On Thursday of last week, the gaming world got what they had been waiting for. Microsoft lauds Kinect as the next big leap in video game control (Sort of). Formerly referred to as Project Natal, we got our first hands on with the depth sensing motion camera at San Diego Comic Con and the experience left us wanting more. It also left us wondering how the game would play in a real world environment, not just a perfectly set up demo room.
After a surprisingly quick setup right out of the box, Kinect is ready to go. But there few things of note which Microsoft has been fairly up front about. The first is that the Kinect needs room to work. A player must stand about six feet back from the Kinect sensor, preferably eight to ten if multiple players will be gaming together.
Otherwise a player’s full body isn’t recognized and the camera will spend time recalibrating itself. The other is that once you have started playing with a Kinect game, expect to place yourself in front of the screen for a longer period of time.
If you plan on walking back and forth between minigames you will only cause yourself hassle as each time you walk away, the camera will have to reconfigure. Finally, there is a minimum height requirement for Kinect. Players under three feet tall won’t be able to use the system.
Make sure to keep that in mind when it comes to purchasing Kinect for Christmas for smaller kids as it could potentially lead to a horrible Christmas morning when little Johnny finds out he is too short to play with his Kinectimals or there is only a three foot space between the television and the edge of the coach.
The Kinect interface is incredibly intuitive after just a few uses. Waving to sign in works like a flash. The voice control is spot on when navigating through the XBox 360 Dashboard and allows for some simple multitasking.
The only negative thus far with the Kinect hardware is the space required for the facial recognition seems to be more towards the eight foot range rather than the six foot distance. As a result, players who have smaller apartments and living areas won’t be able to experience this part of the Kinect interface. Luckily, the facial recognition is the least important of the Kinect controls as it is least required for enjoying any gameplay experience.
Packed in with the Kinect is Kinect Adventures. After seeing the success of the Wii alongside Wii Sports and the subsequently high sales of Wii Sports Resort, it was somewhat shocking that a sports minigame collection such as Kinect Sports wasn’t the pack in title. Presumably, Microsoft wants to set Kinect slightly apart from the Wii and PlayStation Move as different experiences rather than just a repackaging of what two other companies had already done with their wand based controllers.
Kinect Adventures puts the full body registration of the Kinect to use with five and a half minigames. The five main games include the dodge ball slapping style of Rally Ball, the fast paced tubing of River Rush, the dodge-based controls of Reflex Ridge, the hole covering of 20,000 Leaks and the gravity lacking gameplay of Space Pop.
Players will remember Rally Ball as the tech demo shown during the Kinect announcement at Microsoft’s 2009 E3 Press Conference where a player had to swat at big red balls in a hyper fast version of racquetball where they had to break boxes to progress. Rally Ball is a fun, frantic experience and also is a shining example of why they say to clean furniture out of the way when playing Kinect. A few quick swipes or kicks in the wrong direction can easily lead to a broken table or toe. The gameplay is a simple concept and doesn’t have much depth to it but because of Kinect’s fast response time is fun for play in short bursts.
River Rush was shown as the multiplayer Kinect Adventure at this year’s E3 as players must sway to each side to direct the motion of their river raft down a downhill rapids course. During the course, they must hit jumps in order to collect tokens needed for earn medals for the levels. This is definitely a much less impact game than Rally Ball but still entertaining none the less.
Reflex Ridge, the final game shown at E3 this year has players standing on a moving platform which they must stay on while dodging obstacles by sidestepping, jumping and ducking. This game quickly ramps up difficulty while players are forced to jump in order to make their cart go faster, which can often lead to collisions with obstacles.
20,000 Leaks sounds like a simple concept but quickly becomes one of the most addicting pieces of Kinect Adventures. A player is in an underwater cube that fish decide to attack for no real reason. Not just “bad” fish like sharks but even the cute little angel fish. Players must quickly put their hand, foot, leg, arm, head or other body part over the leak to magically reseal the glass. Easy enough right? Well the challenge ramps up as fish begin teaming up with each other and crabs under your feet to pop our multiple holes that must be all simultaneously covered in a game of vertical Twister.
Of course, these are the times the Kinect camera comes in to play, making sure to capture images of you in the most inane positions possible. Doing all this while racing against the clock to earn more points makes this not only a drastically different experience than the other reflex based games of Kinect Adventures but also a more mental game than any other.
Space Pop is the downer of Kinect Adventures. Players must float through a 3D environment moving up, down, left, right, forward and back to pop bubbles that emanate from the walls. The problem with this game comes from the forward movement. When setting up Kinect Adventures, a player must stand in a green square a minimum distance from the sensor to play.
When moving forward in Space Pop, players can step too far forward, making the Kinect lose tracking on them. The gameplay itself is also somewhat boring and hard to control. Jumping up in the air is easy but descending becomes an issue. Of all the adventures, this is the least exciting.
The last half game mentioned earlier is the living statues. Upon completely of different sets of adventures, players get the opportunity to speak and the part of and animate various statues based on the adventure completed. This could be either a strange gerbil-like creature or an avatar in the mouth of a giant shark. The voice of the player is transformed and these living statues can be shared with other players.
Like many minigame collections, there isn’t much of a true story to Kinect Adventures as there is a loosely pieced together thread connecting the games together. That is very much the case here as the explanation comes in the form of a group of adventurers who for some reason keep doing only the same five things together. Even though it gets the job done, there isn’t much about it that really captures the imagination of a player. It ends up relying solely on the gameplay of each individual adventure to keep players wanting more.
Adventures do increase in difficulty as players play and progress more, though they never become even frustratingly hard for a player with capable reflexes. This leads to Kinect Adventures feeling like it is meant to be the most easily accessible casual experience. Unlike pack ins from the past like Super Mario Bros which challenged new and returning players alike, hardcore gamers will quickly tire of Kinect Adventures like they did with the Wii. Much of the player base of this game will rely upon soccer moms and children after the initial “Hey, I’m controlling my avatar with my own body” appeal wears off.
Graphics and Sound:
Kinect Adventures is a great example of the stylized Avatar look. Similar to the cartoon-like appearance of Viva Piñata, Kinect Adventures has lots of bright colors and soft rounded edges. There is also a tremendous level of detail even though the title shies away from any realistic images. Most notable are the underwater environments during 20,000 Leaks as well as the lush foliage and epic mountaintops streaming past during River Rush.
Avatars are seamlessly integrated in to the game as well. This becomes one of the first real releases that it feels like having a cool avatar actually matters, even if items like the clothes they are wearing don’t get to be seen during the game.
The sound of Kinect Adventures is very bland and doesn’t really do much to add to the experience. Unlike Kinect Sports which uses popular music to add to the excitement and grandeur of the games, the sound becomes a non-factor in Kinect Adventures and isn’t noticed much throughout the game.
Kinect Adventures is a great tech demo of the capabilities of what Kinect itself can do. There are some limitations to the game itself as many of these concepts come across as highly casual and act more as quick in and out gameplay experiences. It can be a great part game since the games are easy to jump and in quickly learn, although it will require a rather large space to give players enough room to perform all the necessary motions and not colliding into each other.
Kinect Adventures could not have been a full retail release on its own but is a good pairing for the Kinect hardware. The variety of experiences shows the potential of the system but the lack of depth keeps these limits from being reached.
Developer: Good Science Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Price: $149.99 (Bundled with Kinect hardware)