11:54 AM

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