How Are Nunchuck Controllers Used in Video Games?

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How Are Nunchuck Controllers Used in Video Games?

The Wii gaming platform introduced an entire new audience to gaming, including people who did not previously like video games. The Wii was no beginners-only platform, since it included versions of Nintendo's full range of popular games, but it had something of a reputation as a non-gamers' gaming system anyway. Later, an updated version of the platform, the Wii U, reached out to serious gamers more deliberately, counteracted that impression.

Either way, the Wii and Wii U are popular and fun, and at the heart of these systems is their innovative motion-capture controls, the Wii Remote and the nunchuck. So how do these devices, especially the oddly named nunchuck work? How are they used in the games? And how and why might a player go about getting one? An introduction to the Wii system and its accessories, including how the nunchuck controller is used, how to buy one, and how to keep these controllers working should all help things make a bit more sense to someone looking at buying the system.

Introducing the Nintendo Wii

A basic question a prospective Wii nunchuck user might have is what is the Wii? Since the nunchuck controller is an accessory for the Wii, understanding how this system works is an important part of avoiding confusion. Knowing how the other accessories work with the system is also important.

Wii Game Console

The Wii is a video game platform from Nintendo that features relatively simple and intuitive controls based largely on motion control. For example, to play the tennis game in the Wii Sport package that comes with the Wii, the player swings the controller just as he or she would swing a real tennis racket. The controller uses tiny accelerometers to track relative motion and wireless communication with a sensor bar to correct for any errors in position.

Wii Technology

Wii uses a simplified version of the motion data it captures, so the transfer of the player's movements to movement within the game is not perfect, but the technology has two big advantages over more traditional controls. First, because Wii controls are more intuitive, the system is more accessible for beginners and for people who normally do not like video games. Second, motion capture makes game play more physical, allowing some games to actually provide real fitness benefits. Wii U, the second generation version of the system, is backward-compatible with Wii, and can use the same controllers, including nunchuck controllers, but features high definition graphics and a new control device that has its own supplemental screen.

Nunchucks and Other Wii Accessories

The Wii system uses several accessories through which players can interface with the game. The most important of these is the basic remote control, Wii Remote or Wiimote, which is absolutely necessary for play. The nunchuck controller is almost as important as the Wiimote, and is required for some games and optional for others. Both the Wiimote and the nunchuck come with the Wii.

Other Wii accessories are sold separately and either enhance game play or are important in some Wii games. This table lists the major Wii accessories, together with a brief description. Note that several of them are designed to work with the nunchuck controller. Most are not necessary, but do enhance game play.

Wii Accessory


Wiimote or Remote Controller

The basic control for all Wii games; looks a bit like a TV remote

Nunchuck Controller

A wand-like secondary control used with the Wiimote

Motion Plus Adaptor

An attachment for the Wiimote that upgrades its performance; needed for many games; sometimes included in the Wiimote

Guns, Tennis Rackets, Steering Wheels

Props that the Wiimote and the nunchuck can clip into for more realistic game play

Balance Board

Looks like a bathroom scale and records the relative weight on the player's two feet so that the player can control how the avatar walks, runs, and jumps; available with Wii Fit

Note that the Wii U GamePad is not an accessory for the Wii. Although the Wii U GamePad includes an additional accessory, the GamePad itself, it is actually an entirely separate gaming platform. The Wii U is backwards compatible, so elements of the two systems can be merged, but a player cannot get a GamePad for a Wii.

Using Nunchuck Controllers

The simple answer to how nunchuck controllers are used in games is that they are secondary game interfaces, alongside the Wiimote. A more elaborate answer addresses how nunchucks work, why a player might wish to buy one, and what types of nunchuck controllers are available. Also important is what to do if a nunchuck controller stops working; frequently, an easy fix is available.

How Do Nunchuck Controllers Work?

Nunchuck controllers, like the Wiimote, use accelerometers to pick up the user's movements. Unlike the Wiimote, which features several buttons and can be used alone for some games, the nunchuck has fewer buttons and features a very short joystick operated by the player's thumb. Nunchuck controllers cannot be used alone. Instead, the nunchuck allows the player to control two separate aspects of the game at once by holding one controller in each hand. For example, in many games the nunchuck controller determines how the player's avatar moves through the game while the Wiimote controls what the avatar does.

In boxing, the Wiimote controls the dominant hand, while the nunchuck controls the non-dominant hand. Either controller can be used in either hand, so both right-handers and left-handers can play comfortably. The name, nunchuck, is based on a resemblance to a weapon, the nunchaku, which consists of two short bars joined by a short cord or chain; the original nunchuck controller lacked its own batteries and had to be plugged in to the Wiimote by a short cord. More recently, a wireless nunchuck controller has been developed.

