PlayStation Move review: The hardware and experience

Four years after the arrival of Wii, Sony's take on motion controlled gaming is finally here. Well, at least it's here at Joystiq, where we got our hands on the final hardware and initial lineup of games a couple of weeks in advance of the peripheral's September 19 North American debut.

I spent several days with Move, from the initial unboxing to putting my thoughts on the hardware together for you in this review. I also played the Move launch games from Sony and one from Ubisoft, which I've reviewed in the companion piece to this article.

PlayStation Move, as you've no doubt read on the site, comes in a variety of configurations. There's the Move controller itself, the Move controller bundled with the required PlayStation Eye camera and Sports Champions and a system bundle that includes the latter plus a PS3 console. There's also the Move's "nunchuk" Navigation Controller, which isn't actually used by any of the Move-specific launch titles (but will be supported by future games and current titles, such as Heavy Rain, via patches).

I received two Move controllers, one Navigation Controller and a PS Eye camera. The Navigation Controller arrived in packaging styled to match other PS3 accessories, such as the DualShock 3. The Move controllers themselves were already unboxed, though it stands to reason that they come in similarly difficult-to-open-without-spilling-blood plastic packaging.

Anyway, enough background -- let's get on with the review.

The Hardware

The Move controller itself is smaller than any photos you've seen of it convey. Larger, though, than a Wiimote, it is incredibly comfortable to grip and neither too light nor too heavy. The orb on top, which changes color for both PS Eye tracking purposes and to provide visual feedback, isn't the hard "ping pong ball" you'd expect – it's soft and squishy, like a dog toy. The top of the controller features a PS button, Triangle, Circle, X and Square buttons, and the primary "Move" button.

On its left side is the Select button; on the right, Start. The placement of these two buttons is pretty questionable – they're not very easy to reach. Finally, the underside is home to the T button, actually a trigger a little larger and with more play than the R2/L2 buttons on a DualShock pad.

The Start/Select button placement bugs me, but that's really the only gripe I have with the controller's actual construction. It feels great, with a solid build reflective of the engineering that's gone into the DualShock controllers.

The design of the Navigation Controller (pictured above) -- or "pickle," as its referred to internally at Sony) -- follows that of the main Move controller, only smaller. It felt just as good in my hand, with perfectly-sized L1/L2 buttons, D-pad and standard-sized analog stick (it clicks in, just like those on the DualShock pad). Of the PlayStation standards, it only features an X and Circle button. It's odd since it seems to me that there's room above and to the side of either to comfortably fit the other two face buttons rather than the "cancel" and "confirm" that reside on the NavCon (let's just call it that, eh?). Given all of the tech in the actual Move controller, the fact that the NavCon costs $30 seems downright silly. $20, maybe. Maybe. (Plus, while kinda wonky feeling, you can use the left side of a DualShock 3 as a stand-in for the NavCon should you want or need.)

Oh, and lest I forget: The Move controller has its own vibration motor that's not simply an on/off buzzer -- it's capable of generating feedback just as nuanced as the DualShock 3, from my experience with it.

Although the Move controllers shipped with some degree of battery charge, I opted to plug them into my PS3 via the mini-USB ports at their base (the same port as found on the DualShock 3). It took around an hour to fully charge them -- same with the NavCon. Once that was done, the setup process commenced.

The Setup

Calling the PlayStation Move up-and-running a "setup process" is like calling starting your car a "startup process" – it's far simpler than the name makes it sound.

It feels great, with a solid build reflective of the engineering that's gone into the DualShock controllers.

The Move controllers and NavCon are synched up just like a DualShock pad, by plugging them into your PS3 with a USB-to-mini-USB cable and pressing the PS button on them. (Guess we now know why the PS3 supports seven Bluetooth devices at once, eh?) So, that's a snap!

Plugging in the PS Eye – if you don't have one set up already – is stupid-simple, too. Just place the camera either dead-center above or below your screen, point it straight ahead and plug it into a free USB port on the PS3. Oh, and for PS Move, you need to switch its lens to wide angle mode by turning it clockwise to match the white dot on it with the blue dot on the Eye's housing. Don't worry if you forget this step – you're reminded to do so before every Move game you play.

And that's the setup process.

