WarioWare: Smooth Moves – The Redemption of Motion Controls



Motion controls get a bad rap. Which, I want to make completely clear, is not the same thing as saying that most games that actually use motion controls get a bad rap—rather, they’re treated with the justifiable opprobrium and vague sense of embarrassment they deserve. Most games that use motion controls really shouldn’t, certainly not during their heyday a decade or so ago, but perhaps even moreso when they’re unnecessarily jammed into random titles today. My least favorite parts of Breath of the Wild largely consisted of temples where I was forced to use motion controls that were clumsy, imprecise, and had little to do with the genuinely fun mechanics throughout the rest of the game.  This is often the case when it comes to odd control schemes, whether they’re motion-related or otherwise; a game has to be designed to fit them from the ground up, or they will most likely suck. Really, even if they’re designed to fit them (ahem, Star Fox Zero), there’s a greater than likely chance these games still pretty much suck. And sucking, it turns out, is not a good thing to do.

But that’s fine. We don’t have to buy or play every game, and it’s easy to ignore 99% of the Wii’s library because those titles range from middling to abominable. This isn’t even motion controls’ fault, most titles kinda suck in every medium. The problem is that motion controls are difficult to implement well, adding one more steep slope to what’s already an aggressively uphill battle. What I want to argue, though, is that on those few instances when they do work, it produces something truly special, and for my case study I submit for the approval of the Midnight Society… err… Exposition Break, the only occasionally remembered WarioWare: Smooth Moves


If you’re at all familiar with the Warioware series, you’re aware that for the most part these titles consist of “microgames” (minigames played often in five or fewer seconds) strung together. Keep solving their little objectives and you continue, stumble at four of them in a level and you have to start over. It’s as simple as that. I mean sure, there’s also some menus and a map screen and a few other options, but this is the only part that matters. This is the actual game.

Now, the series has always worked well with odd control schemes, and the reason why is that this format is perfectly suited to goofy microgames. While I know that smart people avoid blanket statements, I’m going to ignore that advice and throw one out right now: motion controls aren’t good for depth (despite what David Cage may stupidly try to tell you—that dude asks to wear water wings in a therapy pool because it’s too deep for him). Depth requires precision and thoughtfulness, it requires setting up expectations and playing with those until a fuller understanding of what’s being attempted is achieved. I’m not even talking about games here, I’m talking about how art works in general. But games aren’t just about art, about transformative emotional and intellectual experiences. This isn’t the same thing as saying that they can’t be, it’s just that they can be about other things instead, and that’s perfectly legitimate and at times preferable. In particular, games also about interactivity, and the height of this interactivity is the kinesthetic sense of joy that arrives from movement. 

The MSPaint aesthetics are also charming

How we interact with a game can be as simple as a single button, or as complex as as Steel Battalion‘s 40-button, three-pedal monstrosity of a controller. Regardless of how we do it, though, I would argue that movement is an intrinsic part of the literal fun we experience when playing video games, a part that separates games from other mediums more than any practically any other element, and truly well-designed motion controls are the height of what this can mean. 


To put this in terms as simple as possible, playing WarioWare: Smooth Moves, at its best, is a sublime experience. 


Within Smooth Moves, every microgame has its own particularities, and these require frantic movements between activities in order to transition from one pose to the next. This becomes even more intense, and thus fun, when switching between players. More than anything, the speed required for these transitions is what makes the game work. Its rhythmic timer makes movement constant, frenetic, and fumbling, which also makes for an even better experience when you become good enough at the game to actually succeed. The constant need to adjust and react reminds me of playing a bullet hell, only instead of moving your spaceship around a screen, you’re moving your arm to the top of your head and then to your side and then putting the controller down and picking it up and oh my god now it’s going even faster and now even faster and what are you going to do? Whew. 

The goal is to make you feel like a kid. Remember: kids are dumb.

The end result of this heightened use of motion controls is that Smooth Moves turns video games back into toys, something that happens far too infrequently in the medium. The tactile physicality of the controls combined with the timer’s increasing pace means that you can think of nothing but the game itself while playing, at which point there’s a sort of true play that becomes part of its experience. It comes as no surprise that the other games I can think of having a similarly joyful experience while playing also featured these same elements: Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, Just Dance. After playing Warioware: Smooth Moves again for the first time in a decade I was reminded of the first time I played on the Wii with my friend Jacob, hitting the ball back and forth in Wii Sports‘ tennis, and when I first  used the balance board with my mom for Wii Fit. I thought of the light gun shooters I played as a kid and the way I would sometimes duck while playing them as if that actually had an effect on the game. I have cherished memories of all these titles that require me to physically interact with games in a way that I find extremely rare as an adult. So when I say that WarioWare: Smooth Moves turns video games back into being a toy, I mean that as the highest possible praise. 

None of these games are ones I traditionally jump to when I think of my favorite titles. I fall into the trap of traditional games: Bloodborne, Starcraft, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I want to talk about mechanics and exploration, puzzles and decisions and the depth all of these facets combined in an elegant manner. I mentally reach toward Simon Parkin’s Death by Video Games and all the nuance he found by dissecting the medium’s myriad possibilities. But so often forgotten in these discussions is the shallow yet priceless joy of sheer movement. Living in Florida, the land of 100 degrees and 100% humidity, I don’t play sports anymore, don’t go hiking or ride bikes or swim like I used to—which is not to say that I’ve become a complete blob, rather that these have become rare instances rather than a constant part of my life. But I miss those physical activities, and the happiness that occurs from achieving even a simple task of exertion with your body. I had more fun playing WarioWare: Smooth Moves than I did anything else in 2019 so far [Ed note: this was written in September of 2019. I, uhh, may  need to get better at actually uploading things after writing them…], and I will take that fun over a gritty, “realistic” story or a sandbox the size of Texas to wander meaningless through any day. 


So I’m that weirdo who doesn’t want to see motion controls go extinct. Some days I want to sit on the couch and make tactical decisions and think about story arcs, but other times I want to stand up. I want to laugh and move around like an idiot and jump up and down because I’m still young enough that having a body can sometimes be a very fun thing to have. I want a game that says it’s ok to act like a child again, in fact encourages you to do so, and allows me to feel like a five-year-old because joy, in games, turns out to be a truly underrated and overlooked aspect of why we play. 

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