Joystiq puts hands on Squeeballs, GameTrak Freedom

The Gametrak Freedom is doomed. Some clarification: I'm don't think the Freedom is a bad product. In fact, there's a very marketable product to be found in both the controller and its bundled game, Squeeballs. As one PR rep put it to me when I arrived for my appointment -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- "it turns your Xbox 360 into a Wii." There's definitely a market there. I'm sure there are plenty of young fathers out there that would love to turn their Call of Duty box into a Wii for the kids, minus the cost of an actual Wii.

I'm not sure if I liked Squeeballs, but then, it's not meant for me.


The Freedom controller relies on two sensor bars that must be mounted to the left and right of the television -- the bundle comes with stands if you'd rather not actually attach them to the television. Using these two sensor bars, the controller can calculate its position in 3D space, including how close it is to the sensors as well as in what direction its facing (tilting, twisting, etc.).

Squeeballs is a collection of mini-games, each one utilizing different motions and gameplay concepts. As games are beaten, new games and new variations for the different games are unlocked. I only got to sample a few different games, each with different motion mechanics.

The bowling game, for example, starts off with players making a standard bowling motion to release the ball. Once the ball is rolling, you can make a circular motion with the remote to add spin to the ball. Another game has you smacking the different Squeeballs -- cute, fuzzy anthropomorphic ball creatures -- with a tennis racket as they are launched from a cannon. The Squeeballs version of golf was perhaps the most interesting -- and tiring. Rather than swing a golf club, you control a trebuchet (a giant sling) by moving your arms in a large, circular motion. Once you stop, the Squeeball goes flying.

My experience with the game was fairly limited and mostly unsupervised, so I'm not sure if I was doing it "right," but honestly, the motion accuracy felt a little sluggish, particularly in games that depend on repetitive motion. Games that are more reliant on actual motion tracking, like the tennis variants, felt much better. At any rate, the control didn't feel as accurate as a standard Wii remote. Still, it felt close enough, and that's all it really needs to reach the target market.

So, the Gametrak Freedom could be a very successful product, but the fact is that its long term appeal has basically been killed by Microsoft's announcement of Project Natal. PDP notes that there's a "possibility" that the Freedom could be used in conjunction with Natal -- not too far fetched, given Sony's motion controller -- but I can't help but think that Squeeballs will be the first, and only, game to be developed for it.

That said, at $70 for both the controller and Squeeballs ($35 for additional remotes), it's a lot cheaper than getting the kids a Wii.


This article was originally published on Joystiq.