PlayStation Move controllers are colorful and, for the most part, a lot of fun to use.
Much to my wife's dismay, it seems we are raising a little family of gamers over here. My seven-year-old son can now regularly and legitimately beat me in most racing games, and we're about evenly matched in Mario Super Sluggers, which we're currently playing in honor of the MLB playoffs. (Go Giants!) His coordination and reflexes are ridiculous. How I envy his fresh little synapses.
Our little girl is getting into the act, too. Only two years old, she doesn't actually play the games. But we give her an unplugged controller while we play, and she watches the screen and presses buttons. So far as she knows, she's amazing.
So when I got the opportunity to run hands-on tests of Sony's new motion-sensing controller platform for the PlayStation 3, I decided to bring the whole family in for rigorous testbed trials. The PlayStation Move (which arrived in stores in mid-September) is Sony's long-awaited response to the Nintendo Wii motion-control system. Along with Microsoft's upcoming Kinect system for the Xbox 360, it's the big hardware news of the year in console gaming.
In the spirit of independent consumer advocacy, we've been playing several titles on the Move system over the past week. This is the sort of no-nonsense, two-fisted approach to home entertainment we like to take here at Monkey See. At least, that's how I frame the debate with my wife. ("I'd love to do the dishes, babe, but I'm working here.")
The matter of frisbee golf
Like the Wii control system, the Move "wand" uses inertial sensors in the controller itself to track rotation, acceleration and relative motion. To this, Sony has added a plastic orb at the head of the controller which is tracked by the PlayStation Eye webcam peripheral. (The Eye can be purchased separately or is bundled with the controller in retail packages.)
The orb glows in a range of colors, which looks cool but is also functional – the system automatically lights the orb in a color distinguishable from background wall color.
Sony claims that the two tracking systems combined result in much greater accuracy than can be achieved on the Wii. Our testing so far seems to bear this out. Both systems are, frankly, kinda amazing in what they do. I've been using the Wii MotionPlus system for more than a year now, and am consistently impressed at its relative accuracy in motion tracking.
But then there is the matter of frisbee golf. Both Wii and PlayStation 3 offer a frisbee golf game in the their respective sports mini-game titles – Wii Sports Resort and the PS3's Sports Champions.
Playing these this week, back-to-back, it was clear that the PS3 Move system trumped the Wii in regard to tossing a frisbee. It's remarkable, really. Move tracks velocity, angle and point-of-release with incredible accuracy. This is a good point of comparison, I think, because frisbee tossing in real life is relatively tricky – some people never quite figure it out.
That the Move system replicates this physical activity with such precision is impressive. That my seven-year-old can throw a virtual frisbee better than a real one is either astounding or appalling, depending on your current level of technophobia.
The use of the PlayStation Eye webcam also adds other aspects to gameplay. One of the most conspicuously cool things you can do involves the technology usually referred to as "augmented reality." Essentially, games in this arena drop computer-generated images into the live video feed provided by the webcam.
This is where my two-year-old girl comes in. EyePet Move Edition, one of several existing games updated for Move control, is a bizarrely entertaining title in which kids get to interact with a little, digital, somewhat simian virtual pet.
Basically, with the camera mounted atop the TV, my daughter looks at herself and our living room being displayed back to her onscreen. Except now the room is also occupied by her digital EyePet. (Named "Chi-Chi," in case you're interested.)
Via technology I can barely wrap my head around, Chi-Chi interacts with stuff in our living room – objects, kids, cats – and particularly with the Move wand. Depending on the activity, the wand becomes a brush to scratch Chi-Chi with, or a bottle to feed her with, or what-have-you. Our daughter is already having a blast with this.
Watching her play, I had the thought that home video gaming is clearly moving into some new realm with motion-tracking and cameras. (Microsoft's upcoming Kinect system, by the way, disposes with the controller entirely.) Just another example of how modern life is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from a William Gibson novel.
The other titles we playtested – the kids' mini-game collection Start the Party and the wildly inventive martial-arts-meets-office-chair game Kung Fu Rider – also held some cool surprises. It will be interesting to see what developers come up with to leverage this new platform. According to the latest numbers, there are about 50 or so Move-compatible games currently on the market.
All things considered, as it were, we're having a lot of fun with PlayStation Move. The Wii system is still entirely adequate, of course, and Sony can't quite match Nintendo's overall elegance and aesthetic of gentle, kid-friendly gaming. But it's clear that the Wii has some serious competition now.
And in any case, it beats doing the dishes.