The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Kinect Sports Rivals for Xbox One

Posted by steve on May - 8 - 2014 with 0 Comment

Kinect Sports Rivals for Xbox One

What could have and should have been a “killer app” for the Xbox One ushering a new era in motion gaming fails to take advantage of the superior technology of the Xbox One and Kinect 2.0 and ends up feeling like a weak upgrade to Kinect Sports for the Xbox 360.

Rating by steve: 3.5 stars

As you could read from past posts on this blog, I was really excited to hear about the improved capabilities of the Kinect on the Xbox One. Kinect on Xbox 360 had been a good initial stab at hands-free motion detection technology, but it was clear that game publishers had hit a wall. While there were a few standout games like Kung Fu Live Impact and the original Kinect Sports, most games were just too bloated and too sluggish to have much long-term or replay appeal. Let’s face it, it’s annoying to move your hand and then see your hand on the screen moving a half second later and a half second slower.

Kinect for Xbox One was supposed to usher in a new generation of Kinect games, ones that made use of the new Kinect’s amazing new resolution and speed. While Xbox Fitness is a decent use of the technology, it’s really just an overlay on top of exercise videos that have been around for decades. And the one “Kinect only” game that was supposed to serve as the first great use of the technology, Fighter Within, fell disappointingly flat.

I’ve been excited to review Kinect Sports Rivals. Does this game finally make use of the Xbox One Kinect in a way that’s both fun and a great workout?

The opening screen on Kinect Sports Rivals shows a silhouetted video image of yourself on the left of the screen. Underneath it is a diagram of your play area. As with the original Kinect Sports, it looks like the optimal distance to stand from your Kinect is about 10-12 feet, although happily, I’m now able to play only 6 feet away from the TV without moving furniture. On the right of the screen are buttons to set up Kinect and get a gesture tutorial.

You then choose the primary player’s Xbox profile. A warning message says:

“Every Champion in Kinect Sports Rivals represents a real world player and is shared with others online. Use the Randomize button at the end of the creation process if you don’t wish to share your likeness. Photos of your Champion can be viewed and shared in the Kinect Sports Rival Hub”.

After a short video intro, you’re told to step into a “light” on the screen. The camera scans your body and then you see a likeness of your body constructed of cubes. You choose whether you’re a youth or an adult. You select your gender. You then let the system scan your face in a step that’s both cool and creepy. You step you to the camera and let it scan your face. It’ll tell you to turn your head to the left and right, and up and down, and will construct a creepy grey likeness of your head out of grey blocks. It even knew that I had glasses and told me to take them off.

The avatar it ended up creating didn’t look anything like me, except for maybe a slight resemblance to my cheekbones and nose. It actually looked a lot more like Chef Robert Irvine of “Restaurant Impossible”. You can customize things like skin tone, hair style, physique, facial hair, eyebrows, and eyes. An option called “Avateer” lets you freely move around and watch your avatar move. The precision is incredible, down to the motion of your eyebrows, the rotation of your wrists, and whether your mouth is open or closed. Sadly, this was the only part of the game that I felt really showcased the Kinect 2.0’s capabilities. As you’ll see shortly, the actual game itself didn’t really feel like anything new.

You’re then given a video introduction to the “islands” you’ll be playing on. There are five sports you can play; for each you’ll go through a training session and then enter the “storyline” for each sport.

There’s one thing off the bat I could have done without–the incessant “attitude” that the game tries so hard to exude throughout through its on-screen characters’ looks, voices, and storylines. It seems that they tried hard to make all the in-game characters look and sound “cool”, but it just ends up being really, really annoying. I wanted to shout at my Xbox, “Just shut up and let me play the game!” I much preferred the way games like the original Kinect Sports or Wii Sports do it–just make a great game that’s fun to play instead of trying to force story lines and characters on us that we really don’t care about. Happily, once you get through one of the trainings, there’s a menu option that lets you “quick play” (although you don’t earn coins, XP, or achievements)

As for the gameplay, here’s my take on each:

Wake Racing

This was the preview that was released a few months ago. The details of the graphics are great, right down to the splashes of water on your screen as you ride. The controls are precise–you close your fist to speed up and open it to slow down, just like you’re gripping the accelerator on a Sea-Doo handlebar. Steering takes a little getting used to, but they give good advice to think “handlebars” vs “steering wheel”.

Still for all the precision, I have to say after playing a few times I never quite felt like I was completely in control–the on-screen watercraft just seemed a little too hurky jerky. Perhaps part of it is just because I’m missing the friction and resistance of actually being on the water. But from a gameplay perspective, I honestly didn’t feel the game was much different than the jet skis in the old Wii Sports Resort.

