By Mike Musgrove
Thursday, November 23, 2006
There was a showdown between the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation 3 at The Post's game testing lab last weekend.
Here's how it went down: I invited a bunch of my friends, five guys and three gals, over to check out the new systems. Few of them play or care about video games, but they were all curious to see the PlayStation 3, the cutting-edge game console that sparked real-world mayhem on its release Friday.
By comparison, most of my friends arrived having heard little about Nintendo's new system. But, as it turned out, that device was the hit of the party.
Here's the deal with Nintendo's Wii system, in case you missed it. The system's controls contain motion-detecting technology. In some games, you don't have to punch any buttons to play. In a tennis game, for example, you swing the wireless controller like a racket. When you hit a ball in the game, the controller shudders as if you'd hit a real ball. The controllers also contain speakers that make a satisfying "thwok" whenever you connect.
It's the same for the bowling, baseball and boxing games designed for the system. Players in all those games use motions with their hands, arms and wrists that roughly replicate the movements you'd make in the real world.
The graphics on the Wii aren't the system's strong suit, however. One of my friends, who liked the system, summed up its games' looks as "cheesy."
Speaking of graphics, I gave the PS3 an unfair advantage in this department. You could have called it a fixed fight if my friends had fallen for the new PlayStation over the Wii because the $600 Sony system was running on a new $4,500, 50-inch plasma TV set from Pioneer, borrowed from the company just for this test. The $250 Nintendo, meanwhile, was running on an old tube set half the size of the plasma screen.
It was that tube set that got most of the traffic. While the people in my group preferred looking at the PS3's games, they preferred playing the Wii.
My friends played the Wii's sports games against each other all weekend, using goofy, cartoony avatars called "Miis" that they constructed to represent themselves in the game. Give a couple of newlyweds a pair of Wii controllers, pop in the boxing game and the entertainment value is priceless. We started out playing the game sitting down, but eventually we took to our feet to get a better range of motion with the controllers.
I have never seen a bunch of non-gamers get into this stuff like this, and I have never heard anybody laugh so much while playing any video game. A few of them now say they plan to buy the system for themselves.
My friend Andy has always seemed to dislike video games, but he was immediately taken by the Nintendo system in a way that I -- and he -- did not expect. "I'm surprised by how much I like it," he said. "The controller is so intuitive."
A few minutes later, he was cursing the PS3. Most of my friends who picked up the PS3's controller ended up frustrated. The typical game for the system requires players to have memorized where all the buttons are, and it's much harder to just pick up a controller and have a good time. Some of the verdicts they offered are unprintable.
My friend Jon, a technophile who likes racing games, reached first for the PS3 and wrestled with the menus and controls for the driving game Ridge Racer. Eventually, we played some races on the system and enjoyed some crisp and realistic-looking racetrack scenarios. But, for a while, he gave up on that and watched Andy and me fall over the furniture as we boxed each other on the Nintendo system. "I'm having more fun just watching you guys play that," he said.
Jon gave the PS3 a thumbs up in at least one area. He was eventually impressed with the quality of the Blu-ray movie format when we watched "Talladega Nights," the movie that Sony is including with the first shipments of the PS3.
Game developers say the PS3 is so powerful that they haven't exploited the system's full potential. I have no idea what the system is capable of, but I can testify that you have to be pretty sharp-eyed to tell much of a difference between the first batch of PS3 games and Xbox 360 versions of the same titles.
When it comes to accessing all of the multimedia features that Sony is promoting with its console . . . well, I still prefer the Xbox 360's approach.
With the Xbox 360, a Microsoft product, using the interface and getting online has been easy and almost as intuitive as using an iPod. Trying to get online with the PS3, on the other hand, was a vale of tears because I didn't have a USB-compatible keyboard to plug into the console, and using the game controller to enter my user information was a tedious process that I gave up on twice.
Imagine filling out a mortgage application on a cellphone. It's something like that.
So I headed out of town for Thanksgiving to spend some time with my girlfriend's family. Just to be safe, I locked away the expensive and hard-to-find PS3 in an undisclosed location, where it is being guarded by ninjas and feral dogs. The thing has some features I look forward to exploring some more, but that can wait.
The Wii, on the other hand, rode shotgun with me for some show-and-tell action because Nintendo got one feature right with the system on Day One:
It's just darn fun.