Review: PlayStation Move Starter Pack

I recently made the leap into next-gen gaming (I know, I know, but the appeal of dirt-cheap used PS2 games kept me going for many years) and bought a PS3 bundle with a Move Starter Pack. As the contents are different here in the UK, I thought I’d share our more extensive look at what the control system has to offer.

Whereas the US starter pack includes simply one full game (Sports Champions), we get demo editions of nine games. I’ll detail them below.

If you’re looking for the quick and dirty view, I’ll say this: Move has some serious potential when incorporated into “proper” games, but is a mixed bag at best when it comes to specially created titles.

Before going any further, I should answer the two questions that you are probably thinking:

1) I’ve not played enough Wii to make a truly fair comparison, but I’m willing to believe the consensus that it’s capable of greater accuracy.

2) Yes, very similar.

(I should also note that all the demos on the UK disc are available for download from the PlayStation store, so the pack is only worth buying if you don’t already have the PSEye camera .)

The demo disc starts off with five retail titles that are specially designed for Move:

EyePet: The idea is that you are able to use the controller and even your hands to control and interact with a virtual pet that, via the camera, is superimposed on to your living room floor. If this worked, I can see how young children would absolutely love the game. Unfortunately I couldn’t get it working at all, and instead had to look at the frankly disturbing image of my hand passing through the pet’s skull.

Sports Champions: In the demo edition, there’s a one-hole of discus golf and a best-of-nine points game of table tennis. The responsiveness is the best of the retail titles, and the table tennis feels the closest to the real thing in terms of entire body movement. That said, it’s a novelty that might get old very quickly.

Start the Party: This includes two demos, one of which involves using an oversized spray can to fill in shapes on the screen and the other turned the controller into a virtual fly swatter. If you’ve never encountered any form of virtual or “augmented” reality before this might be impressive, but gameplay was awful.

The Shoot: Things don’t get any better here. It’s a basic first-person shooter that’s been made “family friendly” by having you play as a movie actor shooting props, meaning nobody really dies. For a dated reference, it’s about as impressive as playing Duck Hunt on the NES, but in 2010. For a slightly more recent reference, it’s like taking one of the carnival sideshow minigames from Bully and pretending it’s a full title.

TV Superstars: This is another collection of minigames, themed around being a TV star. The demo includes running on a treadmill while jumping over obstacles, catapulting yourself through the air and then rotating the controller to make sure you fit into a target (not a game I’ve ever seen on TV), and a rhythm game in which you trace shapes to control a catwalk models poses.

By this point in the game review cycle, I was shocked. Not shocked that the games were bad (mediocre would be a fairer adjective), but shocked that Sony would really think anyone would play these demos and then go on to pay full retail price for the games.

Fortunately things improved with demos of three PlayStation Network games:

Beat Sketchers: OK, so things don’t improve straight away. This involves drawing on the screen, which creates custom music, and, well, frankly I couldn’t figure out much more than that. Think Etch A Sketch meets Stylophone and you get the idea.

Echocrome 2: This is the standout game on the disc, even if the demo purely shows off the concept and doesn’t get into levels with any real challenge. The concept sounds bizarre — there are a pile of blocks in the corner of a room and you move a shining light to create shadows for your character to move along — but it’s very clear this is a mind-bender of a puzzle game where using the Move controller (as a flashlight) really does feel central to the game rather than a gimmick. It’s the only demo that made me interested in buying the game, which made it a disappointment to learn it’s not out yet. However, it was a joy to discover that the title will be a PSN game, meaning it will presumably carry a lower price.

Tumble: A ridiculously simple concept: you use the controller in all three dimensions to pick up and move a variety of objects in the hope of building the largest possible tower without it collapsing. The only problem with the demo is that it doesn’t show off enough to tell you if future levels become challenging, or merely tiresome and repetitive.

Finally the disc contains one retail title that has Move support:

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11: The demo allows you to play three holes on either of two courses, plus a quick burst of the flagship Ryder Cup move. I’m no golf fan, but it’s clear this is a genre where Move makes a real difference. The only action you perform in a golf game is swinging a club, making it ideal for a motion control system. You’d probably have to like golf to really benefit from the full game’s range of options, but for fun this would be well worth a rental.

I also tried out a couple of downloaded demos. Racket Sports didn’t really float my boat: I was able to win at badminton without really knowing what I was doing (any simulation in which I have even a slim shot in badminton is hugely unrealistic), while the tennis game has a couple of major flaws. Firstly, the logistics of tennis court vs living room mean body movement is irrelevant, and the game is largely about deciding in time whether you need a forehand or backhand shot (both of which are at 90 degree angles in real life compared with the on-screen character.) Secondly, the nature of the game means you spend most of your time in epic, but dull, rallies, to the point that you empathize with John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

The Move enhanced version of Heavy Rain works well from a technical standpoint: the motion controls much more closely match what the on-screen character is doing than using a traditional controller. That said, the game itself is such a divisive concept that I can’t really imagine Move being a make or break issue in whether it’s worth the money.

Reading through this you might get the impression I’m negative on the Move system. Quite the contrary: when it’s effectively integrated into an existing game, it can work excellently. It’s largely fine from a technical standpoint, and can make the experience much more immersive.

The problem is with the games, specifically those designed specifically around the system. They seem so shallow and repetitive that I have to conclude anyone who primarily wants to play casual motion-control games should stick to the Wii. However, once developers start offering support for Move in full-scale titles, it will make a noticeable improvement to the experience, even though some genres will benefit more than others.

And if, as appears to be the case, Portal 2 comes out without support for Move control, there will be hell to pay.

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