I got to try out Kinect over the weekend, and I had enough hands on time with Microsoft’s full-body motion controller to get a decent impression. This isn’t a review, per se, but it’s still going to be a decent summary of my thoughts on it.
Kinect, if you’ve somehow managed to avoid the copious amount of information about it over the last year, is a sensor bar that hooks up to your Xbox 360 and uses an infrared scan of your body as input in specific games as opposed to the remote-wand set up used by the Wii and the PlayStation Move. The major hook of Kinect is the lack of any extraneous methods of control: it’s just the game and your body. There are no complicated button combos to remember, no dual analog sticks to fumble around with. By making the game an extension of yourself, Microsoft hopes to tap into the casual market by removing arguably the largest obstruction for new gamers: controllers. Does Kinect work in this regard, or was Kevin Butler right about the need for buttons?
The first thing that struck me about Kinect was how advanced a piece of technology it is. Honestly, setting the thing up is a tad unnerving as the device has you run through a few simple exercises in order to set you up in its memory banks. Kinect can move up and down in order to get a better look at you, so it’s rather like submitting to a full body scan. Once you finish synchronizing your scan with a Gamertag, Kinect will automatically recognize you as soon as you come within range of its camera. A friend of mine was trying it out, and I walked in front of him and the device immediately picked me up and logged me in. I was a little surprised about how well it worked in this regard.
A lot has also been made about the use of Kinect to navigate the dashboard, and this does work pretty well, but only inside the Kinect Hub. The way this works is that, to play any Kinect games or use any Kinect-specific features, you need to go to the Hub and do it from there. You can do all the usual Xbox stuff like browse your Achievements or manipulate your account, but it’s a separate zone from the regular interface. Using your hand to move around the menu works too, but it’s not as smooth as you might expect: to access anything in the Kinect Hub or the games, you need to place your hand over the desired choice and hold it there for a few seconds. This is implemented to prevent Kinect from accessing the wrong option, but it’s kind of a give and take. While I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the “Minority Report” menus I wanted, I was grateful that I wasn’t backing out of the wrong menu every five minutes.
So I liked the interface and I was impressed by the technical aspect of recognizing you by your biometrics. Kinect can do neat tricks on that basis alone until the cows come home, but the real way it needs to grab you is through good software. I got to try out Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures, and I was suitably impressed by both.
Kinect Adventures is the title that gets bundled in with the device itself, and it is essentially a collection of mini-games loosely bound together in a very simplistic story mode. Activities range from the oft-seen raft gameplay to floating around in a space ship. The minigames are quite fun, and the device works well even with the input of two separate people. It did go a little nuts at some points, but overall the gameplay was smooth with two people jumping around like jackasses.
You will feel like a moron playing Kinect for a little while, especially after it shows you the pictures and videos it’s taking of you as you play. This ceases to be an annoyance after a while, and at the end I genuinely enjoyed the images of myself leaping around, swinging my arms.
Kinect Sports is where the real meat of the experience is right now, and rightly so. There are a few main games in the package like the requisite table tennis and bowling events. My advice is to skip those and go for beach volleyball and the track & field events. Volleyball is a ton of fun, especially if you’re side by side with a friend setting up spikes against the computer opponents. It’s unfortunate that four real people can’t play this in the same room with the exception of system link. It’s way more interactive than Wii Sports is because the game actually requires the use of your whole body. While you won’t actually have to dive for wayward balls, you will be jumping for them.
Track & field is actually split up into several smaller events like sprinting, javelin throws, discus, long jump and hurdles. Every Kinect game has an activity level on the back of the box, and Kinect Sports earns its “active” rating. You have to run in place like your life depends on it, lifting your knees to chest level so Kinect can properly detect how much hustle you’re putting into it. By the end of the game, I had definitely worked up a sweat. I’m actually fairly in shape (I hit the gym everyday if I can), but Kinect makes you work. There were a few glitchy moments with the discus and javelin events where the game would think that I had moved my arm when in actuality I had done no such thing. Such problems are mercifully few and far between though.
All told, I ended up having a lot more fun with Kinect than I thought I would. To be honest, though, I thought the same thing about the Wii when I tried it for the first time. The Sports title is a really good time, but that can only go so far. Kinect Adventures is good for a little bit too, but I’m not really a “dance” or “play with cute animals” type of guy. Kinect does try really hard to impress from the outset, and you’ll have fun with it for a few days guaranteed. The novelty will wear out soon, though, just like it did with the Wii. Controller-less gimmicks aside, Kinect needs more games if it wants to stay alive. With nothing announced aside from Steel Battalion for the enthusiast gamer, I’m left to wonder how much longer Kinect will remain relevant.
At the beginning I did say that this isn’t a review, but if pressed for a score, I’d say a B. The technology is quite sophisticated, and the amount of fun you can have with the games did exceed my admittedly low expectations by quite a large margin. I’m just worried about the future of Kinect and whether or not it will suffer from Wii syndrome.
That’s what I thought of Microsoft’s new technological wonder. Has anyone else tried it, and what did you think? Anyone hoping to give it a go?