The Experience

Provided you're running the latest PS3 firmware, the Move controller (and NavCon) can be used to navigate the XMB interface right away. This doesn't use the PS Eye to track the Move's orb – just the controller's internal tilt sensors (or the analog stick/D-pad in the case of the NavCon).

You have to hold down T on the Move controller in order to flick through the XMB. Doing so with any degree of precision takes a little practice, and if you've trying to scroll through long lists of videos (for example) you'll find yourself aiming the controller at the floor, only to have the list stop scrolling. What I found is that you actually have to use the Move controller for navigating the XMB as if you were "pinching" things. So you "pinch" or "grab" the list in this case, and once you can't scroll any further, release T, point the controller up again and pinch again to scroll more.

It's kind of awkward feeling, and really had me wondering why Sony didn't (or hasn't) created a Move-specific menu that runs on top of the XMB.

In terms of the play environment – a.k.a. your room – I found that the Move worked well in low light (my usual lighting) and didn't seem to have any problem keeping a rock-solid lock on my position no matter what was behind me, or what I was wearing.

The definition of "too close" or "too far" changed on a game-by-game basis.

I did run into a couple of issues, however. The first being the fact that I have a coffee table in front of my couch. This is a problem (as is anything on top of a coffee table) in that, should you wish to play a game that tracks the Move's colorful orb while sitting, a table will prevent the PS Eye from seeing the orb – which is a problem in games like Tumble that have you placing the controller near the floor at times. Something as small as a sake set on my table was enough to create a "blind spot," actually.

Standing up should help, right? Well, it did – although pretty much all of the games' calibration screens (you usually have to point the Move controller at the PS Eye like a flashlight and hold the T or Move button) displayed an "ideal position" box for me to stand in, which had me moving roughly eight feet back from my TV. Basically, this is right to the limit of my "play environment" and, again in my case, meant that I couldn't reach down and to the right without bonking my coffee table with the controller. Of course, I tried moving within five feet of the PS Eye – in front of said table – and was told that I was too close.

The definition of "too close" or "too far" changed on a game-by-game basis, too. One would say eight feet, another five and yet another 3.3 (one meter). Playing Move games in my den – a small room where I sit maybe four feet from the TV – was hit or miss.

This said, when I met the proper line-of-sight and distance needs of the hardware and software, the tracking and accuracy of the Move was astounding. I talk about these things more in my individual game reviews, but highlights for me came in the form of Sports Champions' table tennis (which replicated my every wrist flick perfectly) and archery (grabbing an arrow from my quiver with one Move controller, then touching it to the other acting as a bow and pulling back feels totally natural); and I was blown away by Tumble's super-precise placement of differently shaped blocks, down to complete 1:1 tracking into and out of the screen. It basically feels like you're reaching into your TV (and I wasn't even playing in 3-D).

The Verdict

Issues with line-of-site and play distance aside, I can't help but declare PlayStation Move a resounding success as a piece of consumer technology and general way of interacting with games. Yes, it's the natural evolution of the Wii Remote, but it trumps Nintendo's creation in every respect, from its accuracy (even MotionPlus can't match it) to the quality of its vibration feedback.

The hardware's great, and I can see it being used in a multitude of really cool ways, but of course it's only as cool as the games that use it. I've mentioned Sports Champions and Tumble, two great games that make excellent showcases for Move's potential. But considering everything on offer, it's hard not to classify Move as anything more than a "cool toy" at launch. The best of Move is worth experiencing, but is it worthy of a day-one purchase – not to mention the full set of two controllers and a NavCon? No.

Fortunately, though, Sony actually seems to have a roadmap for Move that includes support for the hardware in its biggest titles – Killzone 3 and SOCOM 4 to name a couple – as well as patches for existing games, both first- and third-party (RUSE works great with it, as do Heavy Rain and PSN's High Velocity Bowling).

I believe that, if you ask me in late 2010 or especially early 2011 whether I think Move is a must-have for PlayStation 3 owners, my answer will have changed to "Yes." Move doesn't seem like a passing fad, but as is often the case with new hardware, those games that tip you from "wait and see" to "purchase" just aren't there from the start.

This review is based on the retail hardware for PlayStation Move provided by Sony.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.