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Archive for March, 2012

PS3 and Move on Sale on Amazon Gold Box Today #playstation #move #goldbox

Usually you have to wait for the holidays to see deals like this, but today only Amazon has a new PS3 in its Gold Box for $259.99. In addition, starting at 2:00 PM Eastern Time (11:00 AM Pacific), it appears that they’ll have the Move on sale as well.

Check out today’s Gold Box.

Review of Grand Slam Tennis 2 for P33 Move

grand slam tennis 2 for playstationOf all the sports that make sense for motion controls, tennis perhaps makes the most sense. After all, the way you grip a Wii remote or a PS3 Move controller is a lot like the way you grip a tennis racquet. And newer motion controls can detect everything from the angle you’re holding the controller to the amount of force you use to the intricate movements your wrists make during play.

I’ve been waiting for a tennis game that has the same “coolness” factor as Sports Champions Ping Pong, where you rotate your wrists and literally see your on-screen racquet rotate as well. Unfortunately, Grand Slam Tennis 2 isn’t quite there. But it’s a wholly enjoyable game that makes pretty good use of the Move controllers. I won’t say you’ll necessarily get a spectacular workout from it, but you’ll certainly burn more calories than you would sitting on the couch munching on potato chips.

Opening Menu

The opening menu has quite a number of options. One thing I found right away was that navigating using the Move controller was extremely clunky. And don’t get me started on screens that require keyboard input. I strongly recommend using the Dualshock controller for navigating menus.

Here are the options:

  • Play Now: your options are Singles and Doubles
  • Game Modes: the options are Career, ESPN Grand Slam Classics, and Tournament
  • Training: the options are Tennis School and Practice Court
  • Online: options here are Online Play Now, Grand Slam Corner, Online Tournament, Leaderboards, and My Tennis Online
  • Creation Zone: options here are Create Player and Share a Pro
  • My Tennis: options include Settings, Save/Load/Delete, Profile Management, and EA Sports Extras

Play Now / Controller Selection

With Play Now you can just right into a singles or doubles match. If you plan on having two players, be sure at least two controllers (either Move or Dualshock) are turned on.

When you select Singles, you’ll be sent to a scrollable list of current tennis stars, from current players like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams to old-time players like John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert.

You assign a controller by dragging it to the player you want. You have a lot of options regarding which controllers to use. If you want to have the system do the running and volleying for you, all you have to do is drag just the Move controller alone to the player you want. I’d definitely recommend this when you’re just beginning.

If you want to control the running via the Dualshock or the Move Navigation controller, just drag the Move controller and one of those controllers to the player. One slightly odd thing is that once you drag a Move controller and a Navigation controller to the same player, the two are linked together from that point on, and the only way to “unlink” them is to shut one of the controllers off.

Gameplay with the Move Controls

I’ve got good things and bad things to say about the gameplay itself on the Move. On the good side, there are a a staggering number of different shots you can make based just on how you swing the controller and press the buttons. Most of them feel pretty close to the real thing. For example, the most basic shot, the flat shot, is done by starting and finishing the swing at the same height, swinging horizontally to the ground. You can theoretically aim your shots the way you time your shots, position your racquet, and twist your wrist as you make shots. You slice by moving the Move controller from high to low) and you do topspin by (which happens when you move the Move controller from low to high

There’s an excellent part of the game called “Tennis School” that has written instructions on how to make each shot, and runs you through drills to test how well you understand them.

The problem is, as you progress through the game the motion controls are way, way too finicky. It took me about two dozen tries to get out of the most basic “flat shot” class in “tennis school” because it kept interpreting my “flat shot” as either a  slice or a topspin. This is presumably because I didn’t move my controller in an absolutely perfect 180 degree line. Worse, when I tried to aim shots, it really felt like it was hit or miss. I felt that most of my time during these tutorials was spent trying to learn how to compensate for the idiosyncrasies of the controls, rather than learning intuitive controls.

Ironically, as pickily precise as EA Sports made some of the Move controls, you really don’t feel like you have full control of your player throughout the game. Despite the game’s claims to the contrary, whether I swing with full force or tap the controller, the system seems to arbitrarily decide how strong my shot is. When my opponent approaches the net and I hit a lob, more often than not no matter where I try to aim it, it’ll end up in a place where she can smash it. And when I approach the net myself, if I try to tap the ball in front of the net, invariably the system will decide that I want to stroke the ball–usually ending up right in front of my opponent.

In many ways, Virtua Tennis 4‘s implementation of Move controls felt much, much more natural than Grand Slam Tennis 2’s . But sadly, use of the Move in Virtual Tennis is limited to a “demo” mode.

After changing the genre with Grand Slam Tennis for the Wii, I would have hoped EA Sports would have made Move controls which are truly intuitive, so much so that you don’t really need a “tutorial” (if you say it can’t be done, just look at Sports Champions table tennis again). But they seem to have fallen short.

