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Nintendo started the controller revolution with its Wii motion controllers, and ever since then, Sony and Microsoft have been playing catch-up. Finally, at the end of 2010, each system now has its own motion control system. So which one should you buy this Christmas?
Barring a few historical missteps (*cough* U-Force *cough*), it's taken seven generations of home video game consoles for motion controls to finally gain mass acceptance with gamers.
Nintendo's Wii started the ball rolling in early 2006 as the first motion-controlled console of its time; the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 only just joined the fray this year with PlayStation Move and Kinect, respectively. Picking which one you want in your living room can be tough, so we've broken the decision down to three critical categories.
It's in The Game
Any conversation about motion controls has to start and end with the Wii. It has a four year head start on the PlayStation Move and Kinect, and is still the only system to have motion controllers fully integrated into the base unit. It was designed as a motion control system from the ground up, whereas the other systems were designed and shipped with regular joypad-style controllers.
The system also has a huge advantage in terms of available motion controller-compatible games. Because every game for the Wii is designed for motion controllers, its library eclipses that of the Move and Kinects by an embarrassingly huge margin. At the time of this writing, 962 Wii games had been released, which makes its two main competitors look decidedly weedy: PlayStation Move only has 43 Move-compatible games on shelves as of late 2010 while the Kinect has less than half that with 20 titles.
Of course, not all 962 games are worth playing, much less buying for full retail price; as any Wii owner can tell you, there is a lot of crappy shovelware to wade through. Most of what's on the Wii is also meant for families, as is evidenced by the E for Everyone ESRB ratings most Wii games are awarded. PlayStation Move and Kinect games skew a little older mostly due to the fact that the respective consoles--PS3 and 360--appeal to older gamers.
Still, the overall appeal of the Wii to families cannot be discounted, and we consider it to be the "safe" choice. Shoppers with more mature tastes will appreciate the Move thanks to games like Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5 while the Kinect falls in the middle with a few T for Teen games like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows offsetting family-friendly entries like Kinect: Joy Ride.
We Have The Technology
From a technical standpoint, the Wii suffers from some drawbacks that PlayStation Move and Kinect can exploit to pull ahead in the motion controller war. For one thing, the Wii's processing power is much lower than the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360. This means that while motion controller games may work well, they won't necessarily look as good as or are able to do as many things with gameplay, sound, or 3D graphics as a game built for PS3 or 360.
For another, many of the games for the Wii don't necessarily make good use of motion controls beyond simple arm swings or button presses. However, developers are starting to realize the Wii's potential, and the Motion Plus attachment has also increased the fidelity of the system, so it's a recommended purchase for shoppers who want to fully invest in the system.
Innovation-wise, Kinect is by far the most robust because it's completely hands-free. Wii and PS3 use baton-like controllers, which the player grasps and wave around to simulate movement. Kinect, on the other hand, (mostly) tracks full body motion, giving it greater potential for a far larger and more original selection of motion-controlled type games in terms of content and subject matter.
The drawback here is that you need a lot of floor space in order for the console to work. The user manual asks for six to eight feet of space between you and the Kinect console, plus four feet of open space to either side of you. Even with an average American living room size of 250 square feet, you'll still need to shove coffee tables out of the way and push couches against the wall to make enough room for Kinect to work. If Microsoft can address this limitation, it'd make the Kinect way more compelling.
What's in Your Wallet?
For many shoppers, price is a huge consideration, and here, we again give the nod to the the Kinect, which has an edge because its an all-in-one peripheral: A starter Kinect package with three multiplayer-compatible games sets you back $500 ($200 for the cheapest 360 model, $150 for a Kinect, and $150 for three compatible games).
A comparable Wii package with the same number of games and enough controllers for everyone to play costs about $600 ($200 for the console, $160 for four controllers, $80 for four Nunchucks, and $120 to $150 for the games); "essential" peripherals like the Balance Board ($90) and Wii Motion Plus adapters ($19.99) can also inflate the cost.
An equivalent Move package would cost between $870 and $930 ($300 for a PS3, $288 for four Move controllers, $120 for four Navigation controllers(the Move's Nunchuck), $40 for a Playstation Eye, and $120 to $180 for three games).
