Kinect, as it stands right now, is a “pretty cool” thing. As a supplement to the general operation of an Xbox 360, it’s hard for me to imagine living without it now that it’s in my home. As an accessory designed for the purpose of playing games, it meets with significantly less success. While there are a few stand-out titles such as Dance Central, Kinect has failed thus far to move beyond a novelty because there simply isn’t enough high-quality software demonstrating how great it could be.
So, in the grand tradition of the unnumbered list, here are five established series that could help show the potential of Kinect as a valuable addition to our gaming lives. Assuming, of course, that the industry has the stones to make them.
Fans of Rare’s inventive life simulation got a pretty raw deal. The original Viva Piñata was just successful enough to warrant exploitation from a Microsoft eager for original properties, leading to a mediocre collection of mini-games and a short-lived animated series the following year. When a genuine follow-up arrived in 2008, Trouble in Paradise streamlined some of the mechanics but didn’t add much of significance. The damage seemed done and we’ve heard nothing of our papery friends since.
The passage of time and the advent of full-body controls could be just the things the seemingly abandoned franchise needs to return. It’s still a catchy hook with a proven gameplay formula and broad appeal, just one that needs a kick in the pants. Kinect could offer fantastic ways to interact with gardens and piñatas, and as the brainchild of the creative team likely to have the most experience developing for the motion controller, it could be a perfect opportunity for a revival, provided Microsoft sees the potential.
I’m not going to lie — I really just want a new Oddworld game to be made, regardless of whether or not Kinect is a consideration. But I also believe that the series could benefit in tremendous ways by implementing aspects of Kinect functionality. After all, communication is a core element of most Oddworld games, making it a natural fit for voice commands.
More importantly, Oddworld has historically shown a knack for creative risk-taking, turning established game styles on their head with the addition of simple concepts. With much of the field of Kinect games still feeling rather limited in scope, it’s going to take a few… well, odd things to stir the pot and get people thinking outside of the box.
Simple foundations are the key to adaptability, and a great example of this is the endlessly strange Katamari Damacy. This basic game of rolling and accumulation has found itself suited to a broad range of input schemes, from the original dual-stick controls found in the PS2 releases to tilt controls on iOS devices and touchscreen stroking on the PS Vita.
Kinect could offer some interesting opportunities and challenges for the series. While physically performing the action of pushing a ball larger than you may be a bit tiring for a full 30-minute rolling of the entire world, the stage-based design should lend itself well to the short bursts of play typical of Kinect games in a general sense. Design of the controls would be key, obviously, but I can easily imagine some methods of controlling a Katamari with gestures which would require little exertion. I’m sure Namco Bandai can do that too.
Command & Conquer
The real-time strategy genre has always been at a severe disadvantage on consoles, as you can either try to design a complex game and then struggle with conveniently mapping commands to a controller, or you develop a simpler game that might not capture the attention of serious strategy fans. A well-designed input system utilizing the features of Kinect could go a long way towards bridging that divide, and the range of styles found in the Command & Conquer franchise makes it ideal for that kind of experimentation.
But how? If it were up to me, an RTS using Kinect would eschew gestures altogether. You could conceivably use your hands to select units and point a cursor, but accuracy and reaction times would likely be pretty severely hampered this way. Instead, they could take advantage of a combination of controller input and voice commands, removing much of the need to simplify command options to accommodate buttons (or the reverse: complicating them with the advent of multiple button combinations). Easy? Likely not, but I think a strong effort could bring great rewards.
Certainly the most ambitious suggestion in this list, the idea of a full-body-controlled Mirror’s Edge is also probably a very, very bad one from a technological standpoint. I’m making it anyway because I can’t shake the fantasy of the potential. It is, after all, a game which simulates the use of the body to accomplish astounding feats, and its first-person perspective would lend itself well to the heavily marketed “you are the controller” philosophy.
But then there’s that sticky mess of technology. In order to make a game like Mirror’s Edge playable with Kinect, you’d have to take a lot of the timing precision out of the process. Visuals would almost certainly have to be simplified, and we’d likely just wind up with another watered-down game to complain about. On the Xbox 360, at least. But if Microsoft is truly serious about Kinect being important to their vision of the future in gaming, the next iteration of the Xbox might be plenty capable of making this pipe dream a reality.
The future of Kinect at this stage seems more than a little bit uncertain. Microsoft expressed no small amount of pleasure at sales of the device, but a lengthy period of lackluster, generic, and simple software is going to do nothing for its long-term prospects. That means some risks need to be taken to expand its value soon or the device could wind up completely dismissed by the people most likely to early-adopt any future revision of the hardware. Microsoft is going to need the core game consumer on board or essentially acknowledge that their forward-looking marketing statements held no genuine intent. Short of bundling it right into the next console (either taking a loss or passing the buck to the consumer), the only way to accomplish this goal is with great software from first and third parties.
For MS, probably the best thing it could possibly do to encourage adoption among the core game consumer would be to soften its stance on controller-free gaming and push developers to consider integrating Kinect into existing and loved franchises. Microsoft needs to remember that Kinect is an accessory to the Xbox 360, not the other way around, and allow it to become the indispensable supplement to our games that it has for the console dashboard.