STAFF REVIEW of Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One)

Monday, April 7, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Kinect Sports Rivals Box art When most people think of Kinect based games, they probably envision some form of dancing and/or flailing your arms around. On the Xbox 360, you had to just have the right setup, enough floor space, and perfect lighting if you wanted many of the games to work perfectly as intended. There were a handful of games that worked quite well with Kinect though, as long as you had the appropriate amount of floor space to play properly. Now with the inclusion of the new and improved Kinect 2.0 in every Xbox One box, Kinect Sports Rivals (KSR) has finally arrived and will possibly answer many questions you may have had about its improvements from the previous generation camera.

While there have been a handful of Xbox One games that do make use of Kinect, Kinect Sports Rivals is really the first true Kinect exclusive title since launch that Microsoft has to really prove what the new Kinect can do and that it was a wise choice to include one in with every console purchase. After quite a bit of time playing with it and learning the smallest nuances, it’s safe to say that KSR makes incredible use of the newly updated Kinect and if you were a big fan of the original Kinect Sports and Season 2, there are some new tricks for you to learn as well.

While the core of KSR is a sports game designed to better your times and scores and challenge your friends, there is a story included here as well. You’re the newest Champion to The Island, the beautiful backdrop where all these sporting events take place. Being the newest recruit, you’re quickly introduced to the three factions that are all biding for control of The Island and the best athletes on their team, you.

Blake and Carmen make up the Eagle Legion, determined to play with absolute honor and being the best with sportsmanship and skill. Wolf Clan is represented by Vargu and Eve and are fierce competitors, so much so that they can even sometimes clash with each other’s leadership. Last up is the Viper Network, controlled by Zara and Max. They are the modern chic team that will do anything to win; anything.

Coach is whom you’ll initially meet as you arrive to The Island, voiced by William Hope, and he will be the one to motivate you and initially teach you how to properly play each of the six included sports. As you progress further and complete more events, you’ll eventually be poised with choosing one of the three teams to join, so choose wisely the team that best represents you. Go Team Viper!

If you’ve played the previous Kinect Sports titles then you’ll feel right at home with three of the events; Bowling, Tennis, and Soccer. They return alongside three new sports for you to master as well; Climbing, Wake Racing, and Target Shooting. But there’s something awesome you need to do before you even play your first sporting event; put yourself into the game.

KSR uses the power of the new Kinect hardware to make a digitized version of yourself and put it into the game, called your Champion. The first step will be to stand in front of the camera as it scans your body and then you get closer so that it can do the same for your face. This is where the magic happens, as it will get you to tilt and move your head in different directions to learn as much as your face as it can before digitizing it. I have to be honest, this is probably my favorite part about all of KSR. Champion creating is probably the more fun aspect about the whole game and it’s quite accurate. It got my beard and hair just right and you could easily tell that my Champion was me. If you want to edit certain aspects or features about your Champion though, you can do so as well by changing the body type, hair, facial hair, glasses, and more. Again, it’s downright impressive how accurate the Champion creator is and even though it’s a stylized cartoon representation of yourself in the game, it really is you.

So let’s move onto the six sports included in KSR that your Champion will be competing in. First up is Wake Racing. Here you pretend you’re actually on a jet-ski and steer as if you were pushing and pulling the handle bars, not like a steering wheel. To accelerate you close your right fist and can even lean to the side for those very sharp turns when you don’t want to let go of the gas (by opening your clenched hand). Hit a ramp or a large wave and you can do front and backflips by simply learning forward or backwards. Combine that with letting go of the handle bars and you can amass some sweet style tricks for more fans. While most people will play standing up, Wake Racing is one of the sports that can be fully played by sitting down as well if you want a slightly more relaxing session.

One of the classics from the previous games, Bowling, returns much improved. One of the easiest sports to play is now even more accurate and gives you much finer control with the bowling balls. Since Kinect can now see open and closed hands and wrist movements in much more detail, the smallest angles and release times will make a big difference in your quest to score 300, much like in real life. Grab a ball, stand where you prefer in the lane, then bowl just as you would in real life, even adding a mass amount of spin if you have the skill to do so accurately.

