The Wiimote is a cute controller, but it's $40. And now Nyko and Mad Catz have each released nearly identical alternatives that run $5 and $10 less, respectively. But do they work in performance-heavy gaming? Actually, yes, yes they do.
The Wiimote's pointer effect works for one reason: IR tracking. The Sensor Bar is really an infrared LED matrix, and the Wiimote reads its position relative to this bar. So to test IR tracking, I loaded the Home Menu and then House of the Dead Overkill.
In a light-challenging environment including open windows and artificial lighting, IR tracking was clearly superior on the Wiimote—pretty much perfect, actually. The cursor was simply more fluid and appeared onscreen with a more even frame rate than it did on either generic controller.
It wasn't that the Wii ever misread the position of either the Nyko Wand or the Mad Catz controller, it's that dragging the cursor with these remotes met occasional drops in frames. I'm nitpicking, but you can notice a real difference, side by side, in the menus. The Wiimote was the smoothest, then the Mad Catz, then the Nyko (though the generics were honestly pretty close). This principle proved consistent when playing HOTD later, as tracking the gun around with the Nyko or Mad Catz proved an ever so rougher experience than with the Wiimote. The game was still completely playable, the menus completely navigable. But the control went from an A to an A- on the non-Nintendo Wiimotes.
Then, after about an hour of play, the Mad Catz cursor failed to show on the screen—as if the remote could not track its position relative to the Sensor Bar. The accelerometer tracking was still working, however, which indicated that it wasn't a Bluetooth communication problem. And the other Wiimotes were functioning without problems. Reloading the Wii and swapping batteries could not fix this issue. Weird.
The Wiimote's 3-axis accelerometer is responsible for the other half of the Wiimote's motion tracking. It detects the general orientation of the controller, along with shakes, etc.
While I could tell in HOTD that the third party controllers were fine for sensing sudden motion (shaking to reload), I doubted their ability to track the subtle intricacies of pitch, yaw and roll. So for this test, I dusted off Super Monkey Ball in which slight movements to the Wiimote tilt the entire level. What did I find?
There was no discernible difference in motion control among the three controllers. I mean, maybe a computer strapped to a mechanical arm could detect minute subtleties, but I was able to play several levels on each remote without ever cursing a wonky controller. Maybe a Wii Sports addict would find their average bowling score to be ever so slightly different over 1000 games with a generic controller, but I'll hand it to Nyko and Mad Catz, I'd never have known I wasn't using a real Wiimote from gameplay alone. Then again, the Wiimote is pretty much only 85% accurate at any task to begin with.
Winner: 3-Way Tie
The Little Stuff
When I purchased a Mad Catz controller for PlayStation (original) years ago, I regretted the decision almost immediately. Doomed by my cheapness to wielding the bulky, awkward controller, I vowed to never go generic again. Times have changed. Both Wiimote alternatives feel perfect in your hand, and the vibration on each is remarkably close to the real thing. The Nyko Wand's speaker is a bit on the quiet side—probably about half the loudness of the Wiimote and Mad Catz controllers. Maybe this decibel difference matters in audio-heavy games. I dunno.
I wasn't able to test the remotes with Wii MotionPlus, but Mad Catz, with their 1:1 duplication of the Wiimote body, promises me that there are no possible compatibility issues. Nyko, with body dimensions ever so slightly different than the Nintendo Wiimote (something you'd never notice in your hand), has found that while sizing wasn't an issue Nintendo's final firmware caused some "minor issues." Nyko will be updating the Wand with Wii MotionPlus compatible firmware in "all future shipments" and offering consumers who've already purchased the device a free firmware upgrade option.
Nyko and Mad Catz are a virtual tie when it comes to buttons. As different as the buttons may look, neither set feels all that different from the Wiimote during play. I will say, I prefer the B button (triggers) on both third party remotes to the Wiimote's. There is a little more pull in each that feels just right for gun games like HOTD.
As for special tricks, Mad Catz includes none, but Nyko's Trans-Port technology allows their Wand to communicate with peripherals electronically. I've used their version of the Zapper, and without a mechanical link between peripheral and remote buttons, it feels better than Nintendo's official version. But we don't know how many peripherals will take advantage of Trans-Port, and besides, only Nyko will support the system.
Winner: Wiimote, Runner Up: Nyko Wand
After years without a proper fake Wiimote to suck some cash away from Nintendo, two titans of third party peripherals have produced their own respectable knockoffs. And I'm really glad this development has happened. Even if neither is cheap (the Nyko Wand is $35 while the Mad Catz Wireless Remote is $30), they do put at least a little pressure on Nintendo, who charges a straight up insulting $60 for their Wiimote/Nunchuk combo.
But given Mad Catz' sudden dealbreaker issue with the IR and Nyko's ever-so-less fluid IR experience and initial issues with Wii MotionPlus, we're still going to recommend the good old Nintendo Wiimote—that is, unless Mad Catz and Nyko get a little more price-competitive.
And who woulda thunk, our verdict had nothing to do with accelerometers?
Feels/Works Like the Wiimote
Trans-Port Tech Is Promising But Underutilized
A Tad Ugly
Slightly Imperfect IR
Mad Catz Wireless Remote
Feels/Works Like the Wiimote
Looks Like the Wiimote
Very Troubling IR Issue During Testing, Probably Anomalous to Unit...But Still!