Games 9/21: Playstation Move, Sports Champions, Eyepet, Start the Party!, Kung Fu Rider, Racquet Sports, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (PS Move), Planet Minigolf (PS Move)

Playstation Move
For: Playstation 3
From: Sony
Price: $50 for standalone Move wand; $40 for standalone Eye camera; $100 for bundle that includes one Move wand, one Eye camera and “Sports Champions” game

Most will assume the Playstation Move is the product of Sony scrambling to create a motion controller that out-Wiis the Wii. And most would be at least partially wrong, because in addition to doing buttonless control first with the Playstation 2’s EyeToy camera in 2003, Sony was giving closed-door demonstrations of rudimentary Move technology before the EyeToy was even commercially available.

Those demonstrations, which showed off the low-tech EyeToy’s ability to track light and crudely interpret three-dimensional motion, form the basis of what makes the Move so much more than a mere me-too Wii remote. The hardware is more powerful and camera (now called the Playstation Eye) is now HD, but it’s those original ideas that allow the Move to trounce the Wii in multiple respects.

The most obvious improvement is the capacity to track precise movements on a 1:1 scale — something the Wii couldn’t remotely do until Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus attachment last year. The disc golf game in “Sports Champions,” for instance, allows players to grip the Move wand as they would a frisbee, and the slightest tilt or turn on the wand is replicated on screen. Players can cheat on the Wii by flicking the remote to fake a fast throw, but the Move is savvy enough to differentiate a flick from a complete motion. If you want to succeed in “Champions'” gladiator duel game, you need to swing that wand like a sword. Flicking it will simply make you look inept.

The Move also demonstrates an impressive ability to understand 3D space. The Eye camera can tell when players are moving forward and backward based on its view of the wand. In “Champions'” table tennis game, for instance, players can move toward the camera to return soft shots and back up to return hard shots. The game is able to read player position with skillful accuracy, and players are similarly in tune with their position because their onscreen racket moves in lockstep with every arm and foot motion. With a little conditioning, the act of playing the game becomes so instinctive that the virtual barriers essentially fade away.

But perhaps the Move’s coolest trick is its continuation of what the EyeToy started in 2003.

Because we’re pointing Move wands at an HD video camera instead of a sensor bar, the Move can put players inside the game while also tracking their movements. The camera can discern the Move wand’s light from everything else in the frame, and it’s able to transform the wand’s onscreen likeness into whatever object it pleases. In the party game collection “Start the Party!,” for instance, the wand might turn into a mallet for a whack-a-mole game. Players see themselves on the screen bopping virtual moles with a 3D virtual mallet that appears to be in their hand, and because the camera tracks the wand so perfectly, the whole exercise is immersive enough to drop jaws.

In terms of tech — and in stark contrast to the Wii, which cleverly masked its shortcomings more than overcame them — the Move fulfills every single promise Sony made about its possibilities behind closed doors more than seven years ago. Provided developers back it up over time with a worthy software library, this is the perfect antidote for those who were seduced by the Wii’s promises but ultimately left feeling cheated by the final product.

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Sports Champions
From: Zindagi Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (violence)

“Sports Champions” is hardly an imaginative way to kick off the Move’s lineup — it’s Sony’s “Wii Sports,” after all — but as demonstrations of the tech go, it’s a leaps-and-bounds upgrade over Nintendo’s counterpart. “Champions” includes six sports, and while the selections — bocce, volleyball, archery, table tennis, disc golf and gladiator duels — seem almost random for a sextet, all six are pretty deliberately designed to show just how up to snuff the system is. Throwing a frisbee disc is as natural as the real-life motion, and the game’s scrupulous accounting of angle, speed and arc makes it as feasible to hook or slice a disc as it is to toss one straight and steady. Lobbing a bocce ball feels similarly intuitive, and the table tennis game — in addition to showing off the Move’s ability to track 3D space by letting players move backward and forward for soft and hard shots, respectively — makes it second nature to aim shots and apply topspin and backspin. While all six sports work with a single motion controller, some of the games definitely benefit from having two: Gladiator duels maps a real-time shield to the second controller, while archery uses the two controllers to simulate the stress of holding a taut bow to a startling degree. That makes fully enjoying “Champions” more expensive than originally implied, especially for multiplayer purposes, but it’s a nice demonstration of just how versatile the system is. “Champions” is practically free for those who purchase the $100 Move bundle with it packed in, but it also earns its standalone asking with lengthy career mode that features three cups per sport, showers players with unlockable rewards, and dishes out some serious competition on the higher difficulty tiers.

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Eyepet
From: London Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone

If there’s a game in the Move launch library that could sell systems on sight alone, this is the one. “Eyepet” puts players in charge of caring for a virtual pet — imagine a Pixar-esque cross between a monkey and Gizmo from “Gremlins” — and as with most virtual pet games, players can feed and wash their pet as well as play with him. The difference here is that because the Move puts players inside the games via the Eye camera, the pet can run across players’ actual floors or tables through the magic of augmented reality. And while the Move controller plays a major role in “Eyepet” — the camera transforms its onscreen likeness into everything from a showerhead to a food dispenser to a crayon to a baseball mitt, bowling set and numerous other toys — players also can coddle and play with their pet simply by sticking their hands in the scene. “Eyepet” is the best demonstration so far of the Eye camera’s fidelity, and the first time you draw a car on a piece of paper, hold it up to the camera and watch the game scan the drawing and turn it into a controllable RC car that looks exactly like your drawing, it’s like entering a brave new world. Lots of little tricks like that comprise the package: Rather than guilt players into booting it up daily simply to maintain their pets, “Eyepet” instead gives players a long list of challenges that introduce new toys and tricks and, upon completion, unlock outfits (yes, you can dress them up and even dye their fur) and open up the toys for free play (and high score chasing) purposes. Sony plans to extend the game’s content via downloads from the Playstation Network, though the ratio between free and paid add-ons isn’t yet known.

