Sony Move Arrives: A Hands-Waving Report

Sony's response to the video game motion-controller fad, the Playstation Move, arrived last Friday. As I am always willing to make great sacrifices for my readers, I ordered the whole shebang and spent some time this weekend checking it out. In this case the whole shebang means the Playstation Move Starter Bundle ($100), the Playstation Move Navigation Controller ($30) and a second Playstation Move Controller ($50). Suddenly Microsoft Kinect's $150 entry fee doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Granted you don't need all the moving parts to get started with Move; you can do a lot with just the Starter Bundle, and honestly I've yet to use the Navigation Controller (and you can use a Playstation Sixaxis Controller to accomplish anything the Navigation Controller does, it just isn't quite as ergonomic). I'm going to go out on a limb and say if you're going to buy two of these three items, get the second Move Controller rather than the Navigation Controller.

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Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. The Starter Bundle includes the Playstation Eye camera, one Move Controller, a copy of Sport Champions and a disk full of Move-enabled demos. The Eye camera plugs into a USB port and has to be positioned above or below your TV, in the center. The base of the camera has a flat edge; if you turn that to face backwords you can sort of drape the Eye over the top of a flatscreen TV and it'll hang in place pretty nicely. The Move & Navigation Controllers are both wireless but they have to be charged via a USB cable that is not included. You got one with your PS3 but if you have more than one component you're probably going to want more cables so you can charge several of them at once (these aren't proprietary cables so you may have one that came with some other piece of gear). Of course Sony will happily sell you a charging station, too ($30 and it charges both a Move and a Navigation Controller at the same time).

So one of the big criticisms we've seen of the Move is that it's just a Wii-too product. That is, it's essentially a clone of the Nintendo Wii's control scheme. There's real merit to this point, particularly if you limit yourself to playing the Sports Champions games that are included in the Bundle. Sports Champions includes six games: Disc Golf, Gladiator Duel, Archery, Beach Volleyball, Bocce and Table Tennis. It's a good selection since it offers different kinds of experiences: Gladiator Duel will get your heart pounding (and in my case, let me work up a sweat) while Bocce is quite sedate and requires some thought. Disc Golf is a great demo for the precision of the Move; if you've ever thrown a Frisbee then you can play Disc Golf. Gladiator Duel, Archery and Beach Volleyball all support two Move Controllers and particularly in the case of Duel, the second controller (it serves as your shield) really enhances the experience. Most of these games are pretty good. I thought Gladiator Duel was probably the strongest of the bunch, and Volleyball the weakest (it felt more like volleyball drills than a whole game). With six selections I didn't dig deeply into any single game, so keep that in mind.

So how does it compare to the Wii? Well to me it all felt a lot more precise, for one thing. Thus far no game has asked me to violently shake the controller, which is one kind of 'control' I hate finding in Wii games. The Table Tennis game felt so authentic that I almost wished I had some kind of fake plastic paddle to snap the Move controller into so that I could feel the different air resistance depending on how I held it. On the other hand there were instances where the depth perception of the camera got lost for a moment, leading to missed shots that I should have made. You still need the controller to be moving forward to make a shot. If you play real table tennis and do spin shots with almost no forward motion but lots of lateral movement, those shots are still problematic (they are on the Wii, too). So we haven't reached motion-control perfection yet.

The more significant difference is the graphics. The PS3 does HD and the Wii doesn't, plus the Wii Sports games feature stylized cartoon graphics. Sports Champions uses much more realistic looking characters (though they are canned; you can't create your own character) and some fairly lush visuals, particularly in Disc Golf. There's a visceral thrill to splintering the shield of your opponent in Gladiator Duel that you just aren't going to get from the Wii Sports Resort version of sword fighting. Lastly, these are all stand-up games. With the original Wii Sports you could bowl (for example) by sitting on the couch and just swinging the Wii remote in a small arc. Nintendo addressed this issue with the Motion Control Plus accessory, and the Move addresses it from the get-go. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on how active you want to be when playing a video game.

So that covers 'waggle style' games, but what I found really interesting about the Move were some of the games on the demo disk. Particularly Echochrome II and Tumble. The goal in Echochrome II is to help a shadow figure get from a starting point to an exit. The figure walks on its own but it needs a path to follow, and your job is to create that path by shining a light on a collection of floating objects so that their shadows form the path the figure needs. Your Motion Controller acts like a flashlight and the effect is very, very convincing. This is a game that you can play sitting on a couch and the Move Controller becomes a tool rather than the focus of the game. You could play a game like this using a conventional game controller but it wouldn't be nearly as intuitive as it is using the Move.

Tumble has you building or destroying towers of blocks. You point the Move at a block (it has an on-screen laser-pointer beam of light emitting from the tip of the Controller) and hold down a button to pick it up. Then you move the controller naturally, turning or pivoting, moving it closer or farther from the screen, in order to carefully place the block. It's very simple in concept but a very intriguing experience. The higher you build your tower, the more points you score. In some cases there are obstacles to build around, requiring counter-balancing blocks and other tricky maneuvers. The other mode (destruction) is much simpler: you position explosives on an existing tower and then trigger them to blow up. The goal is to fling blocks of the tower as far as possible. Tumble has a 3D mode and this was the first time I ever felt like I was missing something by not having a 3D TV. I assume the 'destroy' mode in Tumble is intended to show off that 3D effect. Tumble isn't so much a fascinating game as it is a fascinating tech demo. Building with the Move worked pretty well and could be a nice component of a larger game (or a level design tool in a game).

So is the Move worth the money? If you have a Wii and the Wii Motion Plus accessory, there isn't a whole lot here right now to justify $100-$170 worth of gear for most gamers, but if all you have is a PS3 and you're curious about motion control, you'll probably get your money's worth out of the Starter Bundle and a second Move Controller. I'd hold off on the Navigation Controller until you find a game that needs it.

Personally I don't regret the purchase at all (and I do have a Wii and Motion Plus) because I prefer these graphics and the fact that the Move felt less fiddly than the Wii. You do have to do a quick calibration every time you switch games in Sports Champions, but it only takes a few seconds and things seemed to stay calibrated for me once I did that initial calibration. My experience with the Wii Motion Plus is that it goes out of calibration constantly. I'm looking forward to seeing what developers will do with the Move over time. If it catches on I expect to see some interesting new types of gameplay. If it doesn't, well, it'll be another orphaned peripheral collecting dust in the closet. It'll be really interesting to see how titles like Socom 4 work with the Move, but that particular title isn't out until 2011. In the meanwhile I've ordered a copy of Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition, which has been patched to support Move controls. I'll report back when I've had the chance to give it a go.

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