Wii Essentials: Wii Play: Motion

The poor ol’ Wii gets a lot of crap for its numerous minigame compilations, when in fact these releases were a significant part of the system’s appeal.

Minigame compilations provided accessible ways for people less accustomed to games to get accustomed to the Wii’s unusual control scheme, great packages to entertain groups of friends on social occasions… and brilliant opportunities for developers to get a bit weird and creative.

One of the best examples I’ve come across is 2011’s Wii Play: Motion, one of the lesser-known entries in Nintendo’s Wii [x] series, and a game that most people know as “the game you got free with a Wii Remote Plus for a while”.

The story behind Wii Play: Motion is actually rather interesting, and also quite unusual when compared to Nintendo’s normal way of doing things for its first-party releases.

“We had a number of developers compete in making minigames specially designed to the features of the Wii Remote Plus controller and gathered them into one game,” explained the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in one of his many Iwata Asks spots on Nintendo’s website. “I think it was the first time that Nintendo has ever made a game in that fashion. I doubt many games are made like that.”

Indeed, the final game ended up being the product of a number of different companies, including Nintendo’s own Software Planning and Development Department, Good-Feel, Chunsoft, Mitchell, Skip, Vanpool, Prope and Arzest. Each company was invited to develop prototypes for games that would make use of the enhanced motion-sensing capabilities of the Wii Remote Plus (or the original Wii Remote with MotionPlus attachment) and these were subsequently fleshed out into full experiences to become Wii Play: Motion.

“I was this project’s ringleader,” explained Shinya Takahashi from Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development Department. “It kicked off when people in sales in Japan and overseas said, ‘we want you to make a Wii Remote Plus version of Wii Play, and I started thinking about how I could make such a thing.”

“It’s extremely rare for Nintendo to make a game based on a request from sales,” added Iwata. “It’s basically development’s job to make proposals to them before receiving ones from them.”

Takahashi set the various developers the challenge of producing prototypes that would “draw out the character” of their company. And indeed what we ended up with was an enormously varied, highly entertaining set of minigames that are extremely enjoyable whether you’re playing solo or with friends.

There are twelve mini-games in total in Wii Play: Motion, with four accessible to begin with. Attaining a certain amount of progress in each game unlocks the next four games, and many of the mini-games have their own progression of stages and modes. There are also medals to unlock according to your progress and high scores in each game, so there’s a surprising amount of substance to the complete package.

The first game you’ll encounter is Cone Zone, developed by Arzest Corporation. Arzest is a company that was established in 2010 by former members of Artoon and Sega, including Sonic the Hedgehog character designer Naoto Ohshima and a number of people who worked on the Panzer Dragoon series. Wii Play: Motion was actually the company’s first project, but since then they have worked on a variety of projects for Nintendo and mobile devices, including the 3DS StreetPass Mii Plaza application, Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS and Terra Battle for Android and iOS.

Cone Zone has two distinct components. The first is a physics challenge where you hold on to an ice cream cone and attempt to hold it steady by tilting the Wii Remote Plus while it is piled high with more and more scoops of ice cream. These begin slowly, but every so often there is a flurry of scoops ending with a large scoop; when this happens, there is a short pause and you are required to hold it steady for several seconds in order to continue. The game proceeds until the cone collapses.

The second part of Cone Zone sees you holding a wide cone and attempting to fill it with soft scoop ice cream. This flows for a set period of time, and during that time you are tasked with making as accurate and tall a spiral as possible by tilting the cone as the ice cream flows. When the flow stops, you are scored based on how “good” an ice cream you made.

Cone Zone is a great example of a running theme in Wii Play: Motion, and in Nintendo first party-published titles in general, for that matter — an excellent, convincing use of physics, even on hardware that wasn’t the most technologically advanced when it was “current”. Given the package as a whole’s focus on physical manipulation of the Wii Remote Plus, it makes sense for the component games to have a solid physics engine, of course, but it’s especially apparent in Cone Zone. In particular, while the “soft scoop” game isn’t anywhere near as fun as the main scoop-stacking challenge, it’s hard to think of a game (particularly from the era) with a more convincing depiction of a specific substance and how it interacts with the world.

Next up is Veggie Guardin’, a Whac-a-Mole-inspired affair that sees you holding a mallet and swinging it down onto moles who are attempting to steal vegetables from in front of you. This game was developed by Good-Feel, a company who set up shop in Japan in 2005, with their main focus in their early life being Japan-only educational games for the Nintendo DS. They began working directly with Nintendo in 2008 with Wii title Wario Land: Shake It, and followed this up with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, also for Wii, in 2010. Since Wii Play: Motion, they also developed several StreetPass games for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld and Yoshi’s Woolly World for Wii U, and at the time of writing are working on Yoshi’s Crafted World for Switch and Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn for 3DS, due for release in 2019.