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Start the Party!
From: Supermassive Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence, animated blood)

Every experimental controller needs an obligatory minigame collection, and for the Move, “Start the Party!” is it. But “Party” exceeds its obligations both with its excellent play formats and its comprehensive demonstration of how cool the Move’s augmented
reality capabilities are. Most of “Party’s” games revolve around that trick: Players, filmed by the Eye camera, appear in the middle of the game’s action, but the Move wand is replaced by a virtual object over which players have complete 3D control. A whack-a-mole game turns it into a mallet, a painting challenge turns it into a paintbrush, and a game involving swatting balls into basketball hoops turns it into a racket. The Move controller’s outstanding responsiveness means the virtual objects move in players’ hands exactly as they would if they were real objects, and the disconnect between player and motion that dampens most mini game collections isn’t at all present here. “Party’s” game count is a bit low at 20, but they’re all pretty well-realized, and they’re packaged inside an excellent game show-style presentation for multiple players (four players, one controller needed) and a terrific “WarioWare”-style survival mode that continually switches up the game for those playing solo. Unfortunately, online play — a feature that works brilliantly in Sony’s “Buzz!” party games — is nowhere to be found in “Party.”

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Kung Fu Rider
From: Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

Solid though the Move tech is, “Kung Fu Rider” proves that it isn’t ideal for every game. In almost every way, “Rider” is a splendid callback to the unhinged games that made Sega’s Dreamcast so special. The premise — players star as an office worker who rides an office chair down obstacle-laden streets to elude the mob — is absurd, and the objective — reach the goal quickly and without falling off the chair too many times — is arcade-perfect. “Rider” is fast enough to feel like a racing game in spite of its vehicle choice, and the ability to jump, grind rails and perform martial arts moves on pursuing mobsters while on the chair is just wild. The colorful, goofball presentation is the cherry on the sundae. But “Rider” errs badly by requiring the Move instead of simply supporting it. The speed and challenge of the game leave little room for error, which would be fine if the game demanded foolproof button presses. But “Rider’s” gesture controls too easily confuse one motion with another during the heat of a chase — get ready to jump when you want to accelerate, and vice versa —and small misunderstandings lead to big frustration when they undermine an otherwise excellent run. Games like this are bound to support both control schemes in the future, but “Rider” would do itself a major favor — and instantly transform into an awesome game — if it rights a wrong and patches in controller support retroactively.

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Racquet Sports
From: Asobo Studio/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)

If you’re leery of the prospect of developers porting their Wii games over to Move without optimizing them for the hardware, then “Racquet Sports,” which originally appeared on the Wii this past March, won’t make you feel any better. As the name implies, “Sports” includes five sports — tennis, badminton, table tennis, beach tennis and squash — that center around the use of a racket. Each sport features a reward-laden single-player career mode as well as local tournament and party play multiplayer (four players) and head-to-head online play (two players). The game looks terrific, each sport boasts a nice variety of diverse locales, and the character design is considerably more attractive than the bland cast found in “Sports Champions.” But “Sports” squanders all that good stuff with a control scheme that barely takes advantage of the Move’s capabilities. Instead of the 1:1 racket controls found in “Champions'” superior table tennis game, “Sports” uses gesture controls that are evocative of the four-year-old “Wii Sports.” As such, there’s no way to doctor a wand swing to aim a shot a specific way, and the cheap tricks that worked in “Wii Sports” — namely, flicking the wand instead of swinging it to easily hit any ball in the near vicinity — also work here.

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Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
For: Playstation 3 (requires online access to get Move patch)
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

Planet Minigolf
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Zen Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild suggestive themes)

If you own “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11” or the downloadable “Planet Minigolf,” then congratulations: — through the power of downloadable online patches, you now also own a Playstation Move game.

“Woods” patches Move support into all of its modes, further expanding what already was a pretty excellent suite of control options. If you’ve played “Woods” on the Wii, you already know how well this can work, and the considerable fidelity advantage the Move enjoys over the Wii remote makes the process of swinging a virtual club so much more natural than it’s ever been in a video game. EA Sports could have waited until next year to sell this as a new feature, so bravo to them for doing it right, doing it right now and giving it away to customers who already purchased the game three months ago.

While “Woods'” Move support is the bigger deal, the most transformative patch so far goes to “Minigolf.” The $10 game looks terrific, boasts some wild course designs and has a stacked feature set (16 courses, online/local multiplayer, course editor, team multiplayer), but the excessively touchy control schemes were a killer. The Move controls change everything: The game maps certain functions to the Move wand in a way that takes adjustment, but in terms of swinging the club, “Minigolf” feels supremely precise, transforming a fatally flawed miniature golf game into the best of its kind.

More games, including “Heavy Rain” and “Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition,” are introducing free Move support shortly.