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Review: Kinect Sports

8:43 AM on 11.03.2010 // Nick Chester

Nintendo’s success with bundling Wii Sports in with the Wii pretty much made a sports game shipping with any future motion-based console (or peripheral) a given. So when Microsoft announced that it had Rare on the job for Kinect Sports, once everyone got over the shock that the company wasn’t developing Killer Instinct 3, no one was really surprised. 

What was surprising was learning that Microsoft wasn’t bundling this sports game collection with its Kinect hardware, instead opting for Kinect Adventures. As a pack-in, Kinect Sports would have been given a pass if it skimped on modes or features. But as a standalone, it would have to prove itself full-featured enough to justify its price point. 

While Kinect Sports packs in a number of interesting mini-game sport experiences, it stumbles trying to support itself under the pressure of offering that standalone value.

Nintendo’s success with bundling Wii Sports in with the Wii pretty much made a sports game shipping with any future motion-based console (or peripheral) a given. So when Microsoft announced that it had Rare on the job for Kinect Sports, once everyone got over the shock that the company wasn’t developing Killer Instinct 3, no one was really surprised. 

What was surprising was learning that Microsoft wasn’t bundling this sports game collection with its Kinect hardware, instead opting for Kinect Adventures. As a pack-in, Kinect Sports would have been given a pass if it skimped on modes or features. But as a standalone, it would have to prove itself full-featured enough to justify its price point. 

While Kinect Sports packs in a number of interesting mini-game sport experiences, it stumbles trying to support itself under the pressure of offering that standalone value.

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Kinect Sports
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release: November 4, 2010
Price: $49.99

With six sports on the disc, Kinect Sports seems like it would offer a fair amount of replayability and value. Thinking back to Wii Sports, the strength of Wii Bowling alone probably kept folks playing for months. With Rare’s sports collection, there isn’t one standout here that’s going to keep you coming back again and again. It’s not all bad, with some fun to be had with a few of the game types, as simple as they may be. 

Soccer’s probably the best sport to really show off what sets Kinect apart from its motion controlled competition, with full-body recognition allowing you to get your legs into the game. Perhaps that’s why it’s the most fun game to play on the disc -- it’s doesn’t really feel like anything else I’ve ever played (outside of, say, real soccer). Don’t expect Pro Evolution Soccer levels of depth here, because you’re not going to get it. Most of the mechanics are “on-rails,” with the game holding your hands as to what direction you’re kicking and where your body needs to be in order to block. Regardless, it remains just challenging and physically exhausting enough to want to keep you in the game.

Volleyball is also a good time, but like soccer, is based more on on-screen cues than any real skill. Serving the ball, you’ll raise one arm to throw the ball up, and then chose your serve based on another motion -- underhand, an overhead smash, or a jumping hit. That’s really where your freedom here ends, as you’ll be signaled for everything else, including when to bump or even when to jump and smash. It’s extremely basic, but it’s fun in how Kinect actually tracks things like your jumps. You do get a sense that you’re “in the game,” more so than simply “smashing” with a controller in your hand. 

Wannabe pugilists will be disappointed in boxing as it doesn’t add much to what you’ve probably already played using the Wii’s remotes in Wii Sports… and that game came out four years ago. Yes, Kinect Sports does a pretty good job of tracking your arm movements, but it ultimately doesn’t feel much different that Nintendo’s boxing. Here’s a tip: punch wildly at the screen to do maximum damage. Yup, that’s it, really. Sure, you can try to time a “Power Punch” by pulling your arm way back and reach forward to stun an opponent and do massive damage. But I found that whether against high-level computer opponents or against pals, he or she who throws the most punches wins almost every time. 

The Track & Field portion of Kinect Sports is a mixed bag, made up of five events that vary in their effectiveness. Sprint, hurdles, and long jump will have you running in place and then jumping in the air when in a green target area. It works as advertised, but running without moving is always awkward and not particularly fun, and that’s continues to be the case here. Discus tossing and the Javelin throw just didn’t work for me at all. The Kinect sensor continually had issues with judging the angle of my arm, always releasing the object at the worst time, generally sending them crashing into the ground or coming up frustratingly short. With these two events, I felt no level of accuracy in the toss, a definite disconnect between what I was doing and what was happening on the screen. Now if I had, say, a button to release…

The final two games, Bowling and Table Tennis are both fun in their own right, but highlight the limits of the Kinect technology. While Kinect does a great job of tracking your arms in 3D space and pinpointing where your hands are, it simply can’t track subtle movements in your wrist. With these two games, it’s that very limitation that has them falling flat. For example, in Bowling the only way to get spin on your ball is to uncomfortably swing your entire arm across your body. When it comes to Table Tennis, you may as well be playing a simple game of Pong, hitting the ball back and forth with a static paddle. 

These six sports make up the game’s “Main Event,” which lets you choose specific sports where you’ll challenge computer opponents of different skill levels, go against another player locally, or even over Xbox Live. But there’s no progression here, outside of experience points you’ll earn towards levels. Playing with friends or family adds to the replayability and longevity of the title. But playing alone, there’s simply not much incentive go continue playing past a few rounds, and within half an hour you’ll see everything the sports have to offer. 

Despite the mode’s name, the “Main Event” really isn’t where you’re likely to spend most of your time. In fact, some of the title’s mini games -- each slight variations on the games in the “Main Event” -- are where the most fun this game has to offer comes from. The stale bowling becomes fun once you can roll two balls down a single lane, freely kicking a soccer ball at targets is a blast, and smashing ping pong balls with two paddles at once is a crazy diversion. 

“Party Mode” is also where you’ll want to be when getting friends in on the action. This team-based multiplayer mode randomly selects events from the game’s sports and mixes things up with variations of each. Sure, one can argue that throwing a bunch of people in front of a motion sensing camera doing anything would result in hooting, hollering, and general good times. Maybe that’s the case for “Party Play,” but it ends up being the highlight of the disc, possibly the only thing that truly justifies having Kinect Sports in your collection at its price point.

If Kinect Sports were given away as part of a Kinect bundle, its flaws -- simple game design and lack of inspiring content -- could have been more easily forgiven. There’s some fun to be had here, for certain; it’s definitely a more well-rounded package than something like Wii Sports. But ultimately, there aren’t enough fresh ideas here to vindicate it as the new king of motion-controlled sports mini games. 

Score: 6.5



Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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