Kinect Sports: Season Two Review
Game: Kinect Sports: Season Two
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Kinect for Xbox 360 only
Kinect Sports has proved to be far and away the most successful title for the Kinect accessory. A year on from its release and it still holds its place as the top selling motion game for the Xbox 360. It therefore doesn’t take a lot of mental power to reason that a sequel would be in the pipelines, and this time around Rare have taken the opportunity to stretch their muscles and bring us six new sports to try out. Does he sequel match up well to the original and are the sports chosen of a similar calibre to what we so enjoyed first time around?
GRAPHICS: Graphically, the game is presented in more or less the exact same way as the first Kinect Sports title. Rare have stuck with the likeable avatar-based system, where gamers are represented by their respective Xbox LIVE avatars, but the option is there to choose a random avatar to jump straight into the game as. Stadiums and location designs show off the same kind of flair for creating an exciting place to lay the sports in. They mirror real locations to an extent, but then are exaggerated to create a slightly more high-octane experience; even the darts arena is all smoke machines and strobe lighting.
SOUND: Sound-wise, the X-Factor style voice-overs remain in order to bring a certain strange gravitas to proceedings. But this time around they are joined by a variety of sports-specific commentators, such as an all-American personality for the American Football mode, a Scottish expert following the golf and a stereotypical cockney geezer to accompany the darts. A new selection of pop music has been chosen to accompany the action and these suitably motivate and pump up the players before, and after, gameplay.
GAMEPLAY: Of course, the game is all about the sports. American football is first out of the box and unfortunately is put together in an unusual way. Both in single and multiplayer, players only ever attack. After the initial punt, players handle running down the field and dodging tackles. This is intuitive and the kind of thing that any player could pick up and control right off the bat. The dodging of tackles sometimes feels a bit out of your hands however, and moving one way sometimes results in you shimmying in the other direction. With each down, the player can select their plays before trying for a pass. The tactics are a little limited, and because the play is almost all passing based, it gets very repetitive. Whilst aiming your throws and directing play is fun and easy to learn, after several attempts it all feels the same. Four quarters ends up being a little too long. The other sports are shortened slightly from the professional lengths, but confusingly this one isn’t. At the end of your play, the computer gets a chance to attack, but this is all generated on a summary screen; you never defend. Add co-op play into the mix, and unfortunately nothing much changes. Instead of taking turns to attack, one player throws passes and the other makes runs. This never alternates, meaning one players quickly wears themselves out and the other ends up with little to do.
Secondly we experience baseball. Thankfully this game allows you to both field and bat. Batting is as simple as you would expect. Swing with a natural motion, varying your aim and power to change the type of hit you make. Occasionally if there is a close call, you will have to run on the spot to dash for the nearest base before you are out. Even making a small jump will result in a slide into base, which is a nice little touch. Fielding is slightly more complex. You can choose left or right handed throws and fast or slow balls, depending on how fast you perform the throwing motion. Doing so at an angle can add curve or dip as well. Your backstop will advise the best pitches to make and if you match their signals, you can gain bonuses. In terms of fielding, sometimes you will have to move in order to reach a ball target and catch people out, if you played the first Kinect Sports, this is handled in the same way as goal-keeping in football. Luckily, only two innings occur and the game remains fresh and fast-paced, and you don’t need to know all the pitching complexities in order to enjoy the game.
Darts is another very successful event and is probably the most pick up and play out of the whole lot. Simple aiming and throwing is all the game consists of, but the player mastering the smooth backwards and forward motion and not losing your accuracy is what takes some time to learn. But basically, the game works just as you would expect, and it does so smoothly and fluently. With so little to say about the event, it is hard to emphasise how well it all works but it is certainly one of the most responsive and intuitive uses of Kinect we have seen yet.
Golf games have been surprisingly lacking from the Kinect gaming library so far, but the sport makes its bow in a strong fashion here. The system is once again handled in a simple manner, walk forwards and back to aim, switch clubs with your left arm and swing when you wish to hit the ball. The size, speed and fluidity of your swing will determine the distance you hit the ball, and this once again is a very natural feeling. The courses are littered with water and sand hazards, and clubs must be used accordingly and, despite the simplified course design and graphics, the game produces an accurate simulation of the game. Players can even survey the course or read the green; all with motion control. To tailor the game to your liking, you can choose how many holes to play, so you wont feel like it drags on too long.