They do add bells and whistles like the ability to perform power-ups, and to collect coins for things like new uniforms, but I didn’t see this as adding very much to my enjoyment of the game.


This is another game where I’m scratching my head as to whether it’s the best sport to showcase the Kinect’s capabilities.

To get started, you grab the bowling ball by holding your hand over the ball return area and clench your fist. To throw the ball, you just swing your arm. It’s not the most natural feeling, but it gets the job done.

The game is able to pick up on the location of your body. If the game is able to pick up on nuances such as the rotation of your wrists or the angle of your arm or force of your throw, I really didn’t notice. I was able to throw the ball relatively straight each time.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to this game and Wii Sports Bowling, and from a gameplay factor, I hate to say it but it feels pretty much the same. Other than the higher resolution graphics, I didn’t have a “wow! this game is so much better to play on the Xbox One” moment.


Funny, this is one where I had low expectations but I was pleasantly surprised at how fun and authentic it felt.

In this game, you’re climbing a rock wall with green and red climbing holds. In the case of this sport, it *is* a natural motion for you to “grip” with your fist as you go from hand hold to hand hold, so the feeling is pretty realistic. As you can see in this video, it’s pretty easy in the early stages, but as you advance in difficulty (or play against others), the competition gets a lot more fierce as you strategize which holds to grab and what risks to take.

I wouldn’t call this an extreme cardio exercise, but it certainly got my body moving (more so than wake racing or bowling, in any case).

Target Shooting

This was another one that turned out to be surprisingly fun, if not a little silly. You and an opponent shoot at moving targets. Your “gun” is your finger. That’s right, you hold your finger just like you did when you played cops and robbers when you were 5, and to pull the trigger you…pull your trigger finger. It’s actually pretty impressive how accurate both the pointing and the shooting are. This is another game that’d be a blast (no pun intended) to play against a friend, although of course other than your thumb and index finger you won’t be getting a lot of exercise.


Similar to Football in Kinect Sports 2, they didn’t really try to re-create a true-to-life soccer simulation. Instead, it feels like a 3-D version of foosball. As with KS2 Football, you alternate turns. When you’re on offense, you kick the ball to your teammates, avoiding “defenders” who are moving back and forth (like defenders in foosball), and when the ball reaches your forward, a well-timed kick will score a goal. Similarly, when you’re on defense, when your opponent is about to score you’ll see the position of his shot against your net (similar to when you’re playing defense in Kinect Sports Baseball) and you’ll be able to block the shot if you’re quick enough (and if, as in my case, you’re able to knock over any lamps, chairs, and end tables in your way).

As contrived as the gamplay felt, I have to admit I liked it, if only because it was nice to finally get my legs and feet involved in the action. Although again, I felt an awful sense of sluggishness and lag in the gameplay, something that was even worse with Tennis.


Tennis is one of those games I had high hopes for, but which fell short. I thought with the increased precision and speed of the Kinect 2.0, we’d get something a lot closer to a real-time tennis game that let you simulate all aspects of tennis in a way that no game before it could, not just ground strokes but the running game as well. But sadly, this fell short of even old games like Virtua Tennis for the PS3 or even Wii Sports Tennis.

As with Soccer, Kinect Sports Rivals Tennis suffers from something I wish was done away with–graphics and response time that feels slow as molasses. Sadly, it seems that the developers of the game didn’t use the additional processor power to add to the responsiveness of the gameplay, but rather to add even more useless background animation. The result is a game that feels bloated, doesn’t seem to allow you any kind of meaningful precision or control, and just doesn’t feel realistic.

Kinect Sports Rivals is a game I really, really wanted to like. So much so that it’s the primary reason I bought the Xbox One in the first place. Had they hit it out of the park, like Nintendo did with the Wii and Wii Sports, it could have ushered in a new generation of motion control games.

But somehow, it feels more like a death knell–instead of the first of a new generation of Kinect 2.0 games, it almost feels like the last gasp of Kinect 1.0–with inconsistent gameplay, overly stylized graphics, and on-screen characters and attitudes that annoy more than impress. It’ll be worth buying once it’s down to $20 in the bargain bin, but I don’t think it’s worth $60 at full retail.

It seems that we’re still waiting for a “killer app” for the Kinect 2.0. Here’s hoping that a game developer who really thinks “out of the box” is working on that, as it looks like Ubisoft and now Microsoft Studios/Rare are fresh out of original ideas.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars.