With the blunt force trauma of a name like Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest for PlayStation Move, I wasn't expecting anything spectacular, but I ended up being treated to one of the most immersive experiences in motion gaming. On the flip side, a title like Kinect Star Wars (for Xbox Kinect, obviously) basically sells itself on branding alone, but telltale signs of an on rails experience had the fanboys (and myself, an avowed Star Wars agnostic) worried the gameplay wouldn't be satisfying, despite the gargantuan IP. Turns out, these two games have a ton in common, and represent potentially a new trend in motion gaming. I'm gonna break down my play time with both titles and tell you what to think right after the break.
Star Wars Kinect. This game was teased a full year ago at E3, and caused near pandemonium in the crowd. But then panic set in: "oh no, is it on rails? Is this another slap in the face from George Lucas himself? Why is this happening to me???" Turns out those fears weren't entirely unfounded, Star Wars Kinect is an on rails experience, but it isn't exactly a slap in the face either -- in fact, it's rather enjoyable.
You play as a Jedi (surprise), and you use only your body to control the action on screen. The most basic control is using your sword hand to control a light saber in a semi 1:1 fashion, but other controls include a force push, force pull, jump, and sprint. None of the controls outside of the saber felt perfectly responsive, but they were all very gratifying when I pulled them off -- it kind of felt like I had force powers at times.
The gameplay is completely on rails in a certain sense. You're taken from set piece to set piece, with a few cinematic cut scenes in between. You don't get to pick where you're going next, or when you go there, your job is just to kill everything in front of you. However, this isn't Time Crisis with light sabers: at each set piece you have a lot of flexibility in who you attack and how. You aim yourself at your chosen foe, do a force sprint to get next to him, or jump to launch yourself over and behind him, or aim a force push at a droid far off in the distance. Two player mode demonstrated how flexible each battle was: sometimes I'd cut through everybody like butter while Ross was just sitting there admiring the scenery and whiffing with his light saber, and at other times I'd hardly reach the enemies before Ross had dispatched them all with his Jedi tricks. Before and after each battle I felt that telltale frustration of being stuck with the developer's script, but during the battles I was only aware of the killing frenzy and felt completely in control of my actions.
Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest. At first glance the lack of IP, the generic skeleton enemies and castle setting, and a kiddie pool worth of functionality depth seem to spell doom, but Medieval Moves is being developed by the same folks responsible for the excellent Move Sports Champions, and it's a great continuation of that team's strengths.
The basic idea is to take the different experiences and motions from Sports Champions and deliver them in a "real game." So instead of shooting arrows at targets, you shoot them at enemies, and instead of sword fighting in an arena, you battle your way through a castle. There's also shuriken throwing (borrowing from the frisbee throwing mechanic) and a new action involving a grappling hook. The game can be played with one or two Move controllers, but I greatly prefer doubling up.
But here's the problem: the game is on rails, even more so than Kinect Star Wars. You can choose your path at times with the grappling hook, but that's it. When the game plops you in a new part of a level, you just have to sit and wait for enemies to come to you. Sure, you can use that time to pull out your bow and arrow and pop off a couple of choice shots, but it still feels like an incomplete experience. Sometimes I literally felt I was on a Disneyland ride, slowly coasting past boxes I was supposed to break or items I only had so many moments to gather.
While a downer, this certainly didn't ruin my experience. In fact, I had a ton of fun, and felt super immersed. It all comes down to the excellent actions. There's no "inventory" in the sense of switching between weapons with a button or d-pad, you simply mime what you want to do and do it. Shooting an arrow involves reaching behind my back, pulling the trigger to grab an arrow, then slotting it in, pulling back to cock the bow, aiming, and finally releasing to fire. It's completely intuitive, I had zero false positives, and it factors into gameplay perfectly: do you have time to reach for and fire an arrow, or should you just cower behind your shield and wait for the enemy to get near enough for a sword attack? Sword play is excellent (it has excellent heritage) and it merely requires swinging the sword to attack and pressing the Move button while positioning the shield to block attacks and projectiles. The grappling hook can be pulled out by pointing down and pulling the trigger, and you even use your health potions (bottles of milk) by tipping a controller to your lips.
The demo levels I played were super easy, but at a harder difficulty and faster pace I could see myself engrossed in this game for a long time -- I don't care how infantile the story and setting is, I've been waiting for a video game to deliver me motion gaming like this all my life.
So, those are the specifics of the two projects, and there are obviously a lot of similarities. Interestingly, PR people representing both games went out of their way to say their title wasn't really technically on rails, clearly aware of "rails" being a stigma. I hate to break it to them, but there's a reason there's a stigma about rails: it's because of the rails.
On a more positive note, both of the games were almost completely and entirely intuitive. I have a new private benchmark for motion gaming: if someone has to stand next to the screen and mime what you should be doing next, or the tutorial lasts longer than the demo gameplay itself, we've got a big red flag. Thankfully, neither of these games felt like that. There was a big tutorial for Medieval Moves, but I could've easily skipped it, and there was zero tutorial for Star Wars. There was never a time where I tried to remember what "action" performed an action, since I was simply performing the direct actions, or at least as direct as I could be without actually attacking someone with a light saber or throwing a shuriken at them.
I plan on buying both of these games and playing the crap out of them, and I think they're a significant next step for Sony and Microsoft as they attempt to prove that motion control is for "real" games. Still, I feel a little cheated by the rails experience, and I don't know how Microsoft can solve that with no physical controller to provide movement controls for the character, or if Sony is willing to solve it with a Move SKU that doesn't include the Navigation Controller.
You know who does feel like solving this? Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword might feel like a last big hurrah for the Wii before the company turns its full attention to Wii U, but it seems to be delivering on all the years of promise that the Wii has never fully achieved, with 1:1 motion of all sorts, and a truly great story and world to back it up. Funnily enough, Nintendo might be done with 1:1 after this -- the Wii U won't allow for all of these shenanigans, at least with the primary controller. Who will deliver us the future of motion controls after that?
P.S. Can someone pay the Demon's Souls / Dark Souls guys a million billion dollars to add Move support to the new game? And then I'll never ask for anything else again ever. Thanks.