Controllers have been tinkered with since the first console came to fruition. Some adaptations give distinct advantages and some, clearly, do not. Take, for example, the range of ‘tilt’ operated controllers that hit the gaming world 5 years ago. Now they really were useless. Conceptually sterile and practically defunct. Then there are the intelligent controllers, like the EyeToy, which is inspired, as are the number of mat controllers for dancing games - with those, we have no problems.
A few years back everything went wireless, especially aided by Mr Logitech. Now here is the latest thing. Someone has combined wireless with dancemat to create the Virtual Arena. Talking it up, it’s easy to get excited - yes - each limb has a motion sensor to recreate the press of a button: left foot - cross; left hand - square; right hand - triangle; right foot - circle. Sounds great! The four sensors are about the size of a GPS watch - not too bulky, but by no means small. These sensors work in tandem with the floor mat and yes, it’s all wireless.
So far so good - it sounds like someone has really broken the mould here. The floor mat has the normal start select buttons, as well as left and right and jump and down. This is were my first suspicion came from. Surely the opposite jump is duck … so why the crossing of nomenclature? Some problem with English? Perhaps that’s the case. I flicked to the manual to investigate further. I say manual, but what I mean is piece of A4 paper, photocopied. Oh dear, I feel something coming.
As I connected up the mat and donned the sensors, I couldn’t help thinking I was strapping into something created in the depths of some Far East sweatshop, and nothing made me revise that assessment. From the packaging to the instructions, there’s a feeling of tackiness.
So, we tested it with a number of movement-based games: as the name suggests, it’s aimed towards the fighter in us. The box shows some characters in martial arts poses, so I set it against Tekken. Now, once you are facing the enemy, it all goes to pot. Firstly, because fighting games are about pulling off coordinated moves through sequential button use. You now have to change this into movements - ok, step to the left, whilst holding down the circle button. Ah, how do you hold something down? Hang on, whilst stepping to the left, my left foot also moved, which means I’ve set off the cross button as well. You see the problem?
The instructions diligently tell us that the character movements are limited by the software. I think that is a caveat for this technological Frankenstien - what it really means is that unless your game needs single button presses to perform moves, then you’re buggered. Not only buggered, because in the process of trying to coordinate a simple series of punches, you’ve been slinging your arms around - you’d be better off heading to Croydon on a Saturday night.
The only way I can see this working is if a range of supporting titles come out specifically for it. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a big name on the box, so I suspect the developers of Virtual Arena will be looking for gainful employment elsewhere.
An interesting idea, but I can’t believe that anyone tested it in the real world, with real games. I’m a self-professed Tekken master, I have put hours into learning those special moves (Wooooo- sub-Ed). Moving to Virtual Arena would mean relearning how to play. Not just that - there are a range of controller functions you cannot replicate. Think about it another way round - they’ve taken the controller, made the four action buttons wireless, and stuck them on a limb. Tell me, how do you walk around the screen with throwing in random kicks?
This product was kindly loaned to us by boysstuff.co.uk