For Day 2 of E3 2010 I was lucky to be given the chance to sample the range of titles that will release this year for Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral. I approached these demos with mixed feelings. It will be strange not to hold anything in my hand in order for my actions to be tracked, and how accurate will these actions be tracked in the game. With plenty of water swallowed, to hydrate myself for the fitness to come, I stepped into the first play-test booth…
First up was Kinect Adventures. This game has you jumping, leaning and flapping your arms and legs around in games where you’re riding water rapids in an inflatable raft, jumping over and ducking under moving beams, to bashing balls against a wall, all while collecting as many adventure coins as possible.
The game is definitely an energetic one, as you’ll be jumping at one point and then ducking the next. So if you are good a squat jumps, this is YOUR game. I only played 4 modes in the game; however each game felt and played entirely different, so I don’t think you’d get too bored of doing the same actions over and over again. Photos are taken throughout each event and are uploaded to an online location for a period of time, allowing you to download and share your embarrassment with friends and family – Great.
Kinectimals proved to be a fairly simple virtual pet game for fairly young children. And when I say young, I really mean young. The game felt far too shallow to be anything else than a game for a young audience. Players get to select up to 40 feline Kinectimals (I didn’t know there were that many felines species?) and interact with them via over 30 playful activities. Owners can take their pet through assault courses, play skip the rope, and generally have playtime with their character in and around the island where the game takes place. Without any feeding or aging with your character all there is to do is play with it, and after you’re done with the small amount of activities I can’t see much else you’ll get out of this game, this is definitely one for the kids for sure.
Kinect Joy Ride
The last time I played Joy Ride was at last year’s E3, where a controller was required to get to the chequered flag. This year, the controller has been cast to the trash and the game has been rewritten to support Kinect. Driving is made simpler by just sticking your arms out as if you are holding an invisible steering wheel and turning your arms to move your car into a corner. If you wish to drift while cornering you can stick out your booty and your car will drift around the corner. Boosting your charged vehicle is achieved by bringing your hands to your chest and quickly pushing your arms out straight again. To fill your boost meter you are encouraged to pull off moves whilst in the air as well as drifting. To pull a move in the air you just simply bend over to flip your car forward or turn left or right to flat spin your car in that direction.
So controlling your car is as simple as that, but it is sad to see the whole game ripped apart and made more approachable to suit Kinect’s control system. The game was a good challenging racer when used with the controller last year and I feel that this is now all lost in this revision of the game. With split screen local multiplayer as well as over Xbox LIVE, Joy Ride is looking like becoming an ‘ok’ casual racer for the platform, which will sadly no longer be free anymore.
A motion-gaming platform wouldn’t be complete without its own sports title, and Kinect Sports does not disappoint. Kinect Sports has you taking part in track and field events, as well as other sports like bowling, table tennis and football. Sadly we had very little time in this demo and any additional info on the game was really locked down, making me think this game is far from finished, however the demos I have hands-on time with were bowling and 200m hurdles.
After a brief bowling introduction from its RARE developer, who scored a strike on his first throw, I thought this was going to be too easy – and boy was I wrong. Picking up a ball is a simple process of holding your hand out to the right to see your avatar pick up a ball in their hand. With the ball held you can step left or right to line up your shot as well as crouch down to get a lower angle. Bowling is a simple case of mimicking a bowling action, and as soon as your arm passes your leg the ball is released as it would in real-life. Putting spin on the ball can be achieved just like real-life by turning your hand mid-throw and everything is tracked into the game with amazing accuracy. This game alone is worth the money and I can imagine it will take some time to master.
Hurdles required a little more energy, where you run on the spot to sprint and when a hurdle approaches you get an audio and visual countdown to time your jump correctly – and you do have to jump, a casual uninspired hop will not do here. The game was over short and sweet but I can see with a party of others it would be good fun. With all the additional games on offer in Kinect Sports you will definitely be getting the most bang for your buck, and as seen in other platform titles, you may end up playing one or two key sports, but in Kinect Sports each title has their appeal and I can’t see many game types being neglected here. This is one worth checking out when you pick up Kinect.
