Appealing to both hardcore gamers (with the franchises they love) and casual gamers (with ease of use), Nintendo's Wii has been a powerhouse in the video-game market. This success has led Nintendo's main competitors, Microsoft with Xbox 360 and Sony with PlayStation 3, to develop their own motion-control schemes -- which will be hitting the market in the next few months.
Wii sales have been brisk over the past three years, including a one-month record of 3-million units sold in the United States in December 2009. More than 70-million Wii systems have been purchased worldwide, and every time the system is expected to finally slump, it holds strong. While hardcore gamers generally prefer Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the casual-gaming market dominates; Wii's lifetime sales nearly double those of its two primary competitors, even though Xbox 360 was available a year earlier.
Microsoft takes the idea of motion controls further than Nintendo with its Kinect sensor -- a camera placed at the base of your TV that can track both your physical motions and vocal inputs without requiring a controller. A motorized pivot on the camera keeps players centered during play, so lunging to avoid something from the game won't negatively affect play.
Outside of gaming, Kinect can be used with the Xbox 360 interface like something out of Minority Report, with hand motions and voice commands to access menus, conduct video, and voice-chat with contacts on Xbox Live or Windows Live Messenger. Music and video can be controlled the same way. As a $150 add-on, it seems like a large investment, but non-gaming functions and support for multiple players with one Kinect balance the price tag.
Sony's PlayStation Move consists of a motion controller used in one hand with a navigation controller in the other, along with the previously released PlayStation Eye camera to help determine the player's position.
I'm almost embarrassed to think about Sony's motion-control approach. Microsoft has at least made its controls conceptually different and added other uses, while Sony is supplementing its subpar camera with a controller that nearly plagiarizes Wii. I understand the idea of modeling a product on the popular alternative, and I even think it'd be cool to have a game similar to Wii Sports in high definition, but Sony's effort reminds me too much of something I already spent a ton on: Wii.
There's also the issue of cost. Sony will sell its motion controller for $50, but here are some fun facts before you Move: The $40 PlayStation Eye camera is required for use; there will be games that require the $30 navigation controller; and down the line there will be single-player games that require a second $50 motion controller.
The costs of both motion-control add-ons, of course, are on top of investments in the gaming systems themselves, which range from $200 to $300. Bundle options for new purchasers are a relative bargain, with the Xbox 360 4GB Kinect bundle priced at $299 and the PlayStation 3 320GB Move bundle priced at $399. New system buyers get a discount, but current owners get screwed. And the Wii is still cheaper at $199 for an entire system.
Beyond money, I'm a little tired of the emphasis on motion controls. Microsoft and Sony are already on firm ground when it comes to high-end graphics, online capability, and the addictive achievement systems. Why blitz loyal players with their versions of Wii, when chances are good that players already bought one? Sony and Microsoft are simply trying to milk Ninendo's cash cow.
And most importantly, motion controls rarely make games better. I play games to enjoy a good story and to relax after work, but swinging my arms around like a madman doesn't immerse me in a tale any more than normal, and it sure as hell doesn't soothe me. Wii games such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the No More Heroes series use motion controls minimally but still keep me enthralled. I won't contest that the experience of some games is enhanced by motion controls, but I don't want every future game requiring me to dance around my own home. There's a place for motion control in gaming, but I wish Wii could Move past the novelty and try to Kinect to our games in new ways.
The PlayStation Move motion controller, navigation controller, and 320GB Move Bundle will be available September 17 for $49.99, $29.99, and $399.99, respectively. The PlayStation 3 320GB Move bundle includes a slim 320GB PS3 system, PlayStation Eye, motion controller, and the game Sports Champions.
The Xbox 360 Kinect sensor and Xbox 360 4GB Kinect bundle will be available November 4 for $149.99 and $299.99, respectively. The Xbox 360 4GB Kinect bundle includes a slim 4GB Xbox 360 system, Kinect sensor, and the game Kinect Adventures.
The Nintendo Wii is available for $199.99 and includes the basic motion controller, a Nunchuk controller, a Wii MotionPlus controller adapter, and the games Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort.
Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.