The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Self Defense Training Camp for Xbox Kinect

Posted by steve on November - 14 - 2011 with 0 Comment

Self Defense Training Camp

Solid content surrounded by a less-than-impressive game

Self Defense Training Camp is less a video game and more an interactive training class. In it, you can learn practical techniques for 30 different scenarios. Unfortunately, great content is marred by being in a disappointing shell of a video game.

Rating by steve: 3.0 stars

I wouldn’t call Self-Defense Training Camp a “game” as much as I’d call it an interactive instructional video. There are no points to rack up, no real levels to achieve. Instead, the main objective is educational: to teach you practical self-defense techniques.

Violent crime is something none of us like to think about, but it’s an unfortunate reality of life. The organization RAINN says that 1 out of every 6 women will be the victim of an assault or attempted assault in her lifetime. And even more devastating, 44% of victims are under the age of 18. But as frightening as these numbers are, as the old adage goes, knowledge is power. Any woman, no matter what age or size, can disarm any attacker if she’s knows the right moves to make–and will have the confidence to make them when the time comes.

That’s why I really appreciate this title. I’ll start off by saying it’s not perfect. The instruction can be long-winded and even tedious at times. But if you stick with it you’ll learn some pretty good self-defense techniques. There’s a large amount of repetition which I’d have issues with if this were any other game. But in this case it serves as excellent reinforcement.

Self Defense Training Camp doesn’t replace getting real self-defense instruction from a real trainer, nor does it really pretend to (one of the many random tips it presents throughout the game is to enroll in a physical class to continue your learning). But it is definitely a good introduction to a very important skill all woman (and men) should have.

When you start up, you’ll see a number of menu options in this order:

1. Cardio Workout
2. Options
3. Profile and Extras
4. Balance Practice
5. Self Defense Rehearsal
6. Reflex Training

Oddly,  #1, #4, and #6 are all locked until you complete a certain number of classes in #5 (which begs the question, why didn’t they make that one #1?). There are a number of user interface oddities like that.

You start with “Self Defense Rehearsal”.  This is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not so much “rehearsal” as it is step-by-step training instruction. Specifically, this section is broken into 5 different classes.

1. Wrist Grab situations
2. Arm and Shoulder Grab situations
3. Attack from Behind situations
4. Choke Hold situations
5. Frontal Attack situations

Each of these classes are further broken down into a number of very real and practical scenarios that a would-be victim of an attack may encounter. For example, for Wrist Grab situations, it goes through six scenarios.

1. Crossed Wrist Grab (when the attacker grabs your left wrist with his right hand or vice-versa)
2. Parallel Wrist Grab (when the attacker grabs your right wrist with his right hand or vice-versa)
3. Double Wrist Grab (when the attacker grabs both your wrists)
4. Double Wrist Grab from Behind (when the attacker grabs both your wrists from behind)
5.  Side Wrist Grab (when the attacker comes from the side)
6. Choking (when the attacker grabs your wrist with one hand and tries to choke your neck with the other).

The four other classes all each have 6 similarly practical scenarios. Each scenario consists of two phases: a Learning Phase and a Timed Phase.

In the Learning Phase, you start out by seeing a demonstration of the defense technique. Two animated male figures will act out the scenario, with the narrator explaining what’s going on step-by-step. The instructions are quite explicit and don’t pull any punches, so to speak.

One of the very first things you learn, which is repeated over and over again, is to how kick an attacker in…his most vulnerable spot. Admittedly, it’s hard not to snicker the first few times you see (and perform) the action on the computerized “attacker”, who gets it over and over again. But of course, at the end of the day the point is a serious one–if you’re the victim of a real attack, be prepared to use whatever advantages you have at your disposal. Aside from the kick in the family jewels, you’ll various other techniques for stunning and disarming a potential attacker in a number of situations.

After seeing the sequence played out once, it’s broken down into smaller components. You’ll see each component demonstrated again by the two male trainers. Then, you (as a female character) can try it yourself. To help guide you, you’ll see a white silhouette of yourself in the upper left hand corner, as well as a red silhouette reminding you of the next move you need to make.

The Kinect does a mostly good job of detecting whether you’re doing the moves correctly. In some cases I was pleasantly astounded at how accurately it was able to distinguish between subtle movements–for example, the correct move to disarm a wrist grab is to rotate your arm and your elbow. I tried to “trick” the system by just flailing my arm, but it wouldn’t take it until I did the proper technique. Having said that, it’s not perfect–there were a few cases where I was doing the right moves but the system failed to register it.  Similarly, in other cases, I would just twitch and the narrator would exclaim “incredible!” But I’d say for the majority of cases the system is quite accurate.

Once you master the one component properly, the process will proceed to the next one. You’ll keep going until you’ve mastered all five components of the entire sequence.

Then comes the Timed Phase. After you’ve learned the sequence, you then need to try to execute the whole thing by yourself, remembering what the moves are and in what order to do them. If you execute all the moves, you’ll get five stars for the scenario.  It’s not challenging at all to get five stars, but again it’s not supposed to be; again, this is more of a class than a game.

One thing I found a little disappointing is that your on-screen character doesn’t have freedom of motion. In other words, when you go through the exercises, you don’t really control the on-screen character directly. Rather, the system will show a still image of the character, and it will only respond once you perform the exercise correctly.  I think the title would have been much more powerful if you could control the character’s movements in more of an interactive one-on-one way, sort of like what you see in “fighting games”. The subject matter is not a game, of course, but I think bringing in that kind of technology would have made this title a lot more appealing and a little less dry.

Overall, I found the “Self Defense Rehearsal” section to be helpful, if a little drawn out and tedious. But again, if you approach it like a class and not like a game, it definitely provides helpful information. And what makes it more powerful than a video is the ability to perform the moves yourself. Often, the victims of assault know the theory of what they’re supposed to do in an attack, but when placed in the situation they may panic or be tentative. What this instruction (and a lot of repetition) does is instill confidence and knowledge so that doesn’t happen.

The “Cardio Workout” section, has ten sessions of progressively more intense aerobic fitness exercises that incorporate boxing moves. This part of the game was reminiscent of Gold’s Gym Boxing Workout for the Wii. Your trainer will do boxing moves and you need to mimic the moves to a beat. Each move you have to make is both announced by the narrator and shown in timeline of icons to the left of the screen. Overall this provided a decent workout, and of course the motion detection is spot-on. What I wasn’t crazy about was that the workouts were all under 4 minutes. And once again you need to “unlock” each lesson one at a time. I would much rather them have provided complete set of cardio boxing routines that each lasted a good 20-30 minutes. As it is, your heart rate is barely elevated after one or even two of these sessions.

The “Balance Practice” section of the game are essentially yoga exercises. You’re taken outside the training camp to a beautifully designed garden scene with cherry blossoms, running water, and relaxing bird chirping. Your first session takes you through yoga moves with names like “young deer”, “spreading the wings”, “buddha pose”, and “circle of chi”.  As with the Cardio section, you mimic an on-screen trainer’s moves, while each move is announced and shown in a timeline of icons.

The third section is called “Reflex Training”. In it are various reflex games where you punch and kick or you try to dodge and block punches and kicks with your virtual trainer. Again, the motion controls are adequate on these, but the exercises themselves are fairly repetitive and uninspired. It’s what we’ve seen in many other games–do a jab, hook, or upper cut in response to instructions from the on-screen trainer, or dodge punches to the left and right.

Overall, I had the same impressions of all three of these  “unlockable” sections. They’re not horribly executed, but they all feel somewhat incongruous in this particular game.  There doesn’t seem to be any obvious connection between these activities and the self-defense training from the main section. In addition, all of these sections just felt far too short and shallow, especially when compared to other games that have already done it. I get the sense that the developer was trying to make this a comprehensive “martial arts instruction” title (in fact, after progressing through some rudimentary exercises, you start to earn different colored “belts”, which I found quite misleading).  But it falls a bit short of that.

It’s hard to rate this game, because as I said it’s not really a “game”. From the perspective of the self-defense training content alone, I’d give it 5 stars; in fact, I think it’s material that every woman should know. But in terms of its quality as an interactive game, I’d say there’s a lot of room for improvement.

For example, it would have been interesting to have a section where you can be “quizzed” where you face a virtual attacker in different scenarios and  have to choose the right defensive techniques for the situation. And as I said, rather than the rather mundane presentation they give, I would have loved to let you control your character in a more fluid way.

Something else I found a little disconcerting was that the developer invented yet another way of selecting items from a menu–you need to “swipe” to browse through menu options and then “punch” with your right hand to select it. As with far too many Kinect games, this choice for user interface controls is sketchy–too many times I was sending false positives just by twitching the wrong way, and it got tedious pretty fast to have to “punch” to select things (if I want a workout, I want it to be in the game content, not the user interface).

Another annoyance was how everything was “locked”. It’s as if they knew the title was too dry and wanted to add some “video game” elements to try to make it for “fun”.

I would have preferred them to just be true to what it was: an interactive instructional video. Because while it’s not perfect, I do consider the content extremely useful. Put in many peoples’ hands, it may even save lives.

In many ways I see this title as ushering in a whole new genre of “self help” games. Some day I would love to see a cooking class where you cook in a virtual kitchen, or a ballroom dance instructional class where you learn different dance steps on a virtual dance floor. The Kinect certainly has the technological power, let’s just hope that developers learn how to fully tap it.