Next up was Ubisoft’s fitness title, Your Shape, which puts you in a virtual gym where you can partake in personal training exercises, gym workouts and yoga lessons. Stepping into the main menu I was scanned to show my height, arm length and all other physical details were displayed alongside my projected body on screen. The level of tracking was very impressive with creases and even details on my t-shirt were displayed on my onscreen persona. Selecting your routine was a simple arm point and hold to confirm, which I found easier and more intuitive than the previous games I played.
Personally I could see myself getting in to Your Shape, more over titles I own, like Wii Sports and EA Active. The punch workouts were great fun, were you cross punch a sequence of lit boxes in each wave of exercises, getting faster and harder each time. Training sessions involved doing routines like squat thrusts and knee-ups. Tracking of your progress is monitored all the time with your personal trainer letting you know if you are doing any exercises right or wrong, for example, you’ll be told to raise your legs higher when doing knee-ups too low. Yoga sessions work in a similar way to training sessions, where your poses are monitored for precision, and if you go out of your held pose you are told what limb to raise or lower in order to maintain your pose. Skeleton bones are projected on top of your body showing you what position you need to be in. These bones turn green when in a correct pose and go grey when out of position.
All in all I can see Your Shape doing very well. I saw a few other fitness titles for Kinect demoing around the E3 show floor, but none of these titles seem to meet the simple clean look, overall presentation and accuracy that Your Shape offers.
This is one title worth picking up if you are up for toning up in a fun way. I hope to see some ‘Lose X pounds’ achievements to give the gamerscore whores something to sweat for.
Last up, if I wasn’t knackered enough, was Dance Central, by Rock Band developers Harmonix. Everyone else didn’t want to make a fool of themselves in front of the crowd of people looking on, so yours truly stepped up to the plate.
Representing the Brighton massive, I selected a Fat Boy Slim remixed title to shake my booty too. Little did I know it was the hardest track out of the tracks on offer, but once selected you can choose a difficulty to limit the amount of moves you are asked to do in the game – so similar to how Rock Band works really.
Navigation was the best and most reactive than all the games on show, and the game was good fun, if a little embarrassing when trying to dance in front of a pack of strangers. Pulling off the moves exactly how the game wants you to was a little difficult, but thankfully the game can break down each move by slowing it down to allow you to practice each move at a more novice pace.
Dance Central is another hot must have title for Kinect, with 600 moves and over 90 routines, budding movers and shakers are in for a treat when this game releases in time for yourself and your granny to pop some shapes over the Christmas holidays.
Kinect – is it worth it?
So will Kinect be a winner, or is it an unoriginal cheap knock-off of something already done by another competitor that we shall not mention?
Well, after playing through the small amount of games I have to be honest and say there is still a little amount of tweaking to be made, but there is a lot of potential under the surface. At times, in some games, you do feel that you need to hold something physical to feel part of the game, such as bowling in Kinect Sports and JoyRide, but there are some titles that work very well without holding anything at all, like in Your Shape and Dance Central. Kinect’s tracking is used so well and you are not as restricted like you are when holding a controller to track your movements so it is game’s like these that really showcase Kinect’s potential. However I do hope of some subtle uses in more core games.
It is far too early to tell if Kinect will be vaporware. Even at this early stage I honestly don’t think it will, just as long as the peripheral gets the right attention from developers and across all of the genres. It’s current line-up is certainly not mediocre or full of rushed to market titles. Each have all had some serious thought gone into them and they all provide a much better interactive experience than its other platform rivals currently offer after a few years of service.
I did find it amusing that the third-party titles had better UI and navigation than its first-party titles, but we still have some time before we are jumping in ourselves later this year. Out of this line-up of titles I would definitely buy Kinect Sports, Your Shape and Dance Central, the others felt a little too shallow, but it’s early days, where I only saw a smidgen of what each game had on offer, so I am looking forward to checking them all out again in more detail when they are released in a few months time. I best get limbering up now!
If you have any questions or your own views on Kinect post them in the comments below.