The Skiing game can be quite energetic, but the whole thing suffers from repetition. There is a selection of quite a few courses to race across, and players must lean in order to steer through flags, whilst also making jumps and ducking down to speed up. Making it through all the flags gets harder as courses progress, but they are all quite similar overall and this sport doesn’t allow for much freedom, making each playthrough feel very much the same.
And we finish with another strong entry. Tennis plays in a similar way to Table Tennis in the first sports title, and you can make slice shots or add topspin just as you might in real-life. Your speed and power will translate into the game and rallies can become quite exhausting and high-tempo. Everything responds as you would expect, and extra touches such as the aforementioned objection calls add to the competitive feel.
The sign-in system that could be somewhat irritating in the first title has been refined a little. The main player still cannot be signed out without returning to the main menu, but adding extra players and subbing friends in and out during party play works much better than before. Player detection seems to have been tightened up a little and stepping in and out of the play area works quite smoothly and the sensor is much better at determining the movement of one player from the other than in the last title.
One of the main new selling points on the cover of the game is the use of voice control. By saying the word “Xbox”, you open up the option to navigate all menus and even perform in-game actions with your voice. This includes calling for an objection to a line decision in Tennis or changing your pitcher in Baseball. This is a nice addition and can make the menus easier to navigate, but it does however suffer from the same recognition issues as previous Kinect voice games in that it will work more smoothly for some voices over others, and you need to be careful to speak clearly and naturally, rather than barking commands at your console. Sometimes it remains more straight-forward to simply select options with gestures.
MULTIPLAYER: All of the games are playable for at least two gamers, with golf and darts allowing up to four. Most of the games are competitive, but American Football, as stated earlier allows for co-op play, albeit in a strangely structured manner. For each sport, there are also party game variants, such as target shooting in Golf and balloon popping for Darts. These add some variety into the game and help mix things up when playing in quick play mode, this is similar to party play in the first Kinect Sports, where players form two teams represented by mascots, but now you can select the events you play yourself, rather than randomly being given a challenge to face, head-to-head. Combine that with the fact that there is no specific number of victories to aim for, to conclude the tournament, it really seems like an odd set-up, especially compared to the slick party action in the first title. This probably doesn’t feel quite as exciting and doesn’t tend to create the same competitive atmosphere as it did before, and also suffers from a lack of different mini-games. This could be expanded by DLC though, as happened in the first title.
LONGEVITY: How long you want to put into the game will depend entirely on how compelling you find each sport. You will likely find yourself coming back regularly to your favourites whilst passing over the others. The game has also added the previously downloadable calorie counter into the title from day one, so you can see how much exercise you are getting whilst having fun. Another addition is the challenge mode, which allows you to set a high score in any event, before sending a challenge to a friend via Xbox LIVE. Neither of these extras will keep you hooked for long, but it does offer new ways to play with the events. The game is at its best when played with friends, and you will probably bring it out every time there is a party, as the selection of sports on offer ensures that there is something for everyone.
VERDICT: Ultimately, Kinect Sports: Season Two brings together a good selection of sports and although they might not all be smash-hit events, the first title suffered too from some events not being as strong as others (i.e. Volleyball). Different players are bound to find different events that they prefer, but with a good mix of active events and more laid-back activities, there really is something for every type of gamer. You couldn’t say that any of the sports are covered very comprehensively, but they are all immediately accessible and you can really dip in and out of the events quickly and easily. It is the perfect companion piece for those who loved the first game and who want more events to try. Some of the sports really shine as great uses of the new Motion Control technology, and the title would be perfectly acceptable was it simply a Darts and Baseball simulator; those sports are just so good. The fact that most of the featured events are so easy to pick up and play make so much sense to even non-gamers, really helping to exemplify what Kinect is all about. Now with voice control and even less barriers between the player and the sport, you really ARE the controller, more than ever before.