Will It Move You?: First Impressions of the PS3′s New Motion Controller

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It’s been months of anticipation and some skepticism regarding all things PlayStation Move. We’ve had the hardware and select software titles in our hands for a few days and the cone of silence can be finally lifted. What follows are early impressions based on testing it out in real-world conditions. Fair Warning: comparisons to the Wii will follow because, well, it’s disingenuous to pretend that there’s no commonality at all with Sony and Nintendo’s motion-control methodology. That said, we’re evaluating the Move on its own or, at least, trying to.

Price of entry:

We’ve already covered the bundle options that Sony’s making available to the Move-curious, and there seems to be configurations that cover all the likeliest ownership scenarios. Provided you already have the Playstation Eye camera and, of course, a PS3, the $50 for a Move controller isn’t a harsh demand to open up what’s going to be a transformative element to playing games on a console you already have.

Feel:

One of the best things about the Move is the way it feels in the hand. People may have had a few risqué things to say about the Move wand’s bulb-tipped design, but it feels smartly sized and weighted. It’s substantial enough to avoid the hand-cramping that happens long sessions with the Wii-mote. The trigger is springy and the buttons are well-placed. However, the central Move button in the middle of the wand could stand to be a little smaller and the square, circle, triangle and x buttons could definitely be bigger.

Responsiveness:

You know how it can sometimes be a baffling mystery where the pointer is when you’re playing a Wii game, and how you need to waggle furiously until it pops back onscreen? Over the course of several days, I never had to do that with the Move. For a device designed to draw in casual gamers, the Move really showcases the PS3′s processing power. You always feel like the system knows where you and the controller are. And the level of precision in tracking movements in a 3D environment is nothing short of stunning. Depth, tilt, rotation and  x-, y-axis lateral movement all feel true to your movement. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it one-to-one (yet) but what your gestures in real-life feel believably reflected on in the games.

Graphics:

The sharpness and detail of the graphics in the games we played varied according to the strengths of the developers. But, the area of graphics is one where the PS3 already trounces the Wii.

Set-Up and Calibration:

Charging up the Wand and navigation controllers for their maiden voyage took about five hours. From there, integrating the Move set-up with an existing PS3 is pretty simple. You bind the wand with the big Move button and calibration happens in-game. The gestures you make to calibrate kind of make you feel like you’re going to transform into a Power Ranger. I was prompted to recalibrate five or six times on average during a two-hour session. That seems like a lot, but I can’t convincingly say that the fault was in my apartment lighting scenario or in the underlying Move architecture.

Games:

Kung-Fu Rider:

This first-party Sony game feels like the “weird cousin” entry of the Move launch library. You play as an oddball private eye or his comely female assistant who race through a generic city somewhere in Asia while seated on a variety of wheeled items like an office chair. Some guys are chasing you throughout the city and you can kick or punch them away while moving through the timed races on each level. The controls are a combination of waggling for speed, thrusting forward for boost and buttons for combat and tricks. The premise is basically Tony Hawk or Skate with kung-fu and a healthy dose of bizzaro. While it’ll get laughs for the first few levels, Kung-Fu Rider‘s overly complicated controls and sketchy collision detection make it a so-so title.

Start the Party:

I handled this game back in the spring and was only mildly entertained during my time with it. It’s easy to dismiss the final version of StP as a wacky minigame collection but it really shows off sharp, if goofy, vision of what augmented reality could look like with Move. The cartoony weapons you wield in Start the Party could be a sword or warhammer in a Soulcalibur game a year from now. And, significantly, the on-screen capture of the player never deteriorates in quality no matter how much craziness is happening on-screen.

Echochrome ii:

The sequel to the PSP/PS3 puzzler is currently my favorite Move game. The premise is basically the same: you need to move an automated mannequin to various points on the screen but the new Move mechanics have you changing the angle of a light source to create new shadow pathways for your avatar. The combo of arty aesthetics and device-specific game design make it one of the most forward-looking Move games yet.

Racquet Sports (Ubisoft):

The name says it all with this one. Racquet Sports came out earlier this year for the Wii and gets a beefed-up version for the Move launch. Aside from the no-brainer inclusion of tennis, Racquet Sports also offers up badminton, squash, table tennis and beach tennis (?). This game feels like the weak sister of the initial Move line-up, an obvious launch day cash-in attempt. Even with that, it looks much better on the PS3 than on the Wii.

Wrap-up:

Philosophically, Sony’s trying to secure the middle ground in the motion-control landscape. The overall experience doesn’t feel as contrived as some Wii games and most Move games look tons better than anything on the Wii. And the cognitive jump that Move asks players to make doesn’t feel quite as weird as the controller-free

Right now, the biggest hurdle facing both the Move and would-be early adopters is that no game makes the hardware a must-buy experience. The early offerings feel like a bunch of titles that you MIGHT like. For example, I love echochrome ii but others may prefer the block-busting crazy swinging of Racquet Sports. That must-buy game may be a ways off, though, and that may pose a problem for Sony as they try to get people to buy into the Move phenomenon.

We’ll be rolling out more coverage of the Playstation Move and its affiliated games as the September 19 launch date approaches.

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