Controller showdown: PlayStation 3 vs Wii

You knew the comparisons were going to be inevitable. Now that we've gotten our mitts on both next-gen consoles' motion-sensing input devices, Nintendo's Wii controller and Sony's PlayStation 3 controller have to go head to head. That's just the way of the world; who are we to question these two born adversaries, destined to square off in a no-holds barred peripheral deathmatch. So, what did we think? Well, you should already have a pretty good idea of how we feel about the Wiimote. But what's up with the PlayStation 3 controller? Two controllers enter, one controller leaves.

Well, we should preface our thoughts by some interesting information we discovered talking to a lead developer at an unnamed publishing house: they discovered about the PS3 controller's motion sensing capabilities just a couple of weeks before E3, which is why we're not at all surprised there was only one motion-sensing capable playable on the floor, Warhawk. Does this last-minute decision point to indecisiveness or lack of direction in Sony's PlayStation group? Not necessarily, but you'd better believe it was a decision made in response to the capabilities of the Wiimote.

Now that we've got that out of the way, we played with the controller in two ways: on Heavenly Sword, which was buttons only and no motion, and in Warhawk, purposefully avoiding the buttons, so as to concentrate only on the translation of movement to game.

The controller itself is markedly light, as Sony lauded it to be. Perhaps this is because they ganked the rumble, perhaps this is because of some optimizations they've made to the hardware. But the result was something that some have described as cheap-feeling, but that we actually think shows foresight. When you're holding that controller out and swinging it around wildly for hours on end, you're not gonna want something that's going to make those atrophied gamer arms of yours buckle. Remember how appealing sounding that 17-inch laptop was when you first got it, but how much you wished it was an ultralight when you actually had to take it somewhere? We're thinking it could be like that.

The loss of rumble in the PS3 controller is definitely causing a fissure amongst the PlayStation fan community. We're sure it has everything to do with the fact that that the last minute addition of accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors nixed the possibility of force feedback (unlike Nintendo's external sensor-based motion system). We're not saying it's impossible they'll add rumble before the PS3 launches, but it doesn't look great if Sony's gonna stick to their current technological implementation.

Everything about using the controller as normal was otherwise status quo. The buttons felt and played like a PS2 controller, and the addition of a mini USB port -- which we're hoping they'll keep -- could mean easy charging, and possibly even use on a PC. The motion control, however, was another story entirely. Whereas the Wiimote seemed to produce different experiences in different games and scenarios, the only title being shown with motion on the PS3 produced one experience: laggy control. The level of sensitivity and correspondence of physical to virtual motion was more or less spot on, everything worked as we'd expected -- it just took a lot longer to register movement than we found acceptable. You'd bank left... then it banked left. Do we see this improving with time? Oh sure, no doubt about it.

We realize both controllers are still technically beta hardware, but if we had to choose based on the what we played with at the show, out the door we're gonna have to vouch for the Wii controller first and foremost. Both worked (in the basic-most sense of the word), and both provided a new level of immersion to gaming. But even assuming both functioned equally well, Nintendo's controller's shape and design proved to be more versatile in lending itself to a wide variety of uses and scenarios in movement-based gaming than did Sony's. The simple fact of the matter is Nintendo designed their controller from the ground up with the intention to play with movement, while Sony merely tacked the ability onto their own already-classic design. Now, if you want to talk about a scenario where you've got a severe button masher of a fighting game that needs a thorough going over on both platforms, you're going to have a completely different answer; but as long as we're talking about these controllers' performance with their newfound functions, we have to tip our hats to Nintendo.