Review: Xbox Kinect and Kinect Adventures

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The Nintendo has its Wii. Sony, Move. Now, it’s Microsoft’s turn to rollout motion-controlled gaming to its fanbase with Kinect. Unlike Wii or Move, Kinect doesn’t require a user to handle any controllers at all – its collection of motion-sensing cameras and microphones mean you control games and Xbox features with your body and your voice. Bought as a bundle with the new Xbox 360 Slim, or as a standalone product, both SKUs come with Kinect Adventures, yet another mini-game game.

I coincidentally (no, really) had a trip back to Canada at the same time as Kinect’s release…a full two weeks earlier than the Aussie one. I naturally picked one up, plus Dance Central, for a very good price – for once, the foreign currency exchange worked in my favour! Still relatively cheap at $200AU for the standalone Kinect, is this the future of gaming, or another gimmick that’ll end up gathering dust in the back of your closet?

The hot: I was sceptical about Kinect – it looked too good to be true when first introduced at E3 a couple years ago, and its lineup of launch titles screamed, “casual gamers only!” to me. Even so, that scepticism was quickly replaced by excitement when I hooked up my sensor to the Xbox – before even trying a game! I blame the tech geek in me.

I spent a couple minutes calibrating the sensor, and then waved to launch the Kinect Hub. That’s it – Kinect will pick up a simple wave from left to right and give you a myriad of options you can use your body or voice with to control your console. You can move your arm to highlight, then hold to actually choose an option in the Hub (open tray, play game, achievements, etc), or simply say, “Xbox. Open tray.” to have it happen. The cameras and the microphones work pretty flawlessly – I never found myself having to repeat a motion or a voice command to get something done.

The included game, Kinect Adventures, is a terrific showcase for Kinect’s functionality. A mini-game title, the “Adventures” are grouped into Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced categories, and feature events like water rafting, plugging holes in an underwater container that’s springing a leaks, a Kinectified version of handball, and more. Upon completing a grouping of Adventures, you’re presented with a Living Statue – and of course, you can use Kinect to make a 10-second recording of yourself animating the Statue’s actions and putting words in its mouth. The clips, plus photos that Kinect takes during your Adventures, can be uploaded to KinectShare.com for your eyes only – that is, until you elect to share them with a variety of social networking portals.

At first, Kinect Adventures seems like a kiddie game, but you get sucked in pretty quickly. I tried the online component and faced off in a race against some random opponent…and we both got achievements in the end for trying in what felt like a let down for a hardcore gamer like me, because I won and should have received the spoils. Still, it’s meant for families, it’s meant to learn how Kinect works and to get comfortable with the technology, and it’s meant for fun. It’d be a GREAT party game…especially accompanied by a little alcohol.

The meh: I was…lucky…enough to try out Kinect with two cats and a one-year-old nephew in the room; the sensor didn’t get tripped up by the felines, but my nephew confused Kinect in all kinds of ways. If my nephew walked into view of the sensor, he was sometimes picked up as a second player (and YAY for the first time – I got an achievement for it!), but his height made the second character glitch out and look as if he was having a seizure of some type on-screen. Otherwise, my nephew wanted me to pick him up, or take whatever he had in his hands off him; as soon as Kinect couldn’t see my hand as it was attached to a child or a bottle, I “lost” that arm in my game. Safe to assume the same will happen if you decide to hold a controller, or beer, or…

The cold: Kinect Adventures is alright, but nothing to write home about. If Kinect is supposed to be Microsoft’s Wii-killer, they’re going to need titles that don’t do the same essential thing that Wii does, only in HD. When it comes right down to it, Adventures is a flail-a-thon that will have more appear to casual gamers, or initial but immediately fading value to those hardcore gamers who’ve just picked up a sensor. It’s easy achievements though, at the very least.

The unit itself has some drawbacks – I know for a fact that I’ve got about half the space in my apartment’s living room than I do in my sister’s house. Kinect was CONSTANTLY telling me that it wanted me to back up and be about 6-8 feet away from the unit…which I know is going to be a stretch at home. That’s okay, says Kinect – just move your coffee table, furniture, maybe knock out a wall; easy enough for Kinect to say, but we all don’t have homes like Microsoft big-wigs might. I shudder to think what will happen when two fully-grown adults try to play together in my living room. A mount for HD televisions will soon be released by Microsoft so you can put the sensor on top of your flat-screen, in an attempt to combat space restraints, but I’m not that crazy about having to splash down more cash for a fix that may or may not work.

I mentioned launch titles before, and I’ll do it again – Dance Central is a Rock Band-esque dancing game from Harmonix (hence the Rock Band-eqsueness) and billed as Kinect’s killer app. It’s good – check back later for a full review. Otherwise, the games are standard Nintendo Wii fare, just jazzed up a bit – Your Shape is akin to Wii Fit, and there’s even a Kinect Sports game mimicking Wii Sports. Other titles include Sonic Free Riders, Kinect Joy Ride, and Kinectimals…which I’ll admit to being a bit excited about. Still, not a lot for hardcore gamers.

Oh, and that voice recognition I was speaking about before? I have it on my Canadian Kinect, but Australia won’t until Spring 2011. Sorry about that. Not to worry though, because apparently there are DOZENS of voice commands that you can speak (eventually)…they’re just not fully documented anywhere. There are a couple commands listed here, but even that page admits it only has “common” commands. The biggest downer? I was looking forward to starting, pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding and stopping movies with my voice, but that functionality isn’t available inside the Xbox Video Library…where all of my movies and television shows are accessed.

The bottom line? Kinect is a great piece of technology and it’s not hard to see countless applications for it, both within the Xbox 360 dashboard – not just Kinect Hub, please – and in games. That being said, it has got a long way to go before I will – or could, for that matter – ditch my tried-and-true controller. The sensor, and Kinect Adventures, gets a Cool from this reviewer – Xbox owners with families and those interested by neat tech should pick this up, as should gamers looking to get into a more interactive experience from their console – maybe those who were considering a Wii that haven’t bought one yet (all three of you). If you’re not finding yourself in any of those groups, I’d suggest giving Kinect a try first at a friend’s house or at a local games shop – I don’t think there’s much middle-ground here with what’s available; you’ll either love it, or be disinterested.