Why Buy Nunchuck Controllers?

Most Wii games require the nunchuck controller in some capacity. The exception is the Wii Sports group of games that come with the Wii. They are designed primarily as an introduction to the system and as a way to learn to use the Wiimote. Of the Wii Sports, only boxing actually requires the nunchuck. Any player wishing to move beyond these introductory games therefore needs a nunchuck. Fortunately, one nunchuck comes with the Wii, as does one Wiimote.

Players often buy additional nunchucks, and additional Wiimotes, so that more people can play together. Sometimes it is also necessary to replace a damaged nunchuck. Because there is only one kind of nunchuck, the purchase is fairly simple. If buying off-brand, research the manufacturer's reputation to see if their version of the nunchuck is worth buying. Some people consider the risk of buying off-brand acceptable given the low price, especially if buying for a child who might damage the device anyway.

What Types of Nunchuck Controllers Are There?

Essentially, there is only one type of nunchuck controller, in the sense that all of them work the same way and work with the same games. There are both connected and wireless nunchucks, and adaptors are available to convert connected nunchucks to wireless. Nunchucks also come in several different colours, although the difference is purely cosmetic. The Wiimote comes in two different types, those with Motion Plus and those without, but the same nunchuck works equally well with both. Off-brand nunchuck controllers are available. These cost somewhat less than Nintendo-made nunchucks, and their quality is somewhat variable, but many do work well.

Troubleshooting Nunchucks

Since nunchuck controllers sometimes fail, replacing a controller that has failed is one of the primary reasons people buy nunchucks. However, nunchuck controller problems often have very simple fixes. It is a good idea to check to see if any of these fixes work before concluding that the controller is actually broken.

Is the Game Nunchuck Compatible?

Not all Wii games use the nunchuck controller. Attempting to use a nunchuck on a game that does not use it is pointless. Nunchucks cannot work with non-nunchuck games.

Are the Batteries Charged and Is Everything Properly Connected?

When the battery gets low in power, the controllers stop working properly, even if there is still enough power for some function. If the nunchuck is not working properly, try changing to fresh or fully charged batteries. Connected nunchucks draw their power from the Wii Remote's batteries, so if the batteries are fresh, check to see if the cord is loose.

Is the Control Stick in a Funny Position?

If the control stick or joystick is pushed off to the side, it becomes difficult to move properly and may not work well. Try returning the stick to the neutral position. After that, the controller should work better.

Does the Nunchuck Need to Be Reset or Recalibrated?

Try pushing both nunchuck buttons and holding them for at least three seconds. If that does not work, put the control stick in the neutral position and unplug the nunchuck from the Wiimote and keep it unplugged for at least three seconds. If neither of these actions help, and if none of the other fixes work either, there may be a genuine mechanical problem.

How to Buy Nunchuck Controllers on eBay

From looking into what nunchucks are to trying to buy one is an obvious step. Nunchuck controllers come with Wii systems, but many players have reason to get extra nunchucks. Fortunately, buying through eBay is convenient and easy.

Finding Nunchuck Controllers on eBay

The Advanced Search feature is a fast way to find nunchucks on eBay. An alternative for those who want to browse the listings is a simple search using the phrase 'nunchuck controller'. Simply narrow the results using the menu options as much or as little as desired.

Buying Nunchuck Controllers on eBay with Confidence

There are a few simple steps that can help the buying process go smoothly. First, read product listings carefully to avoid misreading anything. Second, if anything is unclear, ask the seller; there is a contact link on the seller's profile page. Third, use the profile page to look up the seller's return policy and feedback score, to lay the foundation of a good business relationship.


The Wii system is an exciting development in the world of gaming, both for serious gamers and for more casual players. Since the Wii depends on its motion-sensitive controllers, learning about the Wii naturally centres on learning about the controllers, the Wiimote and the nunchuck. Together, these make possible an intuitive kind of game play uniquely accessible to newcomers to video games, as well as a new physical immersion in the world of the game.

While the nunchuck itself is not required for all Wii games, it is either required or optional for most of them. The use of a nunchuck alongside a Wii Remote allows for simultaneous control of two separate aspects of game play, such as controlling avatar movement through the game while also hitting or shooting, or controlling the avatar's right and left hands independently. Extra nunchucks and Wii Remotes make multi-player games possible, and provide a kind of insurance against possible loss of game access in case a controller fails. Buying extra nunchucks expands the options of the game.

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