Sports are an inherently active activity and as such do a great job in showcasing motion controls and so it was no surprise when Microsoft announced that Kinect Sports would be a launch title for their new hardware. It was something of a surprise that the game was not to be the bundled app with the Kinect hardware but there were fairly decent reasons, which I explore in my Kinect Adventures review, but the biggest reason was that developer Rare has put together a fleshed out gaming experience, an experience unlike any other that has been had with a sports motion game to date.
Games like Nintendo’s Wii Sports and Sony’s Sports Champions are reliant on the controllers in the players hands, as such the sporting events included in those titles focus heavily on arm motions. The biggest strength of the Kinect hardware is that it can track your entire body, this fact alone changed the parameters in which Rare could work in. That is right, Kinect Sports has a focus on using your legs. Events like Soccer, Track & Field, and even Beach Volleyball all require the player to use their feet, be it to kick a ball, run in place, or jump.
As someone who played soccer for a decade and a half I was initially taken aback by how soccer worked in Kinect Sports. Soccer is arguably the most simplistic of all the games in the collection, with the sport being shortened down to what can best be described as a passing and shooting mini-game. However after giving it a little bit of time there is quite a bit of fun to be had with it, especially with another player.
While soccer may have needed a little coming around to, Track & Field was something that needed no coming around to. Comprising five different track & field events, including Sprinting, Long Jump and Javelin, the games are some of the best realized and most fun in the game. Every event, sans Discus, requires the player to run in place and it really shows off the power of the hardware. The Kinect tracks your leg movements adjusting your avatar’s speed with that of your own. There is just something rewarding about being able to run and jump a series of hurdles or perform a world class long jump that needs to be experienced.
Beach Volleyball ends up falling somewhere in between the two already mentioned events. It is obviously an over simplified representation of its real life counterpart but not to the point that soccer was. The event will require you to make digs, sets and spikes as you take on the opposing team. It can get quite physical at times as you move/jump around your play space and while you won’t be diving to dig the ball out of a potential point against, you will be doing more actual volleyball moves than you would in the soccer game.
The other three events in the set, Boxing, Table Tennis and Bowling, are a selection of games that are available in Wii Sports (Tennis as opposed to Table Tennis) and it is hard to not compare the execution of the two games to each other. Boxing seemed to work about on par with Wii Sports as the event is still just a spastic arm flailing event. Much like with Wii Sports, Boxing was the first event that I grew tired of.
Table Tennis fairs a bit better though as the Kinect is able to deduce more than just speed and direction. However Table Tennis also offered up the most difficulty I had with the hardware, there were times when the sensor just would not recognize what I was trying to do. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Kinect itself has a hard time picking up subtle movements and thus doing small paddle movements to change direction or spin just were not being picked up correctly. On the whole though Table Tennis works better than the rudimentary Tennis in Wii Sports.
Bowling though was the biggest surprise in the box. Besides looking vastly better than the Wii Sports version of the sport, it also works better. Bowling in Wii Sports could be gamed, actually everything in Wii Sports could be gamed but that is besides the point. What I mean by this is that once you found the trick to Wii Sports Bowling, it was pretty easy to trick the game in thinking you were doing it correctly, a subtle wrist flick in conjunction with the release of the button would almost always result in a strike regardless of if you were playing it properly or doing it with your legs propped up on the couch while sipping a beer. Bowling in Kinect can not be gamed but it also offers the same level of control that Wii Sports did because of the full body tracking.
Outside of the six main events there is a slew of mini-games that are designed to be fast competitions that players can just jump in and out of. The soccer mini-games in particular are quite a bit of fun as they place players in the role of a penalty kicker trying to hit targets accurately or in the role of a goalkeeper trying to stop as many shots as possible. Because of the speed in which these mini-games take place they are perfect for playing with a party of people. The biggest draw and fun of Kinect Sports will be playing with people, unfortunately it is also at times one of its biggest downfalls.
The Kinect can only make so many points of articulation and when placing a second player in the mix, the articulation per player inherently drops by half. This can lead to some imprecision with the device and while it is not awful, it may sometimes seem a bit cheap when something registers incorrectly and you end up losing. These happenings do not happen all that frequently but even so they are more often then what one would like.
Technical issues aside though Kinect Sports is the ultimate show piece for the Kinect hardware. The games are simple enough that families of all shapes, sizes and ages can compete against each other and once others see the amount of fun that is being had with it, they will buy a Kinect and show it to their friends creating the perfect storm of grass roots marketing that Microsoft needs to hit for the Kinect to be a success. Kinect Sports is without a doubt the first must have app for the system and developer Rare should be commended for taking the Kinect slogan, “You are the controller” and running with it.
4 out of 5.