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The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Kinect Sports 2 for Kinect

Posted by steve on November - 1 - 2011 with 2 Comments

Kinect Sports 2

Not a bad game in itself, but it could have been a lot more

Kinect Sports showed off the capabilities of the Kinect. With Kinect Sports 2, it feels like the developers more or less phoned it in. While you can still have a lot of fun with the game, it falls well short of a game that really takes advantage of the full potential of the Kinect.

Rating by steve: 4 stars
***1/2

I’m a big fan of the original Kinect Sports. It was the game that convinced me to buy an Xbox 360. In many ways it was the perfect showcase for the Kinect’s potential for virtual reality and video game exercise.

The best analogy I can come up with for Kinect Sports Season Two is that Kinect Sports Season Two is to the original as the movie The Matrix Reloaded is to The Matrix. On its own merits it’s not a horrible game, but when compared to the iconic original there’s just something really lacking.

Much of the feel of Kinect Sports Season Two is carried over the original, for better and worse. The graphics are still cartoony and your Kinect avatar is still there. There’s still a loud and exuberant announcer with a quasi-European accent. After gameplay, you’re still treated to videos of yourself looking silly.

There are some interesting improvements. For all the sports you have the option of competing as a single player against the Xbox, head-to-head against another human, or online through Xbox Live. There’s also a mini-game associated with each sport.

What’s completely different, of course, is that there are six new sports. Some of them are excellent, others not so much so. I’ll provide my take on each.

1) FOOTBALL: This is a “simulation” of American football. I put the word simulation in quotation marks because this isn’t exactly John Madden Football.

You start out by receiving an opening kick. There’s no challenge in this, you just raise your hand when you’re ready to receive it. Then you run in place as opponents try to tackle you. Oddly, there doesn’t seeem to be a way break nor block tackles–you just keep running in place as fast as you can until someone takes you down (In fact, I found just flailing my arms was good enough).

Whoever designed the game either didn’t understand or decided to take liberties with the rules of football. In real football, you try to advance 10 yards in four downs by rushing or passing. In this game, there’s no rushing, only passing. And you have to move down the whole field in four downs and score a touchdown or a field goal.

In order to pass, you need to choose a play from a “playbook” (or have the coach call it). The “plays” are all simple patterns that all end up with one receiver to your left, one in front of you, and one to your right.

To start play, you’re brought to a screen where you’re the quarterback in back of your offensive line. You need to crouch down and then jump up (or say “Ready, Hike”) to receive the snap. When a little green icon appears over one of the three receivers’ heads, you need to make a passing motion with your arm in that receiver’s direction. Time it right, and you make a completion. Once that happens, you run in place at breakneck speed again to try to gain more yardage.

Once you score or if there’s a turnover on “downs”, the system will simulate your opponent’s drive (you don’t play defense). The opponent will either score or punt, and then it’s your turn again. Score more than your opponent and you win the game.

All and all, I thought the game was fun enough, and all that running in place was certainly good exercise. But there was just so much potential lost. At the end of the day, this was a game that really didn’t use the Kinect’s capabilities as well as it could have to come close to simulating the real sport, whether it was letting you catch a football, evade a tackle, run a pattern, or throw a football in something other than three general directions. I give the football portion 3.5 of 5 stars for fun, but it could easily have been more.

2) BASEBALL: In this game, you play offense and defense in a quick baseball game.

To bat, you stand with your side to the TV, and assume a batting stance. A ball is pitched toward you, and you swing an imaginary bat. If you make contact and hit a single you have to run in place as fast as you can (but strangely, this isn’t needed if you hit a double, triple, or home run). Worse, whether you run fast or slow it doesn’t seem to affect the speed of the on-screen player. In another case where the game developer clearly didn’t understand the rules of baseball, you have to slide into first base (this doesn’t happen in real baseball).

