Kinect Sports: Season Two Hands-On Preview
Last week we had the opportunity to visit Rare HQ to get some hands-on time – so to speak – with Kinect Sports: Season Two.
Rare have been gradually releasing details and the new sports since E3, with Tennis and Darts being playable at Gamescom and Baseball at PAX. We had the chance to spend time with each mode, and here’s what we thought.
With it’s simple controls, Skiing is probably the most accessible of the new titles. It’s merely a case of leaning forward to speed up, and backwards to slow down. Leaning sideways will ‘steer’ your avatar sideways. The idea is to ski through the multiple sets of flagged poles on the course, in the fastest time possible. The challenge mode is a little like Reflex Ridge from Kinect Adventures, only players dodge obstacles while skiing, rather than riding a roller-coaster platform.
A truly amazing addition to the Kinect Sports catalogue. Golf was probably the most polished game mode we played on the day, it could quite easily be expanded into an independent XBLA release. Golf is also the first Kinect-based game to feature side-posing. Of course, being golf, the player stands side-on to the screen to take a shot. This is technology that wasn’t available at the time of the original Kinect Sports. Fun and intuitive controls are used throughout this mode, with the new-improved Kinect voice commands used for changing clubs. Saluting (raising your hand to your brow) is the mechanic used for looking far across the level, and crouching on the ground will give you a close-up of the hole. Raising your arm will initiate a practice shot. The course design in Golf is spot on and performing a hole-in-one is always possible, although it’ll take a great deal of skill and luck.
American Football was actually quite a surprise, as it contrasts with the rest of the sports because it is probably the least accessible, and for people unfamiliar with the sport (which let’s be honest, is the majority of people outside of America) it may seem pointless. The gameplay mechanics themselves are quite simple, it involves running on the spot for a few seconds and then throwing a ball. But the reasoning and tactics involved in those actions are explained with on-screen diagrams. There was more time spent looking at diagrams than there was actually taking part, and when you do get to actively take part in the game, it’s extremely quick and simple. Sadly though, I won’t be surprised if a lot of people find this mode a bit boring.
To be fair, for those who are really into their American Football, this mode can be quite tactical at the higher levels. But it feels like an odd choice of sport to include, knowing that it’s only going to appeal to a minority.
What a fantastic game Baseball is. Completely opposite to American Football, in that even if you’re totally unfamiliar with the sport, you can get involved. We played this mode over Xbox LIVE and it was genuinely great fun. The player takes turns to bat and pitch, and it’s pretty much that simple. Intuitive is the key word here, with direction of your curve balls being decided by the way you twist your arms as you throw the ball. If you bat the ball in the right direction and with enough power, not only will you score a home run, but you’ll be able to take out the large flat-screen TVs around the stadium – which are sponsored by Samsung, with some discreet in-game product placement.
Darts is nothing short of brilliant. Easily my favourite sport of the bunch. What is most interesting about Darts is that the developers at Rare specifically informed us that this wouldn’t have even been possible 10 months ago. The technological advances from Microsoft’s Kinect team, as well as the in-house devs at Rare have done an amazing job at tracking not only extremities, but individual digits. Darts is currently the most precision based game available on Kinect.
There is a leaning curve with this one though. The problem is that as you move your hand, a kind of cross-hair appears over the general area on the dart board. Now, this isn’t actually a cross-hair, and when you fling your hand forward, the dart won’t land on that spot. What you’re actually seeing, is a highlight of the area your hand is hovering around, and it’s then up to good old fashioned hand/eye coordination to aim the dart; you won’t get any visual assistance there. Darts players and casual gamers probably won’t have a problem at all, but anyone used to FPS genre might have to think this one through. But once it clicks, it clicks!
Tennis is another title that could have been rolled out as a separate game. It’s fantastic! Tennis is also definitely the most active sport in this season. You’re going to sweat with this one.
Playing Tennis with a group of games journalists, and then watching the developers play, pointed out a key problem with Kinect. We still need to get our heads around the fact that we are “the controllers”. Myself and the other journalists played Tennis with our hands closed, as if we were holding an invisible bat, it felt almost naked at first. We asked if it would work if you were actually holding a bat, purely for cosmetic reasons, and we were assured it would. But the developers play with palms flat, as if their hands were the bat. That was a light-bulb moment.
Kinect Sports: Season Two is much more than a sequel really. It compliments the original Kinect Sports by adding six new sports, each with a challenge mode, but the level of interaction between the player and the game has improved dramatically. The technology behind Kinect has quite obviously come along since launch. After decades of using peripherals, it’s evidently going to take some time for gamers to become accustomed to being the controller – but it’s still early days for Kinect, and as Season Two has shown us, the tech is advancing at an incredible rate. Who knows what kind of titles we’ll be seeing in another 5 years.
Kinect Sports Season 2 is due out this holiday season, exclusively for Xbox 360 with Kinect.