The Tennis

As for the tennis simulation itself, that’s another story. I was absolutely blown away by the realism of the game. That EA has obtained licensing for all the top stars in tennis, as well as all the top venues, was a coup. This especially goes for Wimbledon, which is notoriously picky about licensing.

EA Sports did a decent job in capturing the individual players’ mannerisms, although one complaint is that no matter who the player is, they seem to like to serve and volley (and again, the fact that lobs don’t work the way they should makes this doubly aggravating). But if you can get past this, the sights and sounds of the venues are outstanding, from the red clay of Roland Garros to the green grass of Wimbledon to the hard courts of Queens and Australia.

Multiplayer Mode

One of the funnest ways to enjoy this game is to play with a friend. Here’s a match that Lisa and I played:

Notice that one rally went on for five minutes. This is because difficulty was set to “Beginner”, which essentially turned the game into a glorified game of Wii Sports Tennis, where all you had to do was hit the ball with the right timing. Switching the difficulty to Pro made the game a little shorter.

Career Mode

Career mode is an interesting simulation over 10 years where you start as the 100th ranked player in the world and work your way to #1 and trying to win a Grand Slam. Each “year” you’ll play two lead up event prior to each of the four Grand Slam Tournaments. During this time you’ll gain points for achieving various career objectives  (for example, defeating Nadal at the French Open will get you 500 points, winning 5 Wimbledon titles will get you 500 points, and so on). You’ll also have objectives for each year (such as achieving 25 aces, winning a match at Australia Court 15, etc.)

For each tournament, you can choose short (1 set of 3 games), medium (3 sets of 3 games), or long (5 sets of 6 games). The tournaments start out easy and get progressively harder. Here’s my character competing in one of the easier tournaments in the purple courts of Dubai:

ESPN Grand Slam Classics

My absolute favorite feature in the game is ESPN Grand Slam Classics. This is a series of reenactments of the greatest tennis matches in history, and an intriguing series of scenarios called “fantasy”. In each of the matches, you start play in the pivotal set, and can play as either of the players.

You start with the 2000s, and unlock events as you work towards the all-time great and fantasy matches.

2000s:

  • January 2003 Australian Open Final between Serena Williams and Venus Williams.
  • July 2004 Wimbledon Final between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams
  • June 2007 French Open Final between Justine Henin and Ana Ivanovic
  • January 2008 Australian Open Final between Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Novak Djovokic
  • September 2008 US Open Semi Final between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal

1990s:

  • July 1990 Wimbledon Final between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg
  • September 1990 US Open Semi Final between John McEnroe and Pete Sampras
  • July 1991 Wimbledon Final between Michael Stich and Boris Becker
  • September 1992 US Open Final between Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras
  • July 1995 Wimbledon Final between Pete Sampras and Boris Becker

1980s:

  • September 1980 US Open Final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg
  • June 1985 French Open Final between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova
  • January 1987 Australian Open between Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg
  • July 1989 Wimbledon Semi Final between Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe
  • July 1989 Wimbledon Final between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg

All-Time:

  • July 1980 Wimbledon Final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe
  • September 1984 US Open Final between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert
  • July 2001 Wimbledon 4th Round Match between Roger Federer and Pete Sampras
  • July 2005 Wimbledon Final between Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams
  • July 2008 Wimbledon Final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Fantasy:

  • Australian Open match between Chris Evert and Serena Williams
  • French Open match between Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg
  • Wimbledon match between Andy Roddick and Boris Becker
  • Wimbledon match between Venus Williams and Martina Navratilova
  • US Open match between John McEnroe and Roger Federer

Here’s me playing as Andy Murray against Rafael Nadal:

Online Account Setup

One sour part of the game was setting up online play. I had an existing EA Sports online account that I’d set up with the Wii. But when you start out the game, it forces you to sign into your PSN account. And there’s no way to link your PSN account and an old EA Sports account.

Making matters much worse, the language they use throughout the game is aggravatingly confusing. When I go Online > My Tennis Online > Online Settings > EA Account Management, it lists my “EA Account Email Address” as my PSN account address. Worse, when I try changing my email address to my existing EA Sports account, I get the message “Unable to update your account info at this time. Please try again later.” Problem is, I tried again for days but always got the same message. It’s at this point that I realized that this error message was deliberately misleading–they simply don’t allow you to update the address, no matter which one you enter.

Once it’s set up, you can play against other players around the world.

Conclusion

Overall, I’d rate this game 4 out of 5 stars. I was disappointed that after all these months, the Move controls on this game (or in fact, any game) still haven’t come close to the original promise shown with Sports Champions. On the other hand, the simulation and the nods to tennis history make this one of the best tennis games for any system. I’d say it’s worth buying if you’re a tennis fan; if not, it’s yet another one to wait to arrive on the discount rack.

The Wii is Useless for Fitness and Exercise…Really?