Climbing is one of the newer sports included in KSR. Essentially rock climbing, you will be scaling the side of a structure with predesigned paths laid out for your Champion. You reach above your head open handed, clench your fist, and then pull down past your chest. Repeat with the other hand, just as you climb in real life, and that’s how the climbing events work. You’ll need to manage your stamina gauge and can even jump for a big boost if the gaps are too large for your arms to reach. Careful of the other competitors on the same facing though, as they’ll try and pull you off, making you lose precious time. The later courses become quite challenging, and while there’s always an ‘easy’ path paid out with green hand and footholds, if you think you have the skill, you can take the shorter but more difficult ‘red’ route that has many less holds to be used and even ones that will break after a few seconds if you don’t keep progressing upwards.

Soccer returns in KSR but has been slightly tweaked for better accuracy and better ‘wow’ moments. While you may not be running the field from one end to the other, it plays just like the previous instalment where you pass from attacker to attacker until you are able to take a powerful shot on goal when in range. This improved version in KSR now allows you to choose the direction and height of the ball to get to your final attacker before scoring a head-butt or powerful kick goal. The improved leg tracking is very noticeable when you need to lob the ball over a defender and not simply pass when he’s not blocking your teammate.

Target Shooting has you holding out your arm and hand like you pretend you’re holding a gun, holding your cursor over the target you want to shoot for a brief moment. You don’t need to pull the trigger or make any shooting gestures, just simply hover over the intended target for a moment and it will shoot it. This becomes quite difficult once your targets start moving, or need to be shot in sequence or within a certain amount of time for the most points. There is a barrier between you and your opponent, each shooting your own targets, but at times the targets may go above the top of the barrier, and this is the time where you can steal your opponent’s targets to add to your own score. There’s even a mechanic in place that eventually allows you to activate a turret on your opponents side of the barrier that will try and shoot him to stun him, where he needs to dodge (by leaning) to avoid getting hit, though still trying to shoot his targets.

The last sport included in KSR is the return of Tennis. Like the previous iteration, you’re not really running from one court side to the other to chase the ball, but instead choosing to slice, hit, lob, or smash the ball back to your opponent’s side. You have different types of shots you can make based on the angle that you hit the ball accurately with.

While the sports themselves might sound basic, there are also three different powerups that you can use in each event to help you edge out your rivals. My favorites for example are the Speed Boosts in Wake Racing and Super Jump in Climbing. There are other types and can play into your strategies and play style. These powerups make the split screen gameplay that much more fun when you use it at the best time possible.

Every time you complete an event in any sport, you gain XP in that sport (for its own individual level and unlocks) and more overall fans which rank you up into the higher tier leagues and rivals. This event XP is how you gain levels and access to the highest level equipment and powerups. There are even awesome and unique clothing options to unlock per sport as well and you’ll have to choose wisely what to spend your coins on if you want the best equipment and costumes.

If you’re a Kinect skeptic from the previous generation, download the Pre-Season demo and try out Wake Racing to see the difference in accuracy. Sadly the demo doesn’t showcase the Champion creator, easily my favorite part of KSR, but know that I never once had any issues with Kinect properly tracking me, even in my very confined play space. I was more than impressed with the quality increase from the new Kinect, as I never had to stop a game and recalibrate, which was an issue from the previous generation; it just always worked, and well. The only negative I really have noted down was that you’ll randomly hit spikes of difficulty, implying that you need to be better or to purchase better equipment. Also, the cutscenes with the teams and Coach are unskippable, which can be annoying when you need to win first place to proceed and are retrying a stage for a third of fourth time, having to watch the same scene over again.

Again, seeing yourself being scanned into the game and your Champion being created is done in a very cool way and I highly suggest having anyone that comes over to your place to have them try out not only the sports, but to digitize themselves into the game and start earning those fans.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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