Veggie Guardin’ is a simple idea that works well. The “physical” aspect of the game feels good and satisfying; aiming the hammer by turning the remote and “swinging” it down to hit the moles feels natural and responsive, though there is the odd occasion where the game mistakes a quick swing to the side as a “hit”. Impacts with the moles are complemented by excellent, satisfying sound effects, giving the game a real sense of “tactile” feedback, and the game progresses nicely in difficulty as you survive longer.

Initially, you’ll simply face moles who pop up and need to be hit once and Miis who you need to avoid hitting lest you lose points and a potential extra “life”, but the further you go in the game, the more variety in enemies you’ll see. Initially you’ll see moles wearing helmets that need to be hit twice and mask-wearing moles pretending to be Miis, then jumping moles who you need to respond quickly to. One stage involves nothing but pole-shaped enemies who need to be hammered repeatedly into the ground to defeat, and the climax of the game comes in the form of a boss fight against a giant mole who has various attack patterns for you to counter. It’s a surprisingly well-fleshed out experience for such a simple concept — and this pretty much sets an accurate expectation of what to expect from the rest of Wii Play: Motion.

The third game in the package is Skip Skimmer, also developed by Good-Feel. In this game, you are presented with a choice of stones to pick up and then tasked with “skimming” them across a lake. The more accurate your throw (measured by the “power” of your swing and the angle at which you were holding the Wii Remote Plus when you released the stone), the further it will go. Later “rounds” of the game include special stones that act in various unusual ways, and an unlockable second mode adds ramps, rings and a specific goal area to aim for.

Skip Skimmer is a simple idea, but easy to understand how to improve at. An optional “analysis” screen after your throw gives you an idea of your power and accuracy, offering suggestions for making your subsequent throws better. It’s the sort of game I can see getting very competitive very quickly; sometimes the simplest ideas are the most elegant and satisfying.

Next up is Pose Mii Plus, one of two games developed by Skip. Skip was co-founded in 2000 by Kenichi Nishi, a former field designer from Square, and has acted as a second-party developer for Nintendo pretty much ever since. Their notable releases include the bit Generations series Boundish, Coloris, Dialhex, Dotstream, Orbital and Soundvoyager for Game Boy Advance and the numerous downloadable DSiWare and WiiWare Art Style games, but probably their most well-known work at this point is the Chibi-Robo! series that began on GameCube and subsequently expanded to both DS and 3DS.

Pose Mii Plus is an enhanced version of a game that appeared in the original Wii Play, and is a take on the Brain Wall formula from the Japanese game show The Tunnels’ Thanks to Everyone — better known to many as its international incarnation Hole in the Wall. Using the Wii Remote Plus’ six degrees of motion sensing, the player must twist and rotate a three-dimensional figure of their Mii to fit through various holes in walls as they proceed down a tunnel. The earlier they position their Mii correctly, the more points they score, and between discrete “stages” of the game, they are able to collect gems for additional points by twisting their Mii to collide with them.

Pose Mii Plus is satisfying and incredibly addictive, and another great example of a highly accessible, easily understandable game. The impressive accuracy of the Wii Remote Plus’ motion sensing makes it immediately intuitive to play, and the game doesn’t overcomplicate matters by requiring you to manually select poses as in the previous game. Instead, it’s a simple, snappy and pacy game that is fun regardless of if you’re playing solo or in competition with friends, and it has really cool presentation, too.

Next up comes Trigger Twist, a game developed by Yuji Naka’s post-Sonic development team Prope. The concept for this was that of a light-gun shooter that extended outside the normal boundaries of the television. In other words, a game where you would point your remote around your living room — including to your sides and behind you — to hit enemies, rather than just aiming at the TV.

This might sound bizarre and for sure it takes a little getting used to, but it really works. The game makes use of the Wii Remote Plus’ motion sensing rather than the “pointer” function more typically used in lightgun-style shooters, and this means that the game can track where you’re aiming even if the IR sensor isn’t facing the sensor bar. This is implemented into the game by the camera viewpoint shifting according to which direction you are pointing the remote: point it to your side and the 3D view on-screen will rotate in the corresponding direction; point it over your shoulder and the view will spin through 180 degrees to look “behind” you.

The main adjustment required comes from the fact that you are still physically looking forward towards the TV while often pointing the controller in a completely different direction, but once you get your head around this slight disconnect, the game becomes surprisingly natural to play, and extremely satisfying. Unfolding across three different stages, beginning with a somewhat Duck Hunt-inspired level featuring balloons, drinks cans, ducks and UFOs, proceeding through a showdown with a bunch of heavily stylised ninjas and concluding with an “on-rails” sequence that pits you against a variety of different dinosaurs, Trigger Twist is actually a really well-crafted lightgun-style shooter, with the 360-degree aiming adding a really cool variation on the usual theme.

It’s impressive (and testament to the Wii Remote Plus’ capabilities) quite how accurately you can aim even when pointing the controller in off-screen directions; probably the most enjoyable aspect of this is pointing the controller back over your shoulder and still being able to accurately shoot at things “behind” you. It would have been really interesting to see Prope have the opportunity to flesh this concept out further into a full standalone game, but what we have here is definitely fun enough to enjoy a few blasts through — particularly if you compete for high scores with friends.

Next on the list is Jump Park, another effort by Arzest. This is a two-dimensional “platform game” of sorts in which you control a Mii by tilting the Wii Remote Plus. Most platforms are made of trampolines, and when your Mii lands on one, they will bounce back up in the direction their head is pointing, allowing you to control their trajectory. You can also press the A button on the Wii Remote Plus to cause them to “fall” in the direction their feet are pointing, and in this way you can position yourself as required.

The aim in each level of Jump Park is to complete a particular number of “stages” by collecting a certain number of points’ worth of precious stones, then make your way to a large circular exit portal and leap into it to finish the level. This starts relatively simply, with just two “stages” and a fairly straightforward level arrangement, but as you proceed through the different levels they become larger, longer and more complex, demanding more precise control of your bounces and creative use of the “fall” button.

This is another game that would have been interesting to see fleshed out into a full standalone experience, but once again what we have here is substantial enough to be satisfying and provide a decent challenge for everyone to enjoy. And, again, you can always compete against friends to make things more interesting.

The sole Nintendo-developed game in the collection is Teeter Targets, a pinball-inspired game in which tilting the Wii Remote Plus controls one or more seesaws in the level. The aim is simply to destroy all the targets before time expires by using the seesaws to flick a ball around; additional bonus points are recorded if you can hit a series of optional targets and complete the level without dropping the ball off the bottom of the screen.

This game makes use of a gorgeous “wood blocks” aesthetic and has both convincing physics — as we’ve come to expect by this point — and excellent sound effects that make it feel wonderfully coherent and “solid”. In many ways, the tilt-controlled Donkey Kong-themed game in the Wii U’s Nintendo Land feels like a natural evolution of this, but while that tasked you with negotiating a few very large levels, this instead unfolds across a series of very short challenges. There’s a good variety of stages on offer; in many ways, this game is one of the most substantial and well-realised in the complete package, which is perhaps understandable given that it was developed internally.

The final Arzest game in Wii Play: Motion is Spooky Search — a game that, according to Naka, forced Prope to rethink how they were going to theme and present Trigger Twist, which was originally a horror-inspired blaster.

Spooky Search is an interesting game in which you have to locate ghosts by tilting the Wii Remote Plus in all directions and using the sound from the device’s speaker to locate and capture them. Once you’ve done this, you have to “reel them in” fishing-style in order to drop them in a trap, and this involves pulling them in various directions to prevent them escaping.

The “locating ghosts by sound” aspect of this game is beautifully implemented, once again giving the impression of the game extending into your living room, beyond the boundaries of your TV, but the “reeling in” gameplay is a little hit or miss; it’s sometimes not entirely obvious exactly what you’re supposed to do to “fight” with the struggling ghost. Despite this, it’s still enjoyable and playable, and presents one of the more challenging experiences in the package as a whole.

Next up comes Wind Runner, a game developed by Vanpool. This is probably one of the lesser-known developers in Wii Play: Motion’s lineup, as the majority of their work has been in collaboration with other studios. Their solo efforts include Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland for Nintendo DS and the Dillon’s Rolling Western games for 3DS, and they also worked on Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the same platform alongside Intelligent Systems.

Wind Runner is an unusual racing game in which your Mii is equipped with both inline skates and an umbrella. There is a constant tailwind that varies slightly in direction, so opening your umbrella by pressing the A button causes your Mii to be “blown” along the course. Your trajectory can then be adjusted by tilting the Wii Remote Plus, and jumps achieved by flicking the controller. Your aim is to complete the course as quickly as possible, with points being scored by collecting awkwardly positioned gems scattered along the route.

Vanpool apparently made four prototypes in total for Wii Play: Motion’s lineup, but Wind Runner was the one they felt played the best despite it being the least “complete” of all their efforts. Nintendo agreed; producer Takahashi noted that he particularly liked “the surreal images” the game offered, as well as “the way it’s a solid game, and the way they stopped emphasising speed in favour of playing up the contrast between the wind tugging at the umbrella and a feeling of flying.” In other words, a particularly appealing factor of Wind Runner was its use of physics; as we’ve already seen, this would make it fit right in with other offerings in the collection.

