PlayStation Move Heroes hands-on preview

Originally dubbed Heroes on the Move, Sony’s motion-controlled mascot mash-up was later renamed PlayStation Move Heroes, probably to keep confusion at a minimum. Where the previous title may have left some wondering if it was actually a full-on platformer showcasing six of their favorite Sony stars, there’s no longer any doubt it’s specifically being created with the publisher’s Wii-like motion tech in mind. It’s an important distinction to make, too, because seasoned fans of the three franchises may have been disappointed when asked to forgo their Dual Shocks in favor of some arm-flailing antics.

Now, with expectations in the right place, we’re happy to report PMH seems to be successfully mining its source material. Despite featuring some of Sony’s most recognizable anthropomorphs though, it’s by no means a hardcore experience. Essentially, it’s a glorified minigame collection, but the presence of well-known heroes, as well as their enemies, weapons and environments, helps elevate the experience above the usual party-game fare.

Our hands-on time (based on the upcoming PSN demo) offered a glimpse of the final bite-size challenges that will be available. The first portion put us behind the paws of an electric whip-wielding Sly Cooper. Fighting waves of Death Bots – from the Jak games – as the Thievius Raccoonus provided plenty of accessible, arm-swinging fun; Sly is controlled by the navigation peripheral’s analog stick, and the whip is cracked with the expected Move gestures.

Some depth is layered in with special moves, such as the ability to super-charge attacks by holding the controller above your shoulder, or pulling the trigger to grab and toss enemies. Additionally, crystals can be collected to build-up character-specific moves; in Sly’s case, this meant the temporary ability to slow time. An intuitive enemy lock-on also supports a target-and-strafe strategy. Mixing up the special moves with the more straightforward smashes made this feel more like a dedicated experience rather than a mindless, button-mashing minigame.

Upon reducing all the bots into piles of bolts and scrap metal, we moved on to the next game. Playing as Jak, we were tasked with freeing imprisoned aliens by bowling spheres into their breakable cages. This felt much like any motion-controlled bowling game with the significant exception being that you possessed full control of the ball once it was released. This essentially boiled down to steering the ball around a pinball machine-like environment, trying to hit targets while a timer ticked to zero. While the bowling gameplay’s an obvious fit for the Move tech, the too-touchy controls made it difficult to navigate the ball with any real accuracy. We faced similar frustration in a later game, where we needed to steer Bentley-tossed Frisbees toward more caged aliens. While we totally dug tooling around in the nerdy turtle’s hovercraft, we couldn’t keep those damned discs flying for more than a few seconds before colliding them with an environmental object.

Better were the Ratchet and Clank sections. The former had us wielding the Lombax’s wrench, while the latter put us behind a hand cannon-toting Clank. Both challenges required us to rescue baby aliens and return them to their mammas, all while thwarting waves of robotic baddies. Whether fragging the metallic menaces from afar as Clank or hammering at them up-close as Ratchet, we had a blast tearing the junk heaps limb from limb. These two challenges did an especially good job of hitting the sweet spot developer Nihilistic is likely aiming for; they felt comfortably familiar for serious Ratchet and Clank fans, while also remaining un-intimidating to newcomers.

Of course, the real star of PlayStation Move Heroes isn’t the accessible gameplay, but the personality-packed presentation. It’s at its absolute fan-servicing best when paying homage to the franchises it’s based upon. During Ratchet’s level, for example, we were able to unleash his famous Groovitron disco balls – which turn enemies into dancing fools – against a sci-fi city backdrop complete with a towering Captain Qwark statue. Even cooler are missions that mix and match our favorite franchises – painting Sly’s Paris with nuts, bolts, and shrapnel from behind Clank’s death-dealer should be a surreal blast for anyone who grew up tethered to a PS2. It helps that the animations, effects, and overall visual design nicely complement the experience. While the graphics aren’t as sharp as, say, any of the dedicated Ratchet and Clank titles on the PS3, they will be appreciated by anyone who’s played those games.

Based on our time behind the Move, it seems PMH is smartly focusing on the character-driven charm and personality of its stars and their worlds. Doing things that feel familiar to these heroes within a party game-like atmosphere will allow longtime fans to revisit some old friends in a unique way, while introducing newcomers to some of gaming’s most beloved characters. If Nihilistic can stick to this formula without getting too caught up in the gimmicky-feeling games – like the more frustrating-than-fun disc flying – it could have a hit worthy of its six cyber stars.

Feb 25, 2011

Matt Cabral
A full-time freelance writer based in Lizzie Borden's hometown, Matt Cabral has covered film, television, and video games for over a decade. You can follow him on Twitter @gamegoat, friend him on Facebook, or find him in the basement of an abandoned building hoarding all the canned goods, med-kits, and shotgun shells.