A lot of games use motion controls, be it Wii, Kinect or otherwise, but for most of them, this control scheme seems forced. What are the games that benefited the most from using motion controls (as in, if they were to be controlled by a traditional controller, it would detract from the experience)? Having such examples could help one make the decision of whether those controls are beneficial for what they are developing

For example, Super Mario Galaxy is a great game, but its use of shaking the remote to jump is quite arbitrary and does not add to the experience. On the other hand, Flower uses sixaxis in such a way as to make it part of a great experience.

(I know this question borderlines Gaming SE, but their FAQ prohibits "Catalogues". I decided to put it on this SE, as having good examples of how to do things well is a valuable resource for anyone hoping to achieve similar greatness.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ A friend of mine just did a research paper on this, its an interesting topic. Very hard to answer though; it relies purely on the game mechanics implemented. An RTS for example is very difficult to apply motion controls effectively. \$\endgroup\$ – deceleratedcaviar Jan 11 '12 at 0:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Daniel - can you share a link to that paper (if it is online)? \$\endgroup\$ – ThePiachu Jan 11 '12 at 0:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll contact him for you and see if its published. Might take a while, if I can, I'll post it as an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – deceleratedcaviar Jan 11 '12 at 0:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Daniel Interesting you mention RTS. Perhaps that gives us our first criterion: Motion controls are best used where the interface is dedicated to a single unit (an avatar of some sort, be it a car or the protagonist in an FPS). This is an interesting topic and I hope there'll be more good comments/answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Engineer Jan 11 '12 at 2:44

In order to understand what motion controls might be good for, one should look at the way one uses the motion controller:

  • Endurance - motion controls require more movement than using traditional controllers. This limits the length of the interaction with the game to the amount of time in which one gets physically tired from moving. This requires a motion controlled game to either require short periods of high activity (like a sports game that one can play and finish in under a minute), or longer periods of smaller activity (like being able to rest one's hands and controller on the lap and control the game with gentle movements).
  • Precision - motion controls are less precise as a traditional controller. Simply put - one's hands shake, body sways, and one can't hold a still position for long, not to mention lack of force feedback for controller-less controls (like Kinect). A good motion-control game thus needs to be more forgiving in that department (pixel accuracy is impossible, unlike using mouse for example). This constrain favours more stylized games, where often movement is exaggerated and cartoonish.
  • Speed, a finger is faster than a hand - if one has the option of performing an action with a button, or a gesture, the first should be chosen. First off, this allows the players to get quicker response time from the game, and second, it allows them to time their events better. If motion control is to be a gimmick and not add anything to the gameplay, then it should be avoided.
  • Gestures - a motion controller can allow a player to perform gestures faster, than one would be able with a controller (comparison with a mouse might not be so clear). If one is to use only one gesture in a game (say, a shake), it might as well be replaced with a button, unless the way the gesture is performed affects its outcome. Similarly, if there are multiple gestures one can perform all with a different output, motion controls might be preferred.
  • Design limitations - using a motion controller requires the player to adjust him or herself to accommodate for the way to use the controller, and the game design needs to take all the aspects of controller use into consideration. For example, a game on Kinect requires a spacial room, whereas use of Move means that there is a constant colourful light in player's hand. One would not want to make a very dark and serious survival horror using the second one for example, as having a glowing pink controller makes it very hard for the player to get immersed in the game.

Here are some examples of the above I encountered during my experience as a gamer:

  • Endurance, short bursts of activity - Wii Sports Resort, WarioWare Smooth Moves - both of them consist of short periods of high activity broken up by small cutscenes and animations. One can take a byte out of those games and be done in a minute, or however much time before one gets tired.
  • Endurance, long and gentle activity - Flower - One can rest in a couch and slowly move the controller without much effort to control the game.
  • Precision - Boom Blox - before making each throw, the player can aim and "grab onto" a point on the screen. The grab can be released and reattached multiple times, so there is no penalty for error and one can try over and over until a satisfactory result is reached.
  • Speed - Super Mario Galaxy - in order to double jump, one needs to shake a remote. The same could be accomplished by using a button (if it was mapped), so the use of motion control is detrimental.
  • Gestures - Okami (Wii version) - one of the central elements of the game is drawing of various shapes. Most common ones are straight horizontal lines that a player can whip out in a split of a second by a quick jerk of a hand to the side. The same could not be accomplished in the PS2 version, where the brush speed was limited by the use of analogue stick.
  • Design limitations - (luckily) I had no experience with a game that would be either good or bad in this regard.