Next we have Treasure Twirl, developed by Mitchell Corporation, who were one of the most venerable brands on Wii Play: Motion’s roster; they were originally founded in 1960, but sadly folded just a year after Wii Play: Motion’s release in 2012. While they’re not as much of a household name as some other developers, they did make some solid, well-loved titles over the years, including the Puzz Loop/Ballistic/Tokyo Crash Mobs series, the Pang!/Buster Bros series and Nintendo DS launch title Polarium.

Treasure Twirl is a take on the Caverns of Mars formula in that it requires you to work your way down to the bottom of a level, then safely make your way back up again. The unusual thing is the way it controls: you “wind” a diver’s hose down into the murky depths of the ocean by turning the Wii Remote Plus over and over in your hands, and steer him left and right by tilting the controller. There are gems and treasure chests to collect on the way down, and various hostile sea creatures to avoid. There’s also a time limit in the form of the diver’s air supply, but collectible air canisters on the way back up allow you to replenish this.

Treasure Twirl is a solid, reliable formula for a game and works well with its unusual control scheme; the only slight issue with it is that even if you’re not wearing the wrist strap (which, for once, the game actually specifically recommends that you don’t) you’ll find that the “twirling” motion makes it get a little tangled. It’s a minor inconvenience at worst, however, and if it really bothers you you can always take the wrist strap off, of course! This aside, it’s a good demonstration of how more unusual physical movements (for gaming, anyway) can be used as a possible control scheme.

Next up is Flutter Fly, another game by Skip. In this particular challenge, you’re tasked with waving the Wii Remote Plus like a fan in order to blow a group of balloons around an obstacle course. These courses start easily, with the only real hazards being clouds that slow the balloons’ movement, but as you progress through the stages, more dangerous hazards are added.

This is another game in which the accuracy of the Wii Remote Plus becomes apparent; it feels very natural to wave the “fan” in various directions and see your movements — and their effects — reflected on screen. Once again, it’s also a good demonstration of how solid use of physics can make for an interesting, enjoyable game that is easy to understand but tricky to master.

The final game in the collection is Star Shuttle by Chunsoft, who are best known today in their post-merger form as Spike Chunsoft. They’re also probably one of the most high-profile developers that worked on the collection, with a number of “household name” franchises including Dragon Quest, Danganronpa, Mystery Dungeon and Zero Escape under their belt.

Star Shuttle is probably the most complex and difficult game in the collection, and will require some practice for even video game veterans to get the hang of. The concept is straightforward: you control a spaceship carrying pieces of a space station, and you must approach and dock with the half-finished structure to add the new components on.

The challenge factor comes in the control scheme. Besides the six degrees of rotation the Wii Remote Plus offers, you can also fire the craft’s forward, rear, left, right, top or bottom thrusters using the D-pad and the A and B buttons. One important thing to understand is that you’re not pressing a direction to go in that direction; you’re pressing a button to fire that thruster. In other words, in order to go forwards, you need to fire the rear thrusters by pushing “back” on the D-pad.

The game provides a convincing simulation of Newtonian motion in space in that your craft will continue moving in a particular direction even after you stop thrusting; in order to stop drifting off-course, you’ll need to fire the opposite thrusters to compensate. And it’s quite easy to overdo it; this game requires a delicate touch, but it’s enjoyable and satisfying when you do finally get a feel for the controls; even more so when you master them enough to pass the more complex levels, which throw obstacles in your path.

The nice thing about Wii Play: Motion is that there aren’t really any obvious “duds” in the whole collection. Some games will appeal more to different types of players than others, sure, but there really aren’t any that are noticeably “weaker” than others. All are presented beautifully, with simple but personality-packed graphics in the distinctive Wii [x] aesthetic and charming, catchy music, and the tutorial/practice functions that accompany a first playthrough do a good job of explaining what is expected of you.

The whole package is rounded out with some fun Easter eggs, too, some of which appear if you leave the title screen alone for a few moments, and others of which require you to do more specific things. I’ll leave that for you to discover, however, since the knowledge of one in particular is clearly intended to be a reward for “beating” the game!

Wii Play: Motion released to fairly mediocre reviews when it originally hit the market, with most writers regarding it as little more than a novelty that happened to come with the new controller. But spend a bit of time with it and it becomes clear that it’s a fascinating little package: a real “proving ground” of new ideas, and a tantalising glimpse into what might have been so far as some of these developers are concerned.

Plus with it being “just a minigame compilation” you can pick it up for no more than a couple of quid these days. And at that price, it’s really worth adding to your collection!

More about Wii Play: Motion

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