The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Boom Ball for Xbox One

Posted by steve on December - 14 - 2014 with 1 Comment

boom ball for kinect review

Boom Ball for Kinect

Reviewed by Steve on .
Probably the best true demonstration of the Kinect 2.0’s capabilities to date.
While derivative of other “breakout” games dating back to Pong, Boom Ball for Kinect is a refreshingly smooth, crisp, and responsive game that demonstrates the potential of the Kinect 2.0 much more strongly than full-priced games like Kinect Sports Rivals. At $9.99, it’s a must-have for any Kinect fan.
Rating: 4.5

Some of you might recall a few years ago when I chose Kung Fu High Impact as the top Kinect game for fitness and exercise. For me, the whole concept of putting you in the game and having you be the game’s “main character” (vs. an annoyingly sluggish and overly stylized cartoon avatar) was simply revolutionary. I got a kick (literally) out of seeing myself on the screen kicking and punching bad guys in real-time.

In a lot of ways, that game and its developer, Virtual Air Guitar Company, was way ahead of its time. Had there been more games that truly took thought “out of the box” and innovated as it had for the Kinect, the Kinect might have had a much better reputation today. But sadly, most developers “played it safe” and treated the Kinect as an afterthought instead of really looking to exploit its capabilities. The rest is history–users didn’t see anything special in the Kinect and when Microsoft tried to force everyone who bought an Xbox One to buy a Kinect 2.0 as well, users revolted. It didn’t really help that new Kinect 2.0 games that were supposed to showcase the true power of Kinect 2.0 like Fighter Within and Kinect Sports Rivals ended up feeling anything but innovative.

And so I was excited when I heard that the Virtual Air Guitar Company is still at it, and has just released a new game called Boom Ball for Kinect.

When you first start up the game, you know right away it’s going to be a lighthearted game. There’s a bright yellow splash page where you sign into your Xbox account, get recognized by the Kinect camera (you’ll show up as a red silhouette), and hover over a big “Play” button to start. As with most Kinect games, using your hands to control a cursor on-screen can take a bit of getting used to, but I really appreciate how the developers made all the buttons big and easy to handle.

Another thing I noticed very quickly is that the play area is much, much improved over the Kinect 1.0. My Kinect is only about 5 feet from my playing area, and yet I had a full range of motion.

You’re brought to a “game board” similar to what you’d see in Angry Birds or Candy Crush. There are a total of 55 levels to beat. One thing I absolutely loved was that instead of waving your hand frantically to try to scroll the page, they created a brilliant user experience where to scroll the page, you “grab” at the page and then drag it around. Seems like such a simple concept, but one that’s been foreign to so many Kinect developers.

The best way I can describe the game is that it’s sort of like a cross between one of those “brick destroying” video games like Arkanoid or Breakout and a real game of handball, squash, or racquetball. You have a first-person vantage point where you can control the speed, angle, and trajectory of the ball and use the walls to your advantage (or disadvantage) as if you were on a handball court.

You hold a translucent “paddle” in each of your hands, and your challenge is to keep the ball in play and destroy as many “bricks” as you can in front of you without letting the ball get past you. Along the way you’ll be aided by red blocks that “explode”, purple balls that destroy everything in their path, “multi-ball” that works a lot like it does in pinball, and more. As you get close to finishing each round, you’ll be treated to BOOM TIME where you can throw fireballs that home in on the remaining blocks.

The amount of control and precision you have is incredible, and everyone who develops games for the Kinect 2.0 should be required to play this. The physics of the ball is just like you’d expect in real life, and as you move left and right in the play area the scene on the television will move along with you. I didn’t experience any of the lag that plagues so many other Kinect games.

While there’s a bit of a learning curve to play (just like there’s a learning curve for playing real handball), within minutes I was learning how to angle balls, use different amounts of force, and otherwise improve my control of the game. Once you get the hang of it, it’s wildly addicting; once you beat the round, you’ll want to play each one again to beat the “silver” and “gold” score and then to try to finish the round without losing any of your five lives per round.

I can’t say enough about how beautiful the graphics and the animations are. There are scenes in the forest with beautifully rendered fireflies hovering around you, and yet they don’t distract you but make the scene seem to come alive. There’s one scene where there are bricks shaped like ducks flying around that you have to hit. In some scenes, the bricks have eyeballs and faces that react in terror when you hit a ball that comes close to them. There are subtle pieces of humor throughout the game that make it all the more engaging.

If I had one gripe about the game, it’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to judge the depth of the balls or the targets or even your own hands, which can sometimes lead to frustrating misses as a ball will sail past you. They do try to compensate by giving you visual cues (the ball will glow green when your hand is on target to hit it), but sometimes everything is moving so fast that doesn’t help. This is an instance where stereoscopic 3D capability would probably have gone a long way to improving gameplay. Alas, this is an avenue that neither Microsoft nor Sony seem interested in pursuing in their latest generation of consoles, so they did the best they could.

Another very minor annoyance was that at times the game seemed too sensitive. When selecting menu options, for example, while my hand was tracked precisely, there was a “hurky jerky” quality about it that made me feel I wasn’t quite in control. Same thing during gameplay–at times I didn’t feel quite in control of my hands and the ball as I would in real life. That said, these have been inherent in all Kinect games I’ve played, and this game does a better job at most at least at controlling it.

While this is touted as a kids game, admittedly, I don’t know a lot of kids, especially younger ones, who’ll have the patience to “learn the game” and exhibit the discipline and subtlety to control it right. That said, for those parents and kids who do enjoy the game, it reinforces fundamentals of sports like “keep your eye on the ball” and ball angles and physics that are so important in sports like baseball and tennis.

Since this blog is called “Xbox Fitness”, I should add that on its own there’s not much as far as aerobic workout. But as with any other Kinect game like this, you can make it into a fitness game pretty easily by adding hand weights and moving around a little more.

Overall, I continue to be impressed by the Virtual Air Guitar Company. They seem to understand good user experience and the potential of the Kinect in ways that most other publishers, even Microsoft, don’t.

Boom Ball for Kinect is available from the Xbox Marketplace at the very reasonable price of $9.99. And if you’re someone who despite everything is still a fan of the Kinect and believes in its potential, I’d say this game is a must-buy.

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