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The Controller Wars: Which new system has the edge?

All three major gaming systems – Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, and Nintendo’s Wii – have upgrades available this holiday season in the form of new controllers. However, these are not your ordinary controllers. All three offer the potential of new games and a very different gaming experience.

But as is often the case, with increased choice comes a certain amount of confusion. Which controller – Kinect for the Xbox 360, Sony’s Move, or the Wii Remote Plus – offers the best value? Should you upgrade your existing system or switch to something new? And which system offers the best family gaming experience?

We’ll take a look at each new offering and try and provide some answers:

Kinect for Xbox 360

It may have been one of the most widely-anticipated gadgets in years, but Kinect for Xbox 360 has lived up to the hype with rave reviews and record-breaking sales.

Of the three new controllers, Kinect is by far the most ambitious. In fact, it isn’t a controller at all – it’s a motion sensor system that allows you to be the controller instead. Using multiple sensors, cameras and microphones, Kinect sits on or near your TV and tracks everything – and everybody – in the room. It recognizes your movements, your voice, even your face, giving you a completely different way to participate in and control the games.

Because you are the controller, games for Kinect are action games – you get up off the couch and you move around. This means dance games, fitness games, sports games, and games where you leap over obstacles or navigate roaring rapids. These are all games that even the youngest and oldest members of the family can join in. All you need is plenty of space and decent level of fitness!

On the other hand, Kinect may not have as much appeal for hard-core gamers. Although a wider range of games will come on stream in 2011, they will all be similar get-up-and-move games rather than couch-based shoot-outs against aliens and other assorted enemies. M-rated games for Kinect will be few and far between.

If you already have an Xbox 360 – and have young children in the house – then adding Kinect is highly recommended. If you don’t yet have a gaming console and are looking for something family-friendly, then the Xbox 360 with Kinect is great value and an ideal choice.

The Kinect system costs $149.99 and is compatible with any Xbox 360 gaming console. Microsoft is also offering the Kinect with a 4GB Xbox 360 for $349.99, or a 250GB Xbox 360 for $399.99.

PlayStation Move Motion Controller

Unlike Kinect, the PlayStation Move is an actual controller, combining advanced motion sensors, a color-changing sphere, vibration feedback, and an easy-to-use button interface. The Move works in tandem with the PlayStation Eye USB Camera, which tracks the player’s position and movements. Players can use a single Move controller or take one in each hand for two-handed combat games, such as simulated boxing or gladiator battles.

The Move offers precision response, and a handheld controller can still provide the most realistic interaction with sports games, such as tennis, bowling, or baseball. The Move also requires a lot less space than Kinect and can more easily accommodate multi-player games.

Sony hasn’t quite made up its mind whether it should promote the Move to family gamers, or distinguish itself from Kinect and appeal to its core constituency of teen and “M” gamers. Of course, longer term this will all depend on the games that are produced for the Move. At the moment, there are about equal numbers of family-friendly and “other” games, and developers and publishers will be watching closely to see how PlayStation owners respond.

Although the Move can add a lot to the gaming experience, it’s probably not enough to persuade a family-oriented first-time console buyer to choose a PlayStation 3 over the competition. (Alternatively, the PS3’s excellent built-in Blu-ray player is definitely a plus point!)

The PlayStation Move Controller costs $29.99. The PlayStation 3 320GB console with Move bundle costs $399.00.

Wii Remote Plus

The Wii Remote Plus controller combines the original Wii Remote with the Wii MotionPlus accessory that was introduced last year. It incorporates a speaker, a “rumble feature”, and an external connector for other input devices, like the Nunchuck and the Classic Controller.

The Wii Remote Plus now becomes the standard Wii controller, but the damage may already have been done. Many Wii owners are suffering from “controller fatigue”, having already been asked to buy a dizzying array of accessories that may or may not have worked with their existing game collection.

The good news this time is that the Wii Remote Plus is backwards compatible, which means that you can use it to play all your existing games as well as new releases.

Again, the Wii Remote Plus should not be the deciding factor in whether or not you buy a Wii console. For those families that already have a Wii but didn’t buy the MotionPlus controller, it might represent a useful upgrade – and a chance to finally throw out some of those dust-gathering accessories!

The Wii Remote Plus costs $39.99 and comes with a choice of 4 different colors, including black, blue and pink.

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