Our First Impressions with Kinect
After the Wii has managed to develop are rather sturdy chokehold on this generation of games, both Microsoft and Sony are attempting to enter into the Motion-Based gaming market. Move was introduced earlier this September and was met with generally favorable reviews and above average sales numbers. Microsoft is now ready to enter the ring with their insanely ambitious Kinect peripheral. Kinect not only attempts to trump what both Sony and Nintendo offer, it attempts to create a paradigm shift of its own.
I've had the privilege to test the Kinect here at my house for the past three months and now that it's out, I'd like to share some of the interactions I've had with it. First off, I'd say there would be no better candidate to review this device than myself, especially considering my extreme apathy I've showed towards it in the past. For the most part, I'd say that my initial opinion towards it reflected what most owners felt. The software wasn't the most interesting and all the technology teased a year before appeared to be a pipe dream. Compound this with numerous early reports claiming things such as lag and space requirements amongst other issues, and it's easy to see how people were made skeptics. Fortunately, after putting my time in with the device, I found that it worked admirably and can deliver a rather unique experience.
Yes, you will look this dumb playing it. Yes, it will take pictures of you while doing so.
First off, the unit itself is basically a combination of cameras and microphones that aim to take the controller out of the mix and let you control the game with nothing but your body. The camera adjusts itself automatically and does a damn good job at tracking you. It’s not precise enough to capture more intricate joins such as fingers and such, but most positions you can muster will be picked up no problem. As far as navigating menus Minority Report-style, Kinect does just fine in that respect also. It’s certainly not going to blow your mind, but I found it to be useful every now and then. Navigation is also possible with your voice by saying “Xbox” and then following it with a command. You can control videos, open your disc tray, and launch basically anything off the Hub by using only your voice. The novelty of it kind of wears off after a while, put it can be pretty handy to do if you’re moving around the room. So long story short, the Kinect works just fine as your “desktop” navigation equipment. Moving the cursor is easy, it recognizes you automatically, and the voice commands are nifty as well. However, I’m guessing you’re not paying 150 dollars just to wave your hand around the menus, so let’s talk a bit about it’s applications on the gaming side of things.
For starters, I was only able to play three games during the beta period: Joy Ride, Kinect Sports, and Kinect Adventures, the last of which is bundled with the Kinect itself. Joy Ride was sort of the black sheep of my bunch. You hold your hands out and act as if you were grasping a steering wheel in order to drive your car around the track. Acceleration and other things are controlled by the game itself. It has all the modes you’d expect in your cart-racing game and it’s marginal amounts of fun. The problem is, the core steering mechanic isn’t as accurate as you’d probably like. It works fine for the most part, but you’ll occasionally find yourself stuck in a corner desperately trying to get back into the race. I wasn’t expecting anything ground breaking, but it does leave a bit to be desired. In fact, I wish they would have kept it as the free avatar-based cart game they claimed it to be in the first place.
Kinect Sports was the next game and it was probably my favorite of the bunch. Yeah, it doesn’t get any points for originality in either concept or design, but it’s a lot of fun to play. There are a plethora of events and they all are capable of adding that twinge of realism that connects you to the game in that memorable way. A perfect example would be the ping-pong game. I was expecting a Wii-styled event where you flailed your arm back and forth until it was over. Instead, you move your entire body around and are capable of executing everything you’d expect in a ping pong match. Moving your hand up will create top-spin and down will create back-spin. It’s little nuances like this that make it a lot of fun, especially with a couple of people. The other games are about what you’d expect and I didn’t really run into any issues with any of them. With the promise of all the games being playable online, it should be a lot of fun to go head-to-head with some of your friends.
The final game was the pack-in Kinect Adventures. This game features numerous obstacle courses and other minigames that do a pretty good job of showcasing all the things Kinect has to offer. Expect a lot of stretching, jumping, dodging, and posing. The “Rally Ball” minigame that was originally shown at E3 2009 makes an appearance and is basically like playing a 3D version of Breakout with your body. The Obstacle Courses were my favorite event with some of the later challenges providing a decent workout. There really isn’t anything mindblowing about Kinect Adventures, but hey, the price is right!
In closing, I’d have to say that Kinect has made a believer out of me. While the initial offering of games is strictly a casual affair, I have no doubt that the technology will be cabable of all the things they’ve promised. The idea of using Kinect as a supplement to your controller is one that would add immersion to some already impressive titles that the 360 has to offer. The 150 dollar price tag is pretty steep, but with a free game packed in and a bright future ahead, I’d say it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick this up.