Sony's PlayStation Move motion control system has arrived. I've put the platform through its paces; you can see my review here. The short version: It feels nice in your hand and is more precise than Nintendo's aging Wii remote and nunchuk controllers; a clear step up the evolutionary ladder in motion control gaming.
But what about the software?
In this post I take a look at most of the Move games available at launch. Nothing too flabbergasting yet, but there is definitely some fun to be had for those who can't wait to begin playing with Sony's new toy.
This is the game included in Sony's PlayStation Move bundles, both the $100 motion controller-plus-PlayStation Eye package as well as the $400 PlayStation Move console bundle. Alternatively, you can buy it on its own for $40.
Composed of six mini-games-Bocce Ball, Disc Golf, Beach Volleyball, Archery, Table Tennis, and Gladiator Duel- Sports Champions is essentially PlayStation Move's answer to Nintendo's Wii Sports. However, the E10+ rating and the realistic violence featured in Gladiator Duel indicates that Sony isn't necessarily targeting little kids with its new platform (or at least not exclusively).
Sports Champions feels rather like a spruced-up tech demo. The Spartan graphics, though not entirely unappealing, are without personality, and the play modes are basically just linear series of repetitious matches.
However, it's also the best way to see what PlayStation Move has to offer. I've played more than a dozen sports-themed mini-game collections for the Wii, and in terms of precision control and sheer entertainment value, Sports Champions beats them all, hands down (with the exception of Nintendo's brilliantly accessible and just plain playable Wii Sports Resort).
I began by tossing some Frisbees and was shocked by how natural it felt. I could judge the height, distance, and flight path of my throws before the virtual disc even left my hand. Bocce Ball delivered similar results, allowing me to strategically throw low, rolling shots or high balls with lots of spin. Both activities feel much like their real-world counterparts.
However, the standout activities in this collection are Archery and Gladiator Duel. Both are fun enough with a single Move Controller, but add a second to the mix and they suddenly become extraordinarily realistic.
In Archery I would reach behind my back for an arrow, then bring my hands together to notch the arrow in the string. Then I pulled my hands apart, using my left to aim and my right to control tension and distance, before releasing the trigger to let loose the shot. I found the experience to be both intuitive and gratifying.
Gladiator Duel even more so. My left hand controlled a shield, my right hand wielded a sword, both with almost perfect one-to-one control (I once absentmindedly began a match by quickly shaking my controller and was surprised to see my onscreen avatar doing the same with his sword, as though impatient to begin the brawl). I was able to block incoming attacks by naturally moving my shield into position, then precisely swing or jab my weapon at small openings in my opponent's defence. Button-based controls for actions such as dodging and leaping back add depth to the experience, helping make this activity the most rewarding in the collection.
Sports Champions shows the PlayStation Move's potential, but it doesn't quite feel like a complete game. It suggests, however, that if a gifted studio were to concentrate on creating a full game based on one of its better activities-such as melee combat-that game could end up becoming the sort of hardware-moving title that PlayStation Move needs right now.
Designed for kids, EyePet ($40) lets players interact with a virtual, Monchichi-like creature on their living room floors.
Players begin by aiming the PlayStation Eye camera at the floor in front of their televisions. That's where the EyePet appears to run around-and in surprisingly convincing fashion (I could see its digital shadow on the rug).
Less a game than a simulation, the objective is simply to care for and play with pets. Kids wield a variety of objects that are mapped to the PlayStation Move motion controller-shower heads, baseball mitts, nets, and more-and use them to interact with their digital cratures.
Of all the PlayStation Move titles we tried together, my five-year-old daughter was most engrossed by this one. She enjoyed many of the game's activities, such as cleaning her pet with bubbly shampoo, dressing it up in different outfits, and feeding it cookies.
However, she also asked the dreaded question "why isn't it working?" countless times-and while trying to perform tasks as simple as scratching her pet's head, no less. The problem is that there are no visual cues to show players when they're doing something right other than subtle changes in their pets' expressions and demeanour. This can prove frustrating for players of any age.
My daughter has yet to grow weary of her daily play sessions with her EyePet, but as the adult who must guide her through them, I have.
The game many serious players will look to first to determine the PlayStation Move's value as an interface for more traditional, core games, R.U.S.E. ($60) is an innovative real-time strategy title from Ubisoft makes use of both the motion controller and the navigation controller.
The motion controller functions more or less like a mouse. Players can point precisely at specific objects and units, press the trigger and flick their wrists to scroll through menus, and tilt it up and down to zoom in and out of the game's beautiful maps which, when viewed from a high enough perspective, are cleverly revealed to actually be tables in the command rooms of the officers giving orders to the troops.
Meanwhile, the navigation controller is held in the player's left hand. It basically replicates the functionality of the left side of a standard PlayStation 3 DualShock controller, allowing players to scroll around the map with the joystick and choose targets with the shoulder button. You can use a standard PlayStation 3 gamepad in place of the navigation controller, but I found this both uncomfortable and awkward. The navigation controller is worth the extra $30-or at least it will be if you plan to use it with a few more games down the line.
I've been playing through both the PlayStation 3 edition and the PC version and I can't determine which interface I prefer. However, the fact that I even need to deliberate whether an RTS is better played on a console or PC speaks volumes of PlayStation Move, since the genre is native to and typically far more enjoyable when played with a computer's keyboard and mouse.
Move controls aside, R.U.S.E. is a truly offbeat and surprisingly complex strategy game with some highly original mechanics. The clever map feature and altogether unique appearance is just the tip of the iceberg. Players can also employ the game's titular "ruses" to do things like spy on enemy sectors, inflict terror on enemy troops, launch fake offensives to deke out opponents, decrypt orders being given by enemy commanders, and more.
Regardless of the platform you prefer or whether you intend to play with PlayStation Move (the PlayStation 3 edition also supports a standard DualShock controller), RTS fans would do well to investigate this one.
Start the Party
Arguably the most accessible of PlayStation Move's launch games, Start the Party ($40) is perhaps also the most shallow and disappointing.
It uses the PlayStation Eye camera to put players and their living rooms in the action. Most activities map a virtual object to the PlayStation Move motion controller, as in one that has players wielding a fly swatter to smack big bugs flying around the screen and another that has us holding a fan to help keep falling birds aloft and guide them towards baskets at the edges of the screen.
Slightly more challenging activities include a ghost-themed game that treats the motion controller like a flashlight, with players sweeping it around the screen to find spooky spirits, and a helicopter rescue mission that sees us rotating the motion controller left and right as we guide a chopper to pick up stranded citizens in a city under siege by a giant monster.
It's fine fun-for about an hour. That's about how long it takes to work through most of the activities. That time can potentially be extended by switching to harder difficulties or bringing family and friends in on the action, but a sense of repetition still sets in far too quickly.
Start the Party is about one third of a full game. It needs at least twice the number of activities and a better way of gluing the whole experience together (think Mario Party-style board games) to make players interested in coming back. If you find it a bargain bin for $10, go for it. Otherwise, lose no sleep over skipping it.
My favourite PlayStation Move launch game also happens to be the cheapest; Tumble is just $9.99 through the PlayStation Store.
Short and simple, this physics-based game has players carefully manipulating blocks to create towers. A miniature motion controller appears onscreen and copies the player's every movement. Hold the trigger while aiming at a block lying on the floor and it will be sucked up and hover in front of the virtual controller's orb. Then, by cautiously twisting, tilting, and flipping these blocks, players gradually build giant, precariously-stacked towers. It's a showcase for the PlayStation Move's exacting precision. Prepare to be shocked by how naturally and accurately you are able to manipulate each piece.
The game slowly grows more challenging in a number of ways. Objectives change from level to level as players are tasked to create different kinds of towers. The shape of the blocks we're provided changes as well. Expect cylenders, pyramids, and boxes with irregular sides. Subtler, though equally important, are the differences in block materials. Sturdy wood, slippery glass, and pliable rubber affect the way blocks settle on one another. Some levels also let us place mines so we can knock down towers, Boom Blox-style.
There's not much to the game beyond what I've described here, but, as is often the case with compelling puzzles games, this simplicity is part of what makes Tumble so hopelessly habit forming. Multi-hour sessions are entirely possible, giving this deceptively basic Move game excellent value.
Kung Fu Rider
The slimmest of narratives provides context for this odd mishmash of office-chair shenanigans, martial arts, and extreme street sports.
You take on the roll of either a detective or his sexy assistant, both of whom are trying to escape from a mob of nameless gangsters for reasons unknown. Each level begins with our hero hopping on an office chair (or other random wheeled contraption, such as a vacuum cleaner) and pushing off for a long roll down busy city streets. The goal of the game is to avoid obstacles, use kung fu attacks on any enemies encountered, and collect money scattered along the course.
It sounds a bit peculiar, but there's actually some potential here. Flipping up the motion controller and then pressing the Move button to grind rails with your chair's wheels is satisfying, as is pressing an action button and swooping the controller to perform attacks that send our enemies flying with exaggerated rag-doll physics.
However, navigation is a chore. To steer, players must widely swoop the motion controller left or right, but regardless of the size of my arc I was rarely able to take corners sharply enough. What's more, when I tried to get my character to lean backwards to duck under low obstacles by flicking the controller backwards, he would also swerve left or right unless I managed the tricky feat of pulling it perfectly straight back in line with the PlayStation Eye camera.
Kung Fu Rider ($40) could have been a sleeper hit launch game for PlayStation Move. As is, it's a half-baked failure in dire need of some fine tuning.
Come back to this blog for more reviews of PlayStation Move games in the months to come, including The Fight: Lights Out, The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest, John Daly's ProStroke Golf, and others.
Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha