Kinect Sports Review
Game: Kinect Sports
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available On: Xbox 360 only (Kinect required)
Microsoft have reportedly spent 500 million US dollars on advertising their new peripheral “Kinect”, a motion controller that requires no buttons, just you. The tagline “you are the controller” should be a great fit for a sports title. For instance, football and most other sports don’t need anything you but you and your arms and legs. The marketing seems to be working, as casual gamers and the most unlikely of people are talking about Kinect.
Our second Kinect launch title review takes a look at Rare’s first attempt at taming Microsoft’s motion controller, aptly titled “Kinect Sports”. Is there room for yet another sports based mini-game title? Read on to find on what we thought.
Let’s not beat about the bush here, visually and audibly this is very obviously a “Rare” game. Given the nature of Kinect’s launch titles, this is no bad thing and aesthetically it’s fairly cutesy to look at. Sound wise it could be described as fairly sparse at times, with standard noises for all the sports available, but the real positive to the sound department is the audio clips from various popular hit songs such as Queen’s “We are the Champions”, Blur’s “Song 2” or Robbie Williams “Let Me Entertain You” upon doing something fantastic within the game. It might seem cliched and cheesy, but it absolutely works within the context of Kinect Sports and enhances the experience for it!
This all seems very “standard Kinect” stuff so far and it’s true, just like in most other Kinect launch titles you’ll find that the game takes photographs and records videos of you at horrifically inopportune times and gives everyone else a bloody good laugh at your expense! Anyway, I thought it’d make sense to break the game down into the sports available, so we’ll start with Football.
Due to the avatars within the game, you don’t play as yourself. Instead, your avatar is on the team and, in multiplayer, one of them is usually the goalkeeper. In single player the game is responsive and reasonably accurate, indeed, surprisingly so at times, but in multiplayer there is absolutely no indication of which human player is on the ball at any given time. It seems that you take turns and if you pass the ball, the next person will recieve the ball, but again, you’ll experience moments where that doesn’t happen. Tackling is quite fun and as simple as jumping in the way of a grey line that indicates where the opposition are trying to play the ball but the most fun is to be had in goal, where it feels extremely accurate and responsive.
It’s a very stripped down version of football of course, for example, if you score a goal, play resumes in the form of a goal kick. You can’t take corners or throw-ins, instead the AI puts the ball back in and it usually ends in a quick-time-event of sorts where you have to time a header or volley shot on goal. The technology is also shown up a little bit in football. You might want to put your foot through the ball with great power, but you just can’t do it, as it won’t register and there’s not a lot of difference between a deft flick and a powerful strike in terms of what is rendered on screen. On the whole though, it’s an enjoyable experience let down by the multiplayer and the fact that it’s a rather “lite” version of the sport, to say the least.
In an extremely left-field selection for a motion based sports game, we also have Bowling (sarcasm overload, apologies) but this is another belter of a sport and again, replicated within Kinect Sports, it’s just a hoot to play. Four player bowling is excellent fun. I had trouble with spinning the ball, but I’m useless at bowling in real life. That said, seeing my 3 year old pick up a spare and then bowl 2 strikes afterwards made me wonder if I was absolutely horrific at bowling or he was a genius in the making…or maybe the game just wasn’t as accurate as it makes out? I’m blaming the game, purely because my wife beats me every bloody time and that can’t be right, can it boys?
Table Tennis is also present and correct, though a far more slow paced variant than the one seen in the PlayStation 3 title “Sports Champions” and to be honest, a far less accurate one too. It’s still fun, but as a sport you need something tangible to hold on to and it just doesn’t feel right, especially having played the aforementioned Sports Champions.
Boxing is probably the weakest sport on offer, mainly because the execution seems a little off. Blocking seems very hit and miss, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Yet the CPU opponent can block just fine on higher levels and if they block three times, they get some kind of super punch which destroys your health bar very quickly. At lower difficulty levels there really is no negative to just punching quickly and repeatedly as you don’t get have any energy bar to speak of, so you won’t get tired. Playing via Xbox LIVE fixes some of these problems, but even in local multiplayer it just feels peculiar and just ever so slightly off.
Track and Field, oh how I love thee. We get onto the meat of the game here with the sport most people will be playing. Consisting of 100 metres, hurdles, long jump, javelin and discus, this is definitely one of the most fun parts of Kinect Sports. It’s one of those “wow” moments too, when you realise that somehow the Kinect sensor knows you have let go of your imaginary discus or javelin. Somehow it just works! Long jump is a personal favourite though and I’ll be going back to that for a long time to come just to try and beat my world record! Discus is the only event that isn’t 100% faithful to the real-life counterpart though. You can’t spin around because if you did so, Kinect wouldn’t be able to keep track of you, so instead you just to do the action for the finale of the manoeuvre and just throw the discus, so to speak. On the whole though, this is definitely one of the favourite events when in a party, even though only 2 can play the entirety of the event at any one time.
Hurdles is great fun and mechanically very similar to the 100 metres, you run (it seems to track knee movement more than anything, so get those knees up boys and girls!) and along the way the hurdles change colour from red, through amber to green, signifying the ideal time to jump. Again, accuracy is key here and the sensor seems to pick you up exactly as it should.
Beach Volleyball rounds off the sports available and is another well executed game! Spiking, defending, smashing it home, it all feels excellent and it’s a good workout when things get frenetic. 2 vs 2 is the order of the day, playing 7 points to win. Serving feels nice and the Kinect sensor bar is as responsive as ever. The only negative about the Beach Volleyball is that you don’t feel fully in control of the direction when hitting the ball. It all feels slightly pre-determined.
All of these modes are playable via Xbox LIVE and seem to be lag free, but the most fun is to be had offline, with friends and family. There are some issues though, the Xbox 360 only allows four people to be signed in at once, which makes a little bit of sense since no game on the disc is more than four players. However, if you have more than four people you have to go through the rigmarole of signing out, then in as someone else, then deciding who is supposed to be “logged in” at this time. Despite the Kinect ID being set up and presumably working properly, it has no bearing on the actual game as you still have to manually choose opponents even if they are in the same room! Worst still, the game makes you pick a “main player” at the start of proceedings and if that person isn’t playing at any given time you have to back all the way out to the very first menu to change the main player to someone else, otherwise his or her avatar will be present as “player 1” in any mode. The game also doesn’t randomise turns, which means once set up for four people, you’ll always go in the same order.
Aside from the “Main Event” mode, there is also a party mode, allowing 4 players to split into 2 persons teams, red and blue. This then plays out with people choosing which team member faces off against the opposing team member in one of the mini-games.
There are quite a few mini-games available as well, all playable via the party mode but also the seperate mini-game modes. Some of them are just smaller sections of the main game, for example Track and Field is broken down into individual events if you just fancy having another go at long jump! Some of the mini-games are outrageous fun, especially the Football and Bowling ones. There are two Bowling mini-games, one is a simple event, just knock down 2 pins or achieve a split. You get a few goes and each time you fail you lose a life. Lose all your lives and it’s game over and onto the next person if you are playing multiplayer. One of the best mini-games is the goalkeeping one, where you have to save as many shots as you can. The balls get fired at you quicker and quicker, widening their angle making you sprawl over whatever room you are playing in, it’s hilarious and actually feels like a good workout if you play for long enough. Every sport is represented in the mini-games modes but one my favourites was multi-ball in bowling, where you get as many balls as you want (you can even throw two at once) and a time limit to get as many pins knocked down as you can. You might find yourself windmilling bowling balls like a madman but it’s hilarious and fun, especially when played with friends or family.
Therein lies the crux of Kinect Sports, played solo it’s a fun experience that is slightly shallow and gets old a little quickly, but played with a group of people it’s a barrel of laughs and fun for all the family. If you plan on playing Kinect Sports alone, you might well find that you disagree with a lot of my feelings about the game, but if you have people to play with and if you have a big enough room to get it all set up properly, you’ll definitely find yourself having a lot of fun. It’s baffling that there isn’t a “Main Menu” button on every screen, given how many menus there are to back out of, but that doesn’t change the fact that when in motion, this is a tremendously fun title.
This is the game that should have been packed in with the Kinect sensor bar, if you are planning on investing in Microsoft’s new motion controller then this one of the best titles out there.