Hands-on with Kinect (oh the irony)

Yesterday I got some hands-on time with Microsoft’s upcoming delve into the world of motion controls, Kinect and was really quite surprised with the results. First it actually worked and for the most part, worked well and second, the game I thought had the least potential was in fact the most enjoyable.

Read on to find out my full experience.

Lets start with the controller-less controls. If Kinect and the TVs were setup more like a living room and less like a presentation hall, I think my experience would have been better. The televisions were quite high on the wall whereas the Kinect peripheral sat at a similar level as any media centre at home. The problem came with judging the perspectives since all the games made you place your hand over on-screen buttons. I kept elevating my hand to a level that felt right in relationship to the screen but with the TV aloft and the Kinect low down, I had to instead awkwardly wave it in front of me. I’m hoping this is something that can be changed in the general settings of Kinect because it could really screw up those who have wall mounted TV sets. There did seem to be a little bit of lag from my motions to that on screen but it only happened in the menu screens leading me to believe it was a purposeful lag so not to need pin-point accuracy when simply navigating the menu. Besides the height issues, Kinect so far worked and didn’t seem wrong not to have a controller in hand.

I was ushered onto Kinect Joy Ride which, like all the games I played yesterday, is a launch title. As I stepped onto a bright green floor, my brother took place next to me and where both told to stretch our arms out in front of us and pretend to hold a steering wheel. Naturally I felt quite the fool and thought I’d be in for more crashes and troublesome handling than entertaining gameplay. I received the opposite. Kinect Joy Ride felt by far the most responsive and even the most fun I had with Kinect. Turning corners was done with ease and the pulling back then pushing forward motion to boost happened every time without embarrassing arm pumps. To drift around corners my brother and I had to turn our whole bodies to skid our respective cars which may have been a little over the top but I was having too much fun to care. Kinect Joy Ride is a family friendly kart racer with large jumps allowing for tricks to gain extra points. Again a whole shift of the body was needed to initiate tricks and again I was loving it. The difficulty wasn’t so kid orientated that we breezed through it but rather challenging enough that the game put up a good fight right until the end. I really thought that Kinect Joy Ride with it missing steering wheel was going to be lame but it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. It was great.

Next on my journey around the very white room came Kinect Adventures that is most definitely a family game. My brother and I played the now infamous rafting level with the two of us in one raft that had to be controlled with almost simultaneous movements. These were either stepping left or right and jumping or ducking. The object was to traverse an Amazonian river and collect floating discs along the way. When the motions of me and my sibling were in time, Kinect Adventures was fairly enjoyable though if only one of us stepped or jumped then the whole thing became a mess. But this forced co-operation actually plays really well into the party game genre. Imagine a parent and youngster playing Kinect Adventures with one joyfully commanding the other to move. There’d be laughs a plenty (unless of course it’s one of those competitive parents…) And it’s a good way to get non-gamers involved in your hobby because all they have to do is follow your orders. For me and my brother however, Kinect Adventures didn’t quite click with us. Maybe it was our inability to coordinate ourselves or maybe it was the average level design – or indeed the combination of the two. Hopefully the rest of the game would open up the longer you play but this afternoon I was happy to move onto the next adventure.

So moving on I played my brother at table tennis in Kinect Sports. A bizarre name really because with sports generally comes movement and no matter how animated we became, the avatars on screen seemed motionless other than their flailing arms. Spin could be added to the balls and a few other hand-twisting moves were made to play the well known game of table tennis though a lot of the time we were stuck in a laborious back and forth relay until I grew bored and ‘missed’. What’s odd is that the specifics of subtle twists of the hand were easily picked up by Kinect but the software didn’t do a lot with it. So at least the peripheral kept up its part of the bargain by registering our every move it’s just a shame that those movements weren’t utilised. I thought that table tennis of Kinect Sports would have been the easiest and most intuitive but while the basics of the sport we intact, anything above that felt lost.

What I played yesterday was just a taster of Kinect and its launch titles. The hardware itself acted as it should have and as Microsoft have been promising – providing a way to control games competently without the need of a game pad. At this very early stage in the peripherals life, it a good start with Kinect Joy Ride being such a surprising laugh that my interest in Kinect has been reignited after slowly fading. From what I saw of Dance Central (I don’t dance) that looks like it could well be the killer app for Microsoft and the game it needs to keep Kinect above the torrent of negativity that some press have been giving it recently. I definitely had fun and can see the potential for less party games and more ‘serious’ titles to adopt the motion-sensing abilities of Kinect. Will the Call of Duty and Fifa only gamers be won over? I doubt it. But I sincerely hope that despite such resistance, Microsoft don’t allow their promising tech to become nothing more than an answer to the Wii.


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