My Weekend With Kinect

I am sore. I would like to be able to tell you that I am sore because I ran in the New York Marathon over the weekend but that would be entirely untrue. Instead I am sore because I spent the weekend playing video games and I will be damned if it was not some of the most fun I have had playing games this year.

In case you have not figured it out yet, I spent the weekend playing Microsoft’s newest piece of hardware, Kinect. Since the system launched, with much fanfare, this past Thursday I have spent time playing a trio of launch titles, making my self sore, and while resting, watching my wife and kids actually play a video game for the first time in months. Let me not understate the last part of my weekend, my wife, whom hardly ever plays games was doing so of her own volition but more on that later.

First off let us talk about the hardware. I was mighty skeptical of the hardware and how well it would work and surprisingly it works, quite well in fact. While Minority Report styled controlling of the dashboard isn’t quite there, it is pretty cool to maneuver through the menus by moving your hands instead of a controller. It does require some space, roughly six to eight feet out from the camera with a three to six foot wide swatch in the play area and it also requires some solid lighting for facial recognition. However if you can accommodate the space, using the Kinect is like stepping into the future, more so than anything Nintendo or Sony has done to this point.

One of my biggest skepticism with the Kinect prior to launch was that as a gamer, I am used to having something in my hand. I felt comfortable playing the Wii, even if it was Wii Sports because I had something in my hand. The thought of not having something in my hand, not having a button to press to control my input was a giant mental barrier for me. After getting some time with the hardware and a few of the games though, I can now say that the controller is a limitation, at least for the types of games that I spent my time with.

While Kinect Adventures comes packed in with the hardware, it was not the first title I tried out with Kinect. That honor goes to Dance Central. Dance Central, which was developed by Harmonix, the industry leader in music / rhythm games, is a full fledged game. In fact it is the only full game out of the three titles I sampled on Kinect this weekend, all the rest are mini games. Dance Central is the logical evolution of Dance Dance Revolution and it requires you to get your whole body into the mix. What you will notice with Dance Central is how precise the Kinect can actually be as Dance Central, especially on harder songs and difficulties, requires a level of precision that I for one was not expecting the system to require. This precision can cause the game to be very difficult but learning the moves, via an in game training mode called Break It Down, is highly rewarding if physically demanding. If you know multiple people with the game, dancing the routines may take on a competitive edge with some Step Up like smack talk. As much fun as I had with Dance Central though, this is not going to be a game for everyone even if it is the best of the bunch thus far.

No less competitive but potentially more fun, especially if you have small kids, is the pair of Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports. Both titles are mini-game compilations that show off the functionality of the system quite well. As mentioned Kinect Adventures comes packed in with the hardware and on some levels it kind of shows. The games in Kinect Adventures seem specifically designed to showcase what the tech can do, unfortunately some of these games just aren’t all that fun. However there are games that are not only fun but will have you sweating up a storm, specifically I refer to the Reflex Ridge mini game. Reflex Ridge places you on a mine cart/roller coaster type platform where you have to duck, sidestep and jump over obstacles. These courses can get pretty intensive and are some of the most fun I’ve had with the system. Other games, like a bubble popping game in space are less impressive but overall as a pack in game it works remarkably well and it is not just your standard sports title.

The standard sports title, Kinect Sports, is a stand alone game and one that anyone who has had fun with Wii Sports needs to give a chance too because in a manner of speaking, it is better. Kinect Sports, developed by Rare, has six different sports to play and a variety of different mini-games to play in those sports. There is Soccer, Track & Field, Volleyball, Ping-Pong, Boxing and Bowling. Obviously the two that will be compared the most to Wii Sports will be Boxing and Bowling. In my personal opinion, Bowling is infinitely better than its Wii Sports counterpart while Boxing is about the same. The Track & Field events were some of the most fun in the title and by the same token the most fun to play with another person. For me personally, soccer was somewhat of a let down but my son seemed to love it, so take that for what you will.

Speaking of my kids, all three of them were able to play Kinect Sports effectively. My seven year old daughter bowls in Kinect just like she does in real life (awfully), my five year old son is able to throw things left handed, without any special set-up needed, and the system was even able to track my three year old daughter and mimic her crazy antics onto my screen. Even better than all of that though is the fact that without a controller my wife is able to sign in and jump into a Kinect game. She never did that with the Wii. The Kinect is easy to use and there are no additional parts required.

So the early verdict on the Kinect is that it works, is easy to use and is fun. Is the Kinect going to take the world by storm? Quite possibly but the real question is if the Kinect is going to be able to hold people’s interest after the initial infatuation with the tech wears off? I suppose the answer to that question lies in the court of the developers and publishers and we will just have to wait and see. In the mean time, stay tuned to for more Kinect coverage including full reviews of Dance Central, Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports and Sonic Free Riders.

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