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Kinect Sports is ample proof of concept for Microsoft's controller-free gaming, but lacks the depth to keep me playing past the seasonal parties.
The original unveiling of Kinect hugely impressed me, even though I knew deep down that the experiences Microsoft had in mind were not aimed at me. As we got closer to launch I became less enamoured by the innovative tech and more focused on the lack of any games that I could sink my teeth into.
Despite that, I was there like a million others on day one, purchasing my own camera and games, and like the other motion sensing systems, a sports title seemed as good a place as any to check out what it could do.
Kinect Sports is by Rare, which both pleases and saddens me, since I have long been a fan of their output and this latest title seems so "me too". However, despite this, I was optimistic that their creativity would shine through. Kinect Sports needed to make the most of Rare's character to distinguish itself from the competent but sterile Sports Champions that heralded The PlayStation Move launch.
Starting with Table Tennis, the fact that I wasn't holding anything should have been a problem, but in fact wasn't, although my perception of lag was. The delay between action and on-screen response meant I felt as if I was reacting before my brain said I should be. I moved on to the next activity pretty quickly.
Bowling felt responsive and precise - so much so that, given the space I would have been play acting the whole shot sequence. The fact that it understood when you were letting go of the ball despite not holding anything was a clever trick which enabled me to forget that I was just prancing about in my living room. Here was a game that rewarded skill - unlike the original Wii-Sports bowling experience that often let grandma beat me with a lazy flick of the wrist.
The real success of Kinect is measured by how engaging it is for friends.
Boxing was also really rather good with Kinect able to accurately track both hands and body in a way that Nintendo and Sony can't. Comparing this pugilistic experience with the recently released, The Fight demonstrates just how clever Microsoft's tech is and how limited (in this sense) the Move controller is. On harder difficulties it was a real workout requiring both well placed blows and careful guarding and dodging, leaving me exhausted at the end of each round. If only I had a trainer to provide water and pep talks between bells, but instead I had to get my own refreshment.
Stepping out of view uncovers another clever feature of Kinect - it instantly pauses waiting for your return and then restarts once you've applied Vaseline, put your gum shield back in and stepped back into view.
After boxing comes football and I really didn't know how Kinect was going to recreate an accurate rendition - and it looks like neither did they. Instead of flowing runs and sliding tackles, you are left with sticking a leg out to kick and jumping left or right to block passes. It feels novel using your feet in a game, but football this is not. The kicking mini games work much better instead focusing on shooting and goal keeping and these were fun, but as lightweight as any mini-game, so unlikely to be playing much part in future entertainment.
The final selection of sports are the track and field variety, and these require much running on the spot, which I'm really not keen on, so these didn't hold my attention.
The real success of Kinect is measured by how engaging it is for friends and this is a case of some successes and some failures. Generally single player experiences require six feet of clear space to work, but for games that require you to stand side by side, you need eight feet. This simply isn't possible in my lounge making it less party friendly than Nintendo and Sony's offerings. However, in events where you can take it in turns, the extra levels of interactivity Kinect offers make it all seem fresh again.
Playing Kinect Sports has shown me that the camera is both accurate and responsive.
Regardless of that limitation I will definitely be taking this to see my family this Christmas, secure in the knowledge that I won't be the only one eagerly wearing virtual bowling shoes. Playing Kinect Sports has shown me that the camera is both accurate and in general responsive enough to make me excited about what could be developed for it.
Kinect Sports though despite the work Rare have done will, together with the other launch titles probably end up just being novelties played this Christmas. I am back on being sold on the concept of Kinect, but left frustrated by waiting for developers to make games for the Dressup gamer.
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