Kinect Games have rarely impressed me. Having reviewed a some, played more, and enjoyed few along the way, I still haven't been convinced the Kinect has been more than a life-extending opportunity for the 360. Sure I've learned how to Soulja Boy, and the lyrics to "Black and White" by Michael Jackson, but I've also played some terribly awkward javelin throwing, and spent hours learning how to kick someone in the groin recently playing Self Defense Training Camp.
Needless to say, Kinect Sports Season Two was completely off my radar this year, and when it landed in my hands, I was a bit hesitant, since I haven't been the Kinect's staunchest supporter. Still, any game from Rare peaks my curiosity enough to want to try.
Right away, the game's interface impresses before you even get into the events. While the graphics and the layout are similar to the first, the menus are responsive to your motions, and easy to navigate through. A great bit of detail included here is the fact that the game asks you where your Kinect is in correlation with your TV, and recalibrates the way it reads your movements. A very simple, but very effective tool. You should find that the game is fairly responsive to your motions and commands as a result.
Another interesting facet is the fact that the game can be used very heavily for voice interaction rather than motion interaction. Anything you do with your hands, you can also do with your voice as you navigate. As Microsoft begins to introduce voice intensive applications (such as the upcoming Rogers on Demand in Canada,) this is a good introduction to the way things work.
The thing about Kinect Development overall is that I imagine it must take forever to properly render and quality assure a single mode of game play. As a result, the game offers just 6 different sports to choose from, though they all come with a few different ways of playing them.
Tennis is a bust, plain and simple. Playing tennis handball style is always shoddy at best, but I'd sooner compliment and play the mediocre Kinect mode of Virtua Tennis 4 before this one. The biggest problem I have with arm tennis is this: Your arm is one limb, and a tennis racket is another that moves independent from it while in your hand. Having your arm act as both doesn't work. It's trying to be a tennis racket from the way your wrist moves, and as a result, you find numerous shots from the racket hitting the spine of the racket on screen. The target practice mode ends up being a bit strange, because you then see that the game is essentially just auto-targeting the mascots on screen with the flick of a wrist, rather than needing actual strategy. It completely defeats the purpose (and fun) of the whole challenge. You COULD grab a TV remote or something and use that as a mock tennis racket, but it then defeats the purpose of the Kinect's motion gaming doesn't it?
Also a bit of a bust is baseball, though, it's better than tennis. Far better than tennis. You swing your simulated air bat at the ball. It's a very difficult mini-game to master, as your timing has to be right on, and you absolutely must be standing in the same batting stance at the character on screen for it to work properly. Unfortunately, because you don't have a tangible piece of property in your hands simulating the bat (and the bat has to be rendered by your arm motions), you may find that the swing is correct, but the bat's responsiveness itself is not. What's interesting, however, is the game recognizes that you must be using both arms to properly swing. You cannot one arm like you can with, say, Wii Sports. If you only use one arm, you won't get a proper swing out of it all.
The next sport is golf, which is basically as it is. Once again, your arms mimic swinging a virtual club. Here, you begin to see a bit more perfection in response to your virtual swings. The game is responsive, the club swings as it should, but again, you can't half it and need to do a full swing with both arms. Golfing is pretty straight forward and conventional until you get to the ocean drive (driving range into the ocean) event, and a weird clown dances suggestively beside you while you're golfing. It's too bizarre for words, really.
Next up is "American" football. Keeping in mind Rare IS a British company (though BigPark is based of out of Vancouver, BC), they had to specifically go to the lengths to call it American Football lest it be confused with soccer. This mode starts to show you how good the game can be if you stop the reliance on peripheral sporting, and focus more on the sprite itself. In this mode, you play the role of quarterback, receiver and kicker as you look to do nothing but score points. As QB, you crouch, hike and throw an air football, and then throw to the receiver, whose feet and juking abilities you then assume. Toss rules and reality out the window, however. You CAN kick 60 yard field goals, and complete every pass if you try. Keep in mind that this IS a family game, so this is basically a high level, fast moving version of the game. This is pretty fun overall, though you may want to put your breakables away running on the spot like a tied up bull in a red room.
Far and away, the best modes are skiing and darts. Darts is fairly straight forward. You mimic the throwing motion of darts as best you can, and look to score 301 on the virtual dartboard. The presentation is a bit strange, as it appears as though you're playing on the set of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," but it works for a video game. It even helps you understand the basic rules of darts if you're not aware (such as doubles for checkouts) and guides you to where you should be aiming for as well (it can be turned off). This mode is available for 4 players as well.
Once you're done with that, check out the skiing part of this game, which has the downhill dash, perhaps my new personal favorite Kinect mode. Skiing is very similar to standing on the old Nintendo Slalom arcade machines, though you will be shifting left to right. This is a full battle of your reflexes, and one of the exact things I thought the Kinect would be doing a bit better by now. You can spend hours alone playing the downhill dash, and I would wager it to be the best minigame in this whole edition of Kinect Sports.
All the while, you can collect virtual "fans" for accomplishing tasks and see how many calories you burned with each challenge. These calorie counters are always going to be a bit inaccurate, so take them with a grain of salt. I found it strange to burn 30 calories standing in a straight line throwing fake darts while burning 4 playing "golf" for 10 minutes.
All in all, this game brings you closer to the true capabilities of the Kinect. It's a bit limited in terms of gaming options, but it's a good addition to the family's Kinect library in any event. This is closer to exposing what the Kinect is capable of, and forgetting tennis, will provide hours of fun to those looking for a decent background party game that you can get most of your friends into. The nice part about Kinect games is they're rarely full retail prices, so you should be able to snap this one up and bring it home much cheaper than a full priced game too.
Keep it in the forefront of your mind for holiday season purchase ideas for the kids.
Suggestions: It's hard, really, to portray what I'd like to see out of Kinect Sports Season 3, but I'd like to see a heavier focus on individual movement sports rather than sports that require you to swing rackets, or sticks. For example, there would be greatest success of out of say, Kinect Boxing than Ice Hockey. When the sports are so equipment heavy, it's too troublesome for the Kinect (or for the player really) to pretend there's something there. I found myself reaching for a remote control, or an item I could hold during baseball and tennis, just so I had something to help me mimic motions better. That, to me is cheapening the purpose of the Kinect, which is supposed to be gaming through my motions alone.
Some suggestions for Kinect Sports Season 3 that play more into motion heaviness? Equestrian/horse racing. Dodgeball. Speed Skating. More reflex heavy games might be neat too.