Microsoft Kinect: The software launch lineup tested (photos)
If you're thinking of laying down $150 for a Kinect (or more, for the Kinect-plus-Xbox bundle), we've gone hands-on with the entire launch lineup, to give you our thoughts on which games are worth investing in.
Dan: The pack-in game that comes in the Kinect box, this is not nearly as great an introduction to the technology as Wii Sports was. The games themselves run the gamut from mildly interesting to mediocre, but the biggest problem was having to go through a lengthy setup process each time you launch the game, which also highlights the unrealistic space requirements.
Scott: Though the raft-ride part of Kinect Adventures you may have seen in ads and E3 videos is somewhat entertaining, a lot of the rest of the game feels a bit haphazard. Some of the minigames in this compilation are like interactive theme-park rides, others are more like carnival games. It's not bad at all for a free game, but it doesn't seem like as much of a keeper--or as much of a multiplayer game--as Wii Sports was.
Dan: I invited a mini focus group around last weekend to playtest the Kinect software and hardware. Much to my surprise, Joy Ride was one of the games the group (comprised of gamers and nongamers alike) was most interested in. For those who have not followed every Kinect development detail, just the concept of air-steering a car with your hands seems like a very natural way to use the technology. The game itself is well-done, but like almost all Kinect games, takes too long to get into actual playtime.
Scott: Driving a racing game with no physical controls can get a little taxing, but Microsoft's Kinect version of Mario Kart is actually a lot of fun to play, provided you relax your perfectionist tendencies. Various modes, including a clever stunt track, offer a relaxing arcade-style experience, more so than any other Kinect launch game. Virtual air-steering also makes for one of the most impressive ways to show off the futuristic capabilities of the Kinect.
Dan: The now-obligatory sports game (see: Wii Sports, Sports Champions) is well-made, if unimaginative. It's pretty easy to get two players going at once in events such as boxing and volleyball, but the oh-so-slight sense of lag in the Kinect's motion-tracking keep you from feeling truly connected to the game.
Scott: Well-produced, indeed, but I expected more. Some games are stand-outs, in particular the table-tennis game and controller-free bowling, but boxing didn't feel any more fun or accurate than the Wii Sports version from 2006. Volleyball is a neat idea, but it's more of a timing minigame than a true simulation. Again, I agree that long load times and setup tutorials kill some of the immediate pick-up-and-play fun.
Dan: Unlike software packages such as Wii Fit and EA Sports Active, which require hardware such as the Wii Balance Board or Nunchuck leg holster, Your Shape Fitness Evolved requires nothing but a willing body, and therefore may be easier to both get into and stick with. The trippy graphics and personal training sessions are engaging, but like most Kinect games, it takes forever to get started.
Scott: I've been itching to get into a fitness game and try to burn a few pounds off, and though Wii Sports Plus is an admirable package, the awkward and sometimes inaccurate aerobics coaching always bothered me. Your Shape's motion tracking solves the problem, offering remarkably astute corrections during exercises. It still amounts to largely uninspiring calisthenics, but the "Minority Report"-influenced way Your Shape tracks your body without requiring peripherals makes it a far easier fitness game to commit to. It does take quite a bit of open space, however, and I often found myself pushing the limits of my tiny living room.
Dan: Virtual pets have been around since at least the time of Tamagotchi and Seaman (or pet rocks, I suppose). This latest version looks fantastic, and offers a real sense of interaction with an onscreen big cat (but really should include a "don't try this at home" warning for impressionable kids). However, like many Kinect games, getting to the actual interaction takes an interminably long time, and the dialogue and voice acting display the same kind of cultural infantilization that we've knocked Nintendo for in the past.
Scott: I want to credit Microsoft for attempting to make a kid-oriented adventure game, but Kinectimals is way too lengthy and repetitive for the attention span of most kids I know. Caught somewhere between Kinect's version of Nintencats and some sort of island-based minigame compilation, Kinectimals really succeeds at neither. Long, unskippable opening movies and endless ball-tossing with your mini predatory cat of choice are fun for a few minutes, but I can't imagine many people who'd want to slog through the whole admittedly well-produced experience. This is strictly for little kids with lots of patience, or those who simply adore annoying winged lemurs and cats.
Dan: Easily the most commercial of the Kinect launch games, especially as it ties in with a host of well-known pop music acts. Yes, it's basically Rock Band with dance music, but it's very well done--and, interestingly, it has the best implementation of the motion control menus, beating out even the native Xbox Kinect menus.
Scott: The cool kid at the party without a doubt, Harmonix's dance game is a nearly perfect launch title for the Kinect. Smooth, easily navigated menus work better than any other Kinect game, and the way the game breaks down dance moves and gets players into routines is clever and addictive. I found myself shaking my hips to Lady Gaga in ways I never wanted to, ever, yet I felt surprisingly unselfconscious doing it. Dance-offs are multiplayer-friendly, and the title seems like both a great game for couples and a fun party experience, too. If you're buying a Kinect, you're buying this.