The great leap forward
For the last year or more, gamers have been waiting for Kinect (or Natal as it was previously known) to arrive at the end of 2010. Nobody really knew what to expect. Motion-controlled gaming is old hat at this point, but controlling a game without any buttons at all is very new territory. No matter what the mass populace thinks of Kinect, I think we can all agree that it’s going to be interesting to watch the system develop over the next couple of years.
Four years have now passed since the Nintendo Wii first captured the public’s attention by exhibiting the immense possibilities of motion controls. Kinect and Sony’s PlayStation Move have made the Wii seem positively antiquated at this point. The technology behind Kinect is far beyond what Wii was capable of in 2006, and it has the price tag to prove it. Kinect retails at $150, and it’s only a peripheral whereas Wii debuted at $250 and was a full console in its own right. So Kinect had better be capable of some amazing things to justify its high price tag without any computing components whatsoever.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say whether Kinect lives up to its price tag just yet. I can tell you for sure that its capabilities are exciting and interesting, but apart from a couple cases, the execution thus far is lacking. Normally, that would be a pretty damning statement, but in Kinect’s case, the successes are so great that I have to believe the problem lies with the current crop of software not with Kinect itself.
Dance Central, for instance, is practically worth the system’s price all on its own. Harmonix really nailed it with this rhythm dancing game and it is by far the best reason to purchase the Kinect camera. I don’t think many people saw it coming before E3 2010, but Kinect could be the savior of the ailing rhythm genre that has seen huge sales drops in its biggest franchises, Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
But many of the other games are poor exhibits for this potentially powerful new piece of equipment. Kinect Joy Ride, for instance, is a generally frustrating arcade racer that struggles with controls. Adrenaline Misfits is a bland snowboarding game, and many other titles just barely exceed mediocre levels. Most serve the purpose of being an interesting tech demo for future installments in the genre, but often fail to be compelling as a standalone gaming experience. Others simply aren’t considerate to the needs of the gamers playing them.
It’s hard to tell whether these issues stem from sloppy software or inadequate hardware. In Dance Central, your moves are registered nearly flawlessly and the camera works great, but in some other games, the control isn’t as good. Is it that Dance Central found ways to work around the junky hardware? Or were the other games just rushed? It’s tough to say, but I’m leaning towards the latter. There are enough successes that I’m willing to say the failures probably aren’t Kinect’s fault. Besides, launch games are notorious for being buggy and lacking in quality. Both Wii and PlayStation Move had their fair share of those.
Even if most Kinect games aren’t “Game of the Year” worthy, many of them still have interesting qualities. Fighters Uncaged isn’t a high-quality fighting game by any measure, but it features impressive move recognition that gives me hope for future efforts in the fighting genre. Adrenaline Misfits was mentioned before as bland and uninspired, but (bizarre as it sounds) its menu system is really great and works far better than most other Kinect games.
For several reasons, many people will find the experience frustrating when trying to play in an apartment or small room. The camera needs at least six feet of clear space in front of the player to capture their movements, and you probably want at least nine or ten. That’s tough to do in any living room, let alone an apartment. The space restrictions are even more important if you’re tall. Tall people will need extra space to be able to fit their feet and head inside the camera’s viewing angle. Furthermore, many games require you to jump in the air repeatedly. After playing nearly a dozen Kinect games over the last couple days, my neighbors probably despise me. It’s hard to be a polite neighbor when a game requires me to launch my 190-pound body into the air a dozen times per race, which can send booms and vibrations shaking through the entire building. Kinect is ideal for a large home with a sturdy floor.
Kinect represents a great opportunity for Microsoft. The glamour of Nintendo Wii is finally fading from the public eye, and there’s a new opening for technology to grab the mass consumer’s attention. Microsoft is seemingly copying Nintendo’s strategy verbatim. They’re releasing in early November so that there’s enough time to build an installed base before Thanksgiving and the all-important shopping holiday, Black Friday. Wii succeeded largely because gamers were showing off their new motion control gaming system to their relatives during the holiday. Then the next morning millions of people rushed out, convinced it was the perfect Christmas gift. Over the years, Wii has had two standout successes. Dance games, like the runaway hit Just Dance, and exercise games barely existed before Wii. Now Microsoft has created a system that does those two things perfectly in an attempt to take control of the market Wii created.
And it has the chops to do so. If Microsoft can sell enough copies of Dance Central before Thanksgiving, then I believe this system will capture that hearts of millions of people interested in dancing and workout games this Christmas.
Kinect has gotten a lot of flak leading up to its release, as people complained that they want to use games to relax, and Kinect forces you to stand up and be active. This is true. However, it’s attached to an Xbox 360 which certainly allows you the privilege of slacking off and relaxing. Kinect is made to enhance active and energetic games. By and large, it does this pretty well. Kinect gets you off the couch and often provides a great workout. If that’s not what you’re into (or not what you’re into that particular day), your Xbox 360 still has you covered.
Kinect isn’t a hardcore peripheral. Developers aren’t going to be able to create the deep, compelling experiences hardcore gamers crave without the privilege of using buttons. However, if dancing or getting in shape is your passion, then Kinect is going to open up a whole new world of possibilities untouched by Wii or Move.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
Horizontal field of view: 57 degrees
Vertical field of view: 43 degrees
Physical tilt range: 27 degrees
Depth sensor range: 1.2m – 3.5m
320×240 16-bit depth and 640×480 32-bit color @ 30 frames/sec
16-bit audio @ 16 kHz
Tracks up to 6 people, including 2 active players
Tracks 20 joints per active player
Maps active players to Xbox Avatars
Xbox LIVE party chat and in-game voice chat (requires Xbox LIVE Gold Membership)
Speech recognition in multiple languages