And a short list of notable games that use motion control well:

  • Flower - perfect game in this category
  • WarioWare Smooth Moves - a pretty good game relying a lot on motion controls
  • Okami - very good execution of motion controls for drawing, less so for combat
  • Trauma Team - pretty tight motion controls, although a bit unforgiving at times (time-slowing gesture for example)
  • Boom blox - a pretty good game (although somewhat repetitive at times) with good motion controls

And some notable bad uses of motion control:

  • Super Mario Galaxy, Kirby's Epic Yarn, New Super Mario Bros. Wii - arbitrary usage of controller shaking that could be easily replaced at least in most occasions with a button
  • No More Heroes - Most if not all of the game could work without motion control and could even be better for it
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I think the most obvious point is that motion controls are analogs.

Using an analog controllers as a digital controller is possible. But it's also less efficient : digital controllers are more responsive and less prone to failures. Unresponsive controllers are bad. Try playing a game like street fighter with an analog gamepad : it's terrible.

I would say that game who benefits strongly from motion controls are analogs, whatever does that mean. Use a lot of floating points numbers. Don't rely on pixel collisions. Don't lock the player on an axis (like most tps). Don't make a RPG based on skill points and formulaes. Rely on simple emergent rules rather than complicated and well defined rules.

Roguelike and tile-based tower defense seems like a bad choice for a Wii game.

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Games that have real life counter parts benefit the most from motion controls. Sports for example but also racing games and shooters - though this one is more because the controls are were designed with aiming in mind.

I honestly can not think of any game I've played that did not fit into the previous category that I would say really benefited from motion controls. It is really about the dominant strategy when it comes to controls. No one is really going to love motion controls if normal controls (gamepad for example) are superior.

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I know this is an old question, but it could use a modern answer. The motion sensors in PS4 and Switch controllers are precise and responsive when used correctly. This is an area of expertise for me, as the creator of accessibility tools that focus on what's possible with good gyro controls.

The simplest rule of thumb for considering what games benefit from gyro controls specifically is:

If it plays better with a mouse, it plays better with gyro.

For an in-depth how-to on implementing gyro controls that are precise and responsive, see here: Good Gyro Controls Part 1: The Gyro is a Mouse.

Games like Super Mario Galaxy (from your example) wouldn't obviously benefit from a mouse except in isolated ways (aiming at star bits), and (conveniently for my answer) doesn't actually benefit from its motion controls except in isolated ways (aiming at star bits). Using motions like shakes and swings to replace inputs that only require a button press is usually going to make for a worse experience, as explored in other answers.

But I do want to get past the idea that motion controls are imprecise. This is a symptom of the way they've been used and implemented. This is not an intrinsic property of motion sensors in modern hardware (PS4 and Switch controllers).

Shooters favour a mouse over aiming with a thumbstick. And, when done right, gyro aiming is actually much easier to learn and much more precise than thumbstick aiming: example on YouTube.

This benefit extends to other games that are virtually unplayable without a mouse: top-down MOBAs like Dota 2 and LoL, some puzzle games like Opus Magnum, management games like Cities Skylines, even RTS games like Age of Empires, though the gap between gyro and mouse remains an obstacle in that case, as well as the limited number of buttons on a controller.

Comparing it with a mouse doesn't cover every case, of course. Many players prefer gyro and accelerometer controls for steering cars over using a tiny joystick on a controller. It's easy to imagine how a mouse could be used for analog steering, but for whatever reason it doesn't appear to be as widely pursued.

The gyro is on balance not better than a mouse for most games designed with a mouse in mind. But it's a lot closer than a thumbstick, even with all the incredible amount of work that goes into modern aim assist.

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