To pitch, you make a throwing action towards the TV. There are two types of pitches, a fastball (where you make a throwing action to the TV) and a curveball (where you make a throwing action across your chest. You can control the speed of the pitch by how fast your arm movement is. There’s no defense or fielding, except in the case where a batter hits a fly ball directly to one of your players, in which case the player reaches his left arm out and catches the ball (seemingly in the same place each time, again not much of a challenge).

Sadly, I found playing baseball in this game to be a bit tedious and contrived. In some ways, the game shows the limitations of the Kinect; while the Kinect excels in games that require full body motion detection such as dancing games, it’s at a bit of a disadvantage to systems like the Wii and PS3 for games that simulate holding an object like a sword or a bat (where the game needs to detect things like speed, angle and torque). The Kinect is certainly capable of this (all a developer needs to do is have the player hold a stick), but unfortunately we don’t see it in Kinect Sports Season Two.

Overall, baseball gets an unfortunate 2 of 5 stars from me, although again the running in place gives some decent exercise.

3) DARTS: This is where things start to turn around a bit. You start out by telling the Xbox where your TV is–above your head, at face level, or below.

From there, you’re treated to a pretty realistic game of darts. To play, you hold your hand up as if you’re holding a dart. A “cross hair” will appear on screen corresponding to your hand (and it’s extremely sensitive). You “aim” your dart by moving your hand back, and you release it by moving your hand forward. The ensuing action feels much like genuine darts.

The rules are traditional. You start with 501 points and need to get down to exactly zero by scoring points on the dart board, which are subtracted from your point total. Some parts of the dartboard are worth more than others. In you find this a bit confusing don’t worry–the program tells you exactly which part of the board you should be aiming for.

I’d say the overall feel of this game is excellent and really feels like real darts at times. Although I won’t lie–there were some times when I’d be thrusting my hand forward and the system didn’t even recognize me, or worse, causing my shot to go awry. I never really felt in 100% control of the dart as I would be in real life. Still, this one is 4 out of 5 for fun for being a realistic simulation.

4) GOLF: Here you can choose a 9 hole, 3 hole, or 1 hole competition. You choose different courses. To play, you stand with your side to the TV. Aiming your shot is extremely non-intuitive–you need to step forward or back to pivot your character’s aim. And you really have no context with which to swing.

As for the swing, as long as you pull back and swing with one fluid motion, the game will let it fly, even if your actual technique is horrible or non-existent. Overall, I think the same gripe with golf that I have about baseball (and which I’ll have later about tennis). Since you’re not holding a controller, the Xbox will just interpret any wild swing you make with your hands as a swing. Sadly, I didn’t find golf very realistic; in fact, if you’re not careful it had the potential to ruin a real golf swing. The golf game here may appeal to very casual players who have never picked up a golf ball, but otherwise is forgettable. 2 of 5 stars.

5) SKIING: This one was a bright spot. The only other video game skiing I’ve done has been in games like Wii Fit Plus and We Ski which use the Wii Balance Board. In all those games, the balance board was just too sensitive and inaccurate to simulate skiing. With Kinect Sports Season Two, your body is the controller. To pass through gates, you lean to the side. To build speed, you crouch and lean forward. When you see a green zone, you jump to earn points.

Overall, this was a game that truly showed what the Kinect is capable of. 5 of 5 stars.

6) TENNIS: Finally, we come to Tennis. Again, with the Kinect’s potential, you’d think that a tennis game would allow you a lot of great simulation–the ability to serve and volley, the ability to chase down shots, and so on.

But sadly, your range of actions is again extremely limited to serving, basic backhand, basic forehand, and no running or volleying. Even your swing speed doesn’t seem to make a difference. About the most complex it gets is hitting a slice (or as they describe it “slowing the ball down”) by swinging your arms from high to low. And as I said, there’s something “missing” when playing without a controller or at least a prop in your hand so the system could detect racquet angle, type of shot, etc. Without these things, I’d give Tennis 3 of 5 stars.

To sum up, I’d give Kinect Sports Season Two 4 stars as a fun diversion. It has some very bright spots and carries over much of what made its predecessor successful. But there just seems to be a lot of missed opportunity as far as innovation and pushing the platform forward goes.