In 2006, Nintendo introduced its revolutionary Wii console to the world. Two things happened immediately: Hard-core gamers looked at its motion-sensing controllers, shrugged and offered a collective "So what?" But casual gamers—families who traditionally inhabited the lighter, Tetris-y end of the video game spectrum, as well as those who played an occasional sports title, went bonkers.
Wiis sold like hotcakes. Family members and partygoers could be seen laughing and swinging their arms around in virtual bouts of baseball or bowling or tennis. Grandparents grabbed controllers and began to discover what all the Wii hubbub was about. And something of a new gaming golden age began.
The only complaint came from other manufacturers, Sony and Microsoft, who were caught flat-footed and surprised by the Wii's unexpected success. Four years later—practically an eternity in tech time—Sony is ready to go after a piece of the casual-gaming pie with its own take on the swing-your-controller-with-the-gang revolution. They're calling it the PlayStation Move, designed for use with the PlayStation 3.
The Move combines a motion-sensing PlayStation Eye USB camera (that plugs into the PS3) with a fancy-looking controller that resembles a thick-handled lollipop … that glows. Not only does the system "sense" rotational movement via the controller's built-in inertial sensors, it also tracks the glowing orb as it moves. Sony claims that the two combined tracking systems make its second-generation motion controller a Wii-killer.
Of course, there's only one way to judge whether a new gadget delivers on such lofty promises: Play a game! And so my family and I loaded up Sports Champions, the title packaged with the new controller/camera, to evaluate just how worried Nintendo execs should be.
Mastering the Move's Moves
One of the first things everybody noted was how Sports Champions obviously mimics Wii Sports. Like Nintendo's immensely popular title, Sony's offering is a competition compilation designed to put the motion-sensing device through its paces. Specifically, Sports Champions includes table tennis, beach volleyball, bocce, archery, disc golf and … gladiator duel. (I'll talk more about that last one in a moment.)
My favorite was disc golf, and there's no question this contest lets the Move shine. It's essentially a Frisbee golf game in which you have to plunk a disc into the goal in the fewest number of tosses. It's a fun adventure that players of any age should be able to pick up quickly.
The virtual physics of the game using the Move controller are quite remarkable. The motion-sensing accuracy of the device allows you to make minute adjustments to everything from the angle of a throw to the velocity and point of release. Suffice it to say it does indeed take motion-sensing gaming to a new level. And the same could be said of the lifelike physics and physical movements required in each of the other games. Compared with the Wii's motion-sensing controller, the Move's accuracy takes the gold here.
One potentially annoying aspect of gameplay, however, is the fact that players must recalibrate their Move controller before beginning each new sub-game in the Champions collection. That involves standing within a designated area of the camera's focus and holding the controller at shoulder level, at your side, and then in front of your belt buckle. That regular calibrating routine didn't bother me, but it did raise the hackles of one of my family members.
I should also mention that Champions offers three different levels of competition: Champion Cup, which matches a single player against AI competitors for gold, silver and bronze trophies; Free Play, which allows up to four players to compete against each other; and Challenge, a variety of frenetic minigames (such as archery tic-tac-toe) that seem custom-designed for party play.
If you're wondering if there are any real problems to worry about with Sports Champions, my short answer is no. Mostly. Gladiator duel could be considered a bit too violent for your youngest players. The object here is to pummel and knock your opponent to the ground or smash him out of the competition ring using a sword or battle hammer. Characters grunt with each blow and can have their shields broken, but there's no blood or wounding on display.
Move Over, Wii?
So is the PlayStation Move officially the new motion-sensing king? Yes. And no. It all comes down to how much high-tech accuracy you want from this type of gameplay. My fellow family testers enjoyed the fun but were ultimately noncommittal. I, however, thought the added accuracy and sensitivity were real pluses.
But even if Sony's newest motion-sensing technology is more precise and more enjoyable for some gamers (like me), the Move still faces a steep uphill battle against the Wii's installed fan base, which is millions strong after a four-year head start. Those folks have gotten used to the way the Wii works, and learning new moves on the Move may or may not be their cup of casual gaming tea.
Take, for example, the 7-year-old neighborhood boy who happened to be visiting and joined in on the Move play while I was reviewing this game. He adapted quickly and played for a little while. But when asked his opinion, he blurted out, "Can we play the Wii now?"
No beating around the glowing controller there.