Back in November, I wrote an article detailing the changes I believe need to be made to Kinect sports game in order to make them critically successful. These were my ideas to combat what has simply become an endless churn of mini-game collections, most of which are done rather poorly. There hasn’t been much evolution since Wii Sports, a game now older than the youngest Kinect users.
Winter Stars, initially, looked like a game that was in sync with my thinking. While essentially still a collection of smaller events, the game took steps to break tradition.
Here’s a quick look at how this game addresses (not directly, of course) my complaints with the Kinect sports genre.
Admit it, you're thinking about cool runnings right about now.
Make a Good Game First
Winter Stars didn’t review well here on Operation Sports; in fact, it didn’t really review well anywhere, pulling a 45 percent at gamerankings.com. It is easy to say that 49games didn’t “make a good game first.”
But my line of thinking here was more about depth. Why do Kinect games, even if the title is just a collection of mini-games, need to be so watered down? By including elements like a persistent team, upgrades and even more technical portions of events (like drafting, and holding your breath in the biathlon), Winter Stars is deeper than most.
To be honest, most of the events in Winter Stars still come down to leaning left or right. But there are examples of creative controls, most surprisingly in the figure skating event.
As mentioned in the review, Figure Skating is sort of a rhythm game; think a simplified Dance Central or Rock Band for your arms. It’s a relatively straight-forward concept, but one that nicely mimics the sport and is a welcome break from all of the downhill events typically included in these games.
It’s OK to Make Something That isn’t for Kids
There’s nothing overtly kid-oriented in this game -- unless you assume the voice acting is trying to recreate the poorest of children’s TV programming. But the whole campaign/upgrade system makes me, as an adult, feel like I am playing something that requires some advanced decision making. And those decisions easily become much more interesting than anything found in Kinect Sports.
I also appreciate the more realistic approach to everything. While the graphics aren't the best in the business, at least we get realistic handling and no giant-headed avatars.
Its hard to fault the Winter Stars Developers for trying something new.
Where’s Single Player?
This is the area where Winter Stars shines, or at least as brightly as a three-out-of-ten-rated game can. The career mode, as flawed as it is, presents a persistent story mode for those gamers playing primarily on their own.
Yes, the story is poorly acted. Unlocking events isn’t the best incentive, but it is nice to see a Kinect game where the single-player mode isn’t just beating your last score. This mode certainly surpasses the only other game to really try this: Hulk Hogan’s Main Event.
Integrate the Technology
While this idea was focused mainly on existing sports franchises, Winter Stars does use the Kinect in some unique ways. It’s not perfect, but the motion controls are varied enough to keep things somewhat interesting. Again, figure skating and the biathlon, in particular, do some nice things, control wise.
Where Winter Stars fails in this area is in the exclusion of voice technology. While certainly not a requirement, I’ve become accustomed to vocal commands in games likeKinect Sports 2, Forza 4 or Disneyland Adventures. They certainly would have helped here, as selecting a menu item utilizes some pretty terrible controls.
Winter Stars isn’t a good game, as evidenced by our review and numerous others. However, in terms of improving the state of Kinect sports games, it takes some solid first steps.
We’ll see what future holds for this genre over the next few months. Tiger Woods 13 might be a good benchmark for what can be achieved with this technology and our favorite kinds of games.