It only took them four years, but Sony and Microsoft have finally released their challengers to Nintendo's throne as king of video game console motion controls. All you have to do to enjoy this new(ish) technology is shell out $100-plus to buy the peripherals for your Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.
But rumor has it most of us are having minor cash-flow problems these days. So in case you can't afford all three current-gen consoles — the Nintendo Wii, the Sony Move and the Microsoft Kinect — the question remains: Which of these doohickeys is worth the cash?
For the answer, I turned to the experts — my fellow tbt*-ini and Whoa, Momma blogger Sharon Kennedy Wynne's two sons. At 8 and 12, they are well-versed on the subject.
Tommy (the younger) and Will (the older) compared the Kinect and Move with two pairs of similar titles, Microsoft's Kinectimals vs. Sony's EyePet and Microsoft's Kinect Sports vs. Sony's Sports Champions, to see how the interfaces worked, and how they stacked up against Nintendo's Wii.
The big distinction between the Kinect and the Move is that while the Move apes Nintendo's Wiimote interface, with wireless wands and the Eye camera taking the place of the Wii's sensor, the Kinect is a self-contained unit with three cameras and nothing else. This is a big deal if you're worried about greasy, potato-chip-fingered hands grabbing expensive hardware.
Both units required several minutes to set up, with the Kinect taking slightly longer, but that ended up being an advantage to Microsoft, since the Move needed to be calibrated upon start-up with each title. This involved holding the Move wand in specific places in front of the Eye so the game could register a player's height, an important distinction to make, considering Tommy clocked in at a few inches taller than four feet while Will was well over five feet, and I came in at 6-foot-2.
Because it tracks a physical sensor calibrated to the Eye, Move-ments seemed a bit more crisp and able to be tracked much more easily by the Playstation, although the games would sometimes freeze and request the glowing orbs atop each wand be presented to the Eye so they could be recalibrated. The Kinect, meanwhile, sometimes lost track of each player's position, especially during vigorous activity such as a soccer game in Kinect Sports. That brings us to ...
Kinectimals and EyePet both are novelty titles, created so players can interact with virtual creatures and look fairly ridiculous while doing so.
The Microsoft title allows players to choose from a list of big cat cubs such as a tiger, lion or panther, then set the kitties off on an adventure. The introduction was labored and overlong, drawing sighs of boredom, but picked up once Will was virtually petting a baby tiger or tossing a ball in midair. The effect was a bit wild to look at, but feedback was strikingly accurate.
The Sony challenger, EyePet, took a different tack, using the camera to film the living room floor and displaying a cherubic primate interacting onscreen with the players. The game read Tommy's and Will's movements fairly well, but often required the aforementioned recalibration during gameplay. The furry creature had an uncanny ability to avoid the living room coffee table, as shown onscreen, and even ignored Abby, the Wynne family puggle, who wandered into view.
"The Kinect one is a lot more smooth," Will said, but he agreed with Tommy, who said, "I like the EyePet; you can do a lot more things." This, of course, may have been because it sometimes seemed Tommy was too short for the Kinect cameras to track his movements.
The sports games were very different. While Kinect Sports was practically a clone of the ubiquitous Wii Sports, complete with similar games and cartoony characters co-opting the 360's avatars, Sports Champions opted for a more realistic look and events like gladiator dueling and bocce. While we all worked up a little sweat kicking soccer balls, boxing each other and paddling through rounds of table tennis on the Xbox, Sports Champions came across as more of a traditional video game experience, more technical than rigorous.
There was a nifty function in Kinect Sports wherein a video replay of highlights of the actual players was flashed on screen, showing all the goofy contortions we went through trying to make up for the sometimes wildly inaccurate motion reading.
The boys reached an interesting conclusion: The Kinect came across as the better technology, but the Move seemed to be more fun. That's the inverse of most criticism levied at these game consoles. Perhaps this was because the Microsoft games seemed more Wii-ish, while Sony's controllers were instantly familiar, given they imitated Nintendo's nunchuks well.
There are caveats to this conclusion, however. The Move requires the same kind of caution as Wiimotes, lest they be tossed across the room or even through the TV screen. The Eye can get knocked out of position and need to be moved, as can the Kinect, which uses a color camera and two black-and-white cameras to determine a player's position in space.
Also, because both use cameras, both need plenty of playing space. The Kinect asks for up to 8 feet between the camera and player, while the Move requests as much as 9. This is no big deal in the average American living room, but it's a tall order in my 1915 bungalow's cozy quarters.
The Kinect does feel more like the future of gaming, since it allows voice commands, turning your 360 into the computer from Star Trek, and reads motion without controllers. It's not much of a stretch to imagine a projector overlaying your room with a gameworld to create holographic games. The Move, as well as it works, is still a rehash of the Wii.
The real strength of the two systems will have to be measured by their game libraries — Kinect had 17 at launch, the Move had 13, numbers that are both sure to grow. Kinect has titles like a fun but uneven Kinect Adventures pack-in game, and also Dance Central, which measures a player's ability to copy dance moves. The Move has a couple imaginative titles like the chair-racing Kung Fu Rider and the artistic sandbox Create.
But if we're counting libraries, Tommy made an excellent point.
"They may be trying to be like Nintendo," he said, "but they still don't have as many games as the Wii."