Well, another year, another study saying “The Wii is No Good for Fitness”. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably noticed in the last few days there have been all kinds of headlines decrying the Wii and its effectiveness as a fitness and exercise tool.

“Wii Sports Games Not Real Exercise” – Fox News
“Active video games don’t mean kids exercise more” – Reuters
“Study finds Wii games not great for kid exercise” – Newsday
“Why Active Video Games Don’t Make Kids Exercise More” – Time
“Wii active video games don’t acount as exercise” – CNET
“Active Video Games Don’t Make Kids more Active” – Huffington Post
“Active Video Games Don’t Keep Kids Moving” – NPR
“Active Video Games Like Wii Fit Won’t Boost Kids’ Physical Activity” – CBS News

The list goes on and on. Seems that it all started with a study done by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX. Evidently they gave out free Wiis to78 overweight kids aged 9 to 12 and studied them over four weeks. They put a belt on the kids to measure their level of physical activity each day. They gave an “active” video game to one set of kids (which included Wii Sports, which frankly I would question as really being an “active” game) and an “inactive” game to another set. Lo and behold, after the study was done, they didn’t see a lot of difference between the two. And their scientific conclusion? The Wii is useless for fitness.

Every couple of years another academic program puts out a new “study” that comes to this kind of conclusion. I wrote a rather long post on the forum back in July to express how ridiculous I thought these studies are. Here’s what I wrote, which I believe more than ever today:

I always get kind of a chuckle when I read these “studies”–if I were given grant money to play video games during college, I might just have paid a little more attention in class than I did 😛

The main issue I have with these studies is that proclaiming that “Wii Exercise Works” or “Wii Exercise Doesn’t Work” isn’t a scientific question. It’s like asking “do treadmills work?” or “do elliptical machines work?” In my case, I’ve had an elliptical machine in my living room for about 5 years now and I’ve used it about 4 times. So if the study were done on me, the answer would be no, elliptical machines are useless for losing weight.

Two other issues I have with these studies are 1) that they’re always done on a very, very small sample size, and 2) the educational community doesn’t seem to realize that there are a LOT more exercise games out there than Wii Fit and Wii Sports!

The answer I like to tell people when they ask “Is the Wii really good for exercise” is: Yes. But ONLY if they are committed to it. Which means this:

1) Playing to the point where you sweat and have an elevated heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times a week indefinitely (!)

2) Changing your lifestyle. Walk or bike instead of driving to the store. During lunch hour, walk for an hour instead of sitting at your desk the whole day.

3) And of course, changing your diet! REALLY cut down on fats and empty carbs. Aside from looking great, you WILL feel better and you really WILL be adding years to your life. We pay money for heath and life insurance, but what is REAL “insurance”? Forking money to insurance companies won’t add one second to your life or improve your outlook on life. Eating right and exercise will.

I think the reason fitness video games “fail” for most people is that video games should be *fun*. But admittedly, it’s not fun to be sweating and panting three times a week. This is why I suggest “mixing up” the games. Play EA Sports once a week, play Just Dance 2 once a week, play Dance Dance Revolution once a week on family game night.

I would also challenge Wii game publishers to stop putting out the same garbage year after year and start really innovating. This is where I love games like Walk It Out and Exerbeat, where the traditional “addictive video game elements” like collecting coins and completing a “round the world” board are great motivators. As I’ve said many times, the best fitness games are games where you “work out without feeling like you’ve worked out”.

Bottom line, your body is built to take in food for fuel and to use fuel when you burn calories. As long as your output > your intake, you WILL lose weight. Guaranteed. As for how to do that output, some people go to the gym, some people jog, some people bike. Those things are great, but I like that there’s an option to get great exercise right in your own home, especially on days like today when it’s 107 degrees out, and I’m in my air conditioned room!

My opinion hasn’t changed. If you’re a parent of an overweight child, you don’t just buy a Wii and stop parenting. No, you make sure you buy them *real* active games that will get them on their feet and really working out (doing your research on sites like this and others). Then, you encourage them to play it until they work up a sweat and a sustained elevated heartrate–and the best way to do this is to play with them and let the competitiveness of video games be a motivator. And of course, you DON’T do this instead of other ways of exercising like going outside and playing ball or riding a bike (it always bugs me that these sensationalist articles always treat Wii exercise as if it’s an “either-or” thing, as if exercising indoors with the Wii on a cold winter day will somehow prevent someone from going out and exercising on a sunny day).

If you hear a little annoyance in my voice, it’s because this is just sloppy academics and sloppy journalism, but thousands of people will read the headlines and take them at face value–and sadly, that’ll prevent game manufacturers from building great games that are both fun and active.

I personally have gotten great exercise from Wii games, and I know a lot of you have too. And so while these fine academic institutions use their grant money (and presumably our tax dollars) to fund more and more studies like this, let’s just keep spreading the word–that Wii games can be great fitness for kids, but only if we get parents and families involved, and keep the journalists and theoretical eggheads out of it! 🙂