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Game On!

Competition Heats Up Among the New Wii MotionPlus, Sony PS3 Move and Xbox 360 Kinect

Nintendo’s Wii made playing a video game by using the movement of your arms mainstream when it debuted 4 years ago. Now Microsoft and Sony have joined the crowd by introducing video-game controllers that track a player’s movement to swing a virtual baseball bat or drive a virtual car. Each system has its pros and cons, which means that there’s much to consider before deciding which one is right for you.

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It turns out that Nintendo wasn’t just playing around when in 2006 it introduced the Wii and hyped its motion-tracking controller as a breakthrough in video-game-console design.

Wii succeeded because it meant that you no longer needed to mash a series of buttons and triggers to play, say, video tennis. By grasping the 6-inch-long Wii Remote wand and mimicking a forehand motion in the air, your on-screen character in Wii Tennis returns a serve.

This combination of simplicity, interactivity and fun appeals to casual and devoted gamers alike. Having sold more than 30 million units in the United States, Wii emerged as this generation’s clear winner in video-game sales, far surpassing Microsoft’s 5-year-old Xbox 360 (19 million) and Sony’s 4-year-old PlayStation 3 (PS3) (12 million). Wii’s lead—and an overall 13 percent dip in video-game console sales in 2009—motivated Microsoft and Sony to develop motion-sensing control systems for their own video-game consoles, which they released this fall.

After all of the research and development, there’s still one variable at play: Are these systems fun? We tested prerelease Kinect and Move systems and games and found a mixed bag. We’re intrigued by the systems, but we’re waiting to see how each will be supported by makers of video-game software. As we enter the holiday-shopping season, let the games begin.

CONSTANT MOTION. When Wii launched, it did so with what still is one of the best collection of games that’s on the market: “Wii Sports.” That first experience of holding the controller and swinging a virtual tennis racket, or rolling a virtual bowling ball, was magical. It physically connected players with the cartoon game experience that was on their TV screens.

Unfortunately, Wii’s first-generation motion-tracking technology is not precise. If you move your hand a fraction of an inch, it doesn’t translate perfectly in the game. That imprecision, however, is a boon to kids, novice gamers and those whose movements aren’t particularly coordinated. But it’s been a point of contention for critics and those who value a more realistic game experience.

To amend the precision problem, Nintendo came out with MotionPlus in June 2009. The $20 1-1/2-inch-long attachment slides into the bottom of a Wii Remote and substantially improves the controller’s accuracy. When you use MotionPlus, the most sophisticated games take on an incredible level of realism. For example, if you roll your wrist during your swing in “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11,” the game will re-create your hook perfectly. In “Table Tennis,” Wii MotionPlus detects the precise angle of the paddle, which allows for finesse shots.

Motion Compared

Motion Compared

You still can play most games without MotionPlus if you’re a novice player and you want the game-play to be somewhat forgiving. But the add-on is required to play some new Wii games, such as the eagerly awaited “Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword,” which is due to release in spring 2011. Although you might need to purchase separate MotionPlus controllers to update your Wii system, the latest bundle for a new game console ($199) comes with one MotionPlus-enabled controller.

BOLD MOVES. Move—the motion-control system that Sony released for PS3 on Sept. 19—is similar to Wii in how it uses motion-tracking, but Sony focuses on improving the accuracy and realism of movement.

Move uses a motion-sensing controller (picture a remote control that has a glowing ball that is attached on one end) that is designed to be tracked by the PlayStation Eye camera that’s on the PS3 console. The camera reads the position of the Move controller’s glowing ball to pinpoint your hand position during gameplay, so the console knows with a high degree of accuracy where your hand is at all times. It combines that information with the same type of gyroscopic measurements that Wii MotionPlus uses to create speed of movement and controller orientation. To play Move games on your PS3, you’ll have to spend $50 on the controller and $39 on the camera (if you don’t already have one).

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