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January 27, 2012

Joining The Xbox Nation, Part Two

 This is the second in a three-part series of Xbox 360 Kinect reviews. Part One is here.


The boy was skeptical, as was I: would the Kinect deliver on its controller-free promise?

The answer? Sorta.

First, I had to set the thing up. The Kinect requires that you have a certain amount of floor space; our couch protruded into the thing's optimal zone, so I had to do a bit of furniture re-arranging. Not a problem for me, so much as an inconvenience; I backed it up a foot, and moved the attached ottoman over to the right side to free up the space we'd need to jump, swing our arms, and run in place. (Those of you with a small TV room, or one with a ton of furniture, beware: you might need to do some serious remodeling.) Navigating via the Kinect requires you to use different gestures, kind of like Tom Cruise does with his various future computers in Minority Report. It takes a bit of getting used to, and for younger kids, this might be frustrating, especially as the menu navigation functions can differ from one game to the next. (One suggestion: use the voice control whenever possible.)

Then we dove into the games. First, we tried our hand at Kinect Sports 2. Literally - Lucas and I started off with the Darts game. Easy to control, the game is a first-person...thrower? You mimic the motion of throwing darts at a board and voila, the darts go where you toss them. It does require precision, which was frustrating to the 7-year-old, but hey, so's real darts, so deal with it, kid. The tennis and golf games were much more fun for him; the commands for the golf game were a bit involved for him, as you can do much more with the Kinect golf than its Wii Sports counterpart - crouch to read the greens, for example. The tennis game is far superior to the Wii Sports version; you can move across the court, and the service motion hews closely to how one actually serves the ball in real tennis. 

Next, we tried "Kinect Disneyland", a game that's not as kid-friendly as it seems, primarily due to control functions and fairly complex gameplay. Of course Zoe wanted to play "the Disney Princess game", but nearly all of it was well past her 4-year-old abilities. The premise is pretty cool: you wander through an uncannily accurate representation of the Happiest Place On Earth, meeting characters and going on rides. The rides themselves are games-within-the-game; Space Mountain, for example, is an outer space shooter that requires players to navigate through obstacles and blow stuff up. (G-rated explosions, of course, sans the flying limbs and bloodsprays found in the rated M fare). The motions that you use to move and interact are pretty complicated; the Kinect didn't always pick them up, and when Zoe and Lucas played together, they kept getting reminders to stay within the Kinect's sensor range, or to back up when getting too close - which they couldn't help, given the size of our TV room. And the complexity of the gameplay went right over Zoe's head. I'll put Kinect: Disneyland in the "Major Disappointment" category.

We had a bit more success - and fun - with "Kinect Adventures". Like the Kinect Sports games, this game consists of several min-games that showcase the Kinect's ability to translate human movements to the screen. The games themselves are fairly fast-moving and require a good amount of agility - and room. (Again, this is a potential issue for folks with a small TV room.) Our favorites were Reflex Ridge and River Rush. Reflex Ridge is a Wipeout-style obstacle course; players need to jump, sidestep, and duck their way past bumpers, and both of the kids were able to pick up the moves necessary to complete the challenge. In River Rush, players ride a raft down a series of rapids, jumping and sidestepping to avoid rocks and other obstacles. Again, simplicity of play is the big draw here - after a few tries, Zoe figured out how to steer her raft, and had a great time with it. The games might be a bit tedious for adults - and might be tough on the knees, as you do a lot of ducking and jumping - but kids should have a blast.

Still, I was hoping that Zoe would find her perfect game. Would it be "Kinectimals"? And if so, would the cute fuzzy virtual bears make me want to fling the console and myself out the window? And when would I get to play some grown-up games? All will be revealed on Monday. 




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