So What Should You Buy?
If you already own one of the major consoles, the decision is easy: simply invest in the motion control technlogy made for the system you own. Wii owners should stock up on extra controllers and Wii Motion Plus adapters; Xbox 360 owners should get a Kinect and start rearranging their living room; and PS3 owners should invest in Move controllers and start downloading patches for games like Heavy Rain.
If you're starting from scratch, you should definitely consider the needs of the people who will use the system the most. Families, especially those with young children, will want to look at the Wii and its immense existing library of titles while adults will want to start with the Move or the Kinect. The benefit of investing in Sony or Microsoft's offerings is that they're a bit more future proof than the Wii thanks to the base consoles' HD capabilities.
We also feel that over time, the Move will eventually outstrip the Wii as developers produce games with Wii-like appeal but far greater visuals and depth. We're also cautiously optimistic that Microsoft will refine the Kinect and iron out the issues which plagued its launch-reducing the space requirement would be huge-turning it into a compelling addition to their console.
Of course, you can't count out Nintendo and its huge stable of notable stars like Mario and Link; you also have to consider the ongoing rumors that they will produce an HD system of their own in the near future.
What Do the GamePros Recommend?
We asked three editors to make a case for each system; a fourth editor was asked to make a case against investing in a motion controller this holiday season. Their thoughts are below. Regardless of which technology you invest in, be sure to follow the safety instructions, ensure you have plenty of space to freely move, and most of all, have fun.
AJ Glasser on the Move: My inner economist tells me the better buy in the long-run is the PlayStation Move--I know there will always be games I can play on it, that there will always be family-friendly stuff I can "share" with the kids in my life, and that I won't have to rearrange furniture in my living room every time I want to play it. Plus, it's a Blu-ray player.
Dave Rudden on the Kinect: While space is a huge consideration, if you can put at least 8 feet worth of space in between your Kinect and your body, you'll find that it's home to some of the most heart-racing games on the market. There are a handful of fun mini-game collections and dance titles as well as a stellar fitness game lineup. Both Your Shape Fitness and EA Sports Active 2 are leagues better on the Kinect than the likes of Wii Fit and The Biggest Loser. Even fun games like Kinect Adventures and Dance Central serve as sly introductions to the world of fitness.
While there are games from the creators of Steel Batallion, No More Heroes, and Panzer Dragoon due next year and certain aspects of the device can be improved with firmware updates over time--Netflix without a remote would be a godsend--there is definite value in the Kinect platform right now.
Tae Kim on the Wii: If I had to buy something for myself, I'd go with the Kinect, if only to take advantage of its voice activated and gesture based menu system. But if I had to recommend a system to a friend, I'd suggest the Wii.
It's honestly the safest choice because it has the most games and unless you're a hardcore gamer, you probably don't care what you're playing as long as it's fun (I know this from personal experience having seen non-gamer friends become completely charmed by the Wii). Just be sure to do some research before you buy games, or you'll get stuck with a lot of crap. Shameless plug alert: Our 32 Best Wii Games list is a great place to start.
Julian Rignall on Ambivalence: My poor old Wii is by far the dustiest of all my consoles. Games that appeal to me--a hardcore gamer with no young kids--are few and far between on that system. Sure, I've got a few Wii games, but I find I get bored of them very easily. Even when I have friends around, I find they are far more interested in stuff like Rock Band 3, multiplayer fighting or shooting games on PS3/360 than the more kiddy Wii fare. At least, until they're too drunk to do anything other than flail their arms around golfing or bowling.
I like the idea of Kinect, but my San Francisco house is far too small for it. Kinect needs a big room, concrete floor and no neighbors--if like me you don't have those, Kinect is an absolute no-go. So does that mean I'm recommending Move? Not really. I haven't seen many games on that system that justify the price of the controllers. They're decent, sure, but most of them feel more like novelty or gimmick games to me. Perhaps I might change my mind if something decent does come along, but for now, there are more than enough regular games to keep me entertained.
This story, "Kinect vs. Move vs. Wii: A Motion Gaming Buyer's Guide" was originally published by GamePro.