Kinect Sports Review (Xbox 360)
One of the descriptions (or complaints) lobbed at the Kinect is that it is simply duplicating what made the Wii so successful, albeit without controllers. When looking at Kinect Sports, it’s hard to argue with that comparison. This game offers the best aspects of Wii Sports, but ultimately it does not push the "motion sports mini-games" sub-genre much further beyond Nintendo's initial offering.
Kinect offers six sports to choose from, including the seemingly obligatory bowling mini-game. Soccer seems to be a relatively new experience, while other games like table tennis, beach volleyball and boxing feel familiar, even a bit stale. Track and field, a small tournament in and of itself, offers an almost three-dimensional update to the classic Nintendo game. Altogether, it’s a solid, but not spectacular, mix of individual and team sports.
A Mini-Game Staple
Bowling is about what you would expect from a motion game in terms of gameplay and input. However, I feel without a controller -- supposedly a plus for Kinect -- you lose the sense of weight that accompanies holding a virtual ball. This element inevitably messes up your control when it comes to adding touch and spin to the ball, which is a crucial part of bowling.
After playing for a couple of weeks, I still do not feel like I know how to apply the proper amount of spin to the ball. Occasionally, I think I have it, but then the next frame proves otherwise. Control issues aside, bowling in Kinect Sports is functional and fun, but it is not nearly as intuitive as you might expect.
We’ve Seen These Before...
The same is true of boxing, which also lurks in the shadows of Wii Sports’ influence. The basic punches work well enough, and they are actually rewarding when you connect. However, moving your gloves to block or moving your body to bob and weave are not as effective. Like bowling, boxing here works well enough but small control issues taint the experience.
Table tennis is another mini-game favorite, and it is well done in Kinect Sports. Obviously, like the bowling game, it’s odd to not be holding anything when you should be holding something. In this case, your hand replaces any kind of paddle. Smashes get a "fireball" effect, but beyond that there are not any helpful visual effects.
Taking It To the Beach
Beach volleyball is simple. You get an onscreen prompt that helps with your timing and lateral movement. Lateral movement, by the way, really helps to separate Kinect Sports from other motion games. In volleyball, for instance, you may need to physically move left or right to go get the ball. For a while this is strange, especially if you are used to your motion games being confined to your arms.
Anyway, beach volleyball is relatively easy and intuitive, almost to a fault. While in-game text indicates that you can use your head and feet to move the ball, it is almost as if the Kinect just looks for you to be near the ball when it lands. I saw a few accidental headers form people not paying attention during my time with the game. Additionally, your actions onscreen are pretty limited -- you can’t underhand serve for instance.
New for Kinect Sports
Soccer is a motion game I have not seen before, and for a while at least, it was entertaining. It’s "station to station" football where you are really only responsible for passing to an open man. Move the ball far enough, and you’re given an opportunity to shoot. On defense, you attempt to intercept the ball or block the shot. It all works, but it became repetitive after a while.
For me, track and field was the most fun. This portion of the game comprises a small suite of events, including a sprint, hurdles, discus and javelin throws, and long jump. All of these events essentially require just one or two of three movements: running, jumping or throwing an imaginary object. Still, it’s engaging on the same level as those button-mashing games of previous generations (see: old-school Track and Field). The timing of your jumps or throws are made clear enough, and the game keeps track of personal bests and world records. Of the events, only discus gave me trouble in the controls department.
In addition to the main games, there are a handful of other mini-games, which simply modify rules (one-ball bowling) or highlight the best part (goalkeeping) of a main game. These are fun enough in short bursts, but they are not that compelling otherwise. If you are expecting the types of training activities found in Wii Sports, you will be disappointed.
Graphics and Difficulties
In terms of challenge, the easiest levels quickly become too easy, and you will want to raise the difficulty level as soon as you are comfortable with the controls. At the higher difficulty levels, the game truly does get progressively harder.
For the best experience, though, you will want to invite some friends over to play. This game’s strength is its ability to serve as group entertainment; and the Kinect, for the most part, makes the game easy to jump into and play.
The international tournament feel serves as a nice overlay for the game, but it’s pretty superficial. There is no single-player campaign to speak of, nor is there a festival type of mode that advances you through each of the game's six sports.
Graphically, the backgrounds and sports elements are rendered in a bright and fairly realistic fashion. However, your Xbox avatars are used, reinforcing the idea that this is an HD version of Wii Sports. Even the facial expressions are Mii-like. Additionally, your avatar is redressed for each sport, which you may or may not like depending on how much you have spent on custom clothing.
Technically, the Kinect works pretty well. You will need lots of space and extraneous movement in front of the sensor bar will throw things off. Still, it is neat when you finish an event and are given the opportunity to flaunt for the camera. I have read online complaints about lag, but I did not find it to be noticeable enough to cause any problems when playing.
So, when you look at the whole picture, Kinect Sports certainly seems like an update of Wii Sports. It is essentially a series of basic mini-games. Each one on its own is functional, but all of them as a whole are not overwhelmingly enjoyable -- if you just play solo. But like the Wii, it is the innovative technology that makes the whole thing worth playing. Perhaps most similar, though, is the fact that this game is infinitely more fun when playing with other people.
In the Arena: Kinect technology makes this game an easy one to pick up, and it pretty much works as advertised. A few of the sports have quirks that detract from the overall experience, but the majority of the time I was having fun.
Visuals: Bright and cheerful graphics cement the family-party focus of this game. Avatars make the game feel less generic than it would be without them, but they strip away any thoughts that this could be construed as a serious sports game.
Audio: Decent commentary for this type of game is enhanced by clips of appropriately licensed music.
Entertainment Value: I’m not sure how long you will play this on your own, but it’s great for groups. A ranking system adds some lasting appeal, but it also seems shallow.
Learning Curve: Except for a few cases (bowling, discus, etc.), the Kinect technology makes this an easy game to learn and teach to others. I would guess that even the littlest ones will be able to participate at some level.
Online: This is an adequate way to experience multiplayer excitement, but not being in the same room as your opponent takes away an element of fun.
Score: 7.5 (Good)