Hit & Miss with Microsoft’s Kinect
With the first hint of fall chill hanging in the air I thought, what better way to start preparing for my winter video game hibernation than by making a visit to Microsoft’s temporary Kinect booth across from Toronto’s Eaton Centre. My girls and I (ages 7 and 5) were greeted by bouncy Kinect-clad youth eager to [...]
With the first hint of fall chill hanging in the air I thought, what better way to start preparing for my winter video game hibernation than by making a visit to Microsoft’s temporary Kinect booth across from Toronto’s Eaton Centre.
My girls and I (ages 7 and 5) were greeted by bouncy Kinect-clad youth eager to stuff a bag of popcorn in our hands while setting us up with a variety of Kinect’s launch titles. In case you’ve been living under a rock with no access to internet or humanity, Kinect is Microsoft’s huge gamble for the 2010 holiday season — a motion-controlled controller add-on for its popular Xbox console that dispenses with the “controller” part entirely. Using a series of cameras, microphones and speakers, Kinect interacts with your body allowing you direct control over Kinect-enabled video games.
Although the launch of the product is scheduled for Nov. 4, the version I was testing was not final. All the audio functionality was disconnected and I was not given a chance to see how the Kinect interface would integrate with the Xbox’s existing soon-to-be-revamped digital dashboard.
We started off with a demo of Kinectimals. The title aims to allow you to adopt a virtual exotic pet (an impossibly cute tiger in the demo), while teaching it tricks and playing games. My girls appeared to have trouble bouncing a beach ball back-and-forth with our feline companion and my own turn in front of the camera confirmed that the ‘controls’ still suffer from a bit of a floaty feel, possibly as a result of lag between your motions and the A.I. as it interprets your movements into on-screen actions. Training the tiger was a bit hit and miss though both my girls couldn’t stop laughing maniacally as they rolled around the floor ‘teaching’ the tiger to play-dead. Thanks Microsoft. My dry-cleaning bill is in the mail.
We then moved on to Kinect Joy Ride. Ostensibly, this is a cartoony cart-racing game controlled by gripping a virtual steering wheel. Although acceleration is automated, you can store up a ‘turbo boost’ by pulling your hands backwards and shooting them forwards to activate the thrusters. While I appreciate that this game isn’t directed at me (a long-time fan of the Forza and Project Gotham racing titles who has his own custom racing wheel plugged into the 360), I just can’t see this title garnering too many fans.
Fortunately, our next demo rocked the house. EA’s Dance Central is developed by Harmonix, the music geniuses behind the original Guitar Hero and current Rock Band mage-franchise. If there is one reason to stuff Kinect into your gift basket this holiday season, Dance Central is it. Although the shame of working my way through Lady Ga Ga’s Poker Face was a bit much for me to stomach publically, my kids immediately took to the game surprisingly having no difficulty scoring moderately well in the generous “easy mode”.
If you’re not looking to shell out extra coin for additional games on top of Kinect’s $150 price tag, you may find yourself perfectly satisfied with Kinect Adventures which comes packed-in with the unit. We played just three of Adventure’s many mini games but found that they all exceeded expectations — particularly when gaming alongside my clearly amazed children. Our first run took us rafting along a white water river jumping, ducking and leaning in tandem to avoid obstacles and collect coins. A very similar mine-cart / roller-coaster mini-game came next raising some concern as to how repetative the choices in this title will prove to be. However, these concerns were somewhat dispelled by the clever shark tank game in which the players are submerged in a glass case and have to continually move around to plug leaks that form in the tank as fish ram against the glass.
I then worked up a genuine sweat smashing spikes across the sand during a beach volleyball match – part of Kinect Sports. The timing required for this game appeared to be a bit too much of a challenge for my girls but shouldn’t prove to be overyly challenging for older kids.
I closed off my test day with a quick visit to Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. This demo was all too brief. Although I can’t gaurantee that smashing digital blocks with boxing-style punches is going to help me shed my ‘gamer gut’, if anything can motivate me to lose the pounds, it’s a few Achievement Points from my Xbox.
After spending over an hour cycling from game to game with my daughters, I strangely feel no closer to being able to make a definitive recommendation on whether to purchase Kinect. I’m an unabashed early adopter (see the HDDVD drive that is still plugged into my Xbox) and am sorely tempted to make the investment just to host Dance Central parties alongside my already legendary Rock Band gig nights. Having said that, Microsoft is going to have to iron out some of the floaty mechanics and glitchy navigation in a very short period of time to totally sell me on the rest of the launch line-up. Recent announcements at the Tokyo Game Show gave some positive indications that Microsoft is committed to leveraging Kinect’s game-changing tech for more than just Wii-rejects looking for an HD Wii Sports option (Steel Battalion for Kinect…I’m looking at you!).
POST RELEASE THOUGHTS:
Now that Kinect is out on shelves and I’ve had an actual retail unit in my home for a week, I have been pleasantly surprised by the improved experience. There’s no doubt that Microsoft has tweaked the software considerably from what was running at the beta releases. Floaty controls and inaccurate laggy response time has been dramatically reduced. The entire experience, both in the dashboard and in-game, is much tighter.
My family has spent A LOT of time in front of Kinect in the first week which is a strong indication that Microsoft probably has a winner on its hands here. Our software line-up includes Kinect Adventures (the pack-in which is getting the most playtime), Kinect Sports, Dance Central, Kinectimals and Your Shape Fitness Evolved.
If you have kids, Kinect is an obvious recommendation — they will go crazy for it. If you’re a ‘hard-core’ gamer, the tech is certainly impressive and bodes well for future integration in traditional games. The launch line-up is clearly casually focussed but still offers plenty for ‘serious’ gamers to enjoy.
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Ed Prutschi is a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, Canada practicing at the law firm of Adler Bytensky Prutschi. When not completely absorbed by the rigours of his trial practice, Ed revels in grabbing his camera ..