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From the moment Microsoft announced the price for the Xbox One being $500 last year, $100 more than Sony’s Playstation 4, many gamers questioned the higher price point. More specifically, they are not fans of the Kinect camera that is bundled with every Xbox One arguably being the main reason why it is more expensive. Even though we are still early into the Xbox One’s lifespan, gamers and even Microsoft themselves are struggling to validate Kinect as being worth that extra $100. Personally, I like using Kinect for voice commands through the Xbox One’s home menus and playing Just Dance 2014 when I have friends over. Sure, the Kinect 2.0 camera is still not perfect being imprecise with my voice and dance moves, but the camera’s first big test is now out with Rare’s Kinect Sports Rivals. Instead of a normal review for the game, I will dive in specifically on how the Kinect experience has been faring personally for me with Rare’s third game in the franchise.
I will preface first especially if you saw the stream a couple days ago that the room my Xbox One and Kinect are in is pretty small and not the standard Microsoft would prefer to play these games. Despite that, playing Kinect Sports Rivals in that small room has been functional for the most part with the lights on (The game will tell if you’re playing in a dark environment and the Kinect might not that responsive). One of the game’s impressive features involving the camera is your character creation when you boot up the game for the first time. The Kinect is able to scan your face accurately as if you’re taking x-rays at the doctor or dentist’s office to come up with a look-alike that was near-perfect to what I look like. The game telling me to remove my glasses before starting the face scan is a nice touch too. The whole character creation process is quick and painless in my experience so far.
Six sports are available to play in Kinect Sports Rivals, which are wake racing, rock climbing, target shooting, bowling, soccer, and tennis. Wake racing is basically Nintendo’s Wave Race with Kinect controls. This has been playable since launch with the preseason demo as the controls were good then and they still hold up in the final game. It was arguably the only sport of the bunch I don’t mind sitting down to control my racer. Eventually I went back to standing up to control it because Kinect can act all crazy when objects are in the camera at times. You control your racer with the arms forward like driving an actual jet ski and turn by either leaning your body left or right or a normal jet ski steering animation. Tricks can be performed by leaning forward or backward for flips and spreading your arms up or wide for no handers. I found wake racing the most responsive out of the six sports, but there will be rare times where the Kinect just doesn’t go your way at times during races.
Another impressive sport out of the pack is rock climbing. At first, I was struggling with the controls because when a course moves left or right, I felt like had to move in those directions while doing the climbing animation you would do in real life. Turns out if you can stay put standing and spreading your arms out in a specific direction. This is one of the sports where a bigger room is better especially if you have long arms, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought despite the Kinect sometimes not recognizing my position during these events. One of the more satisfying moments navigating these courses is yanking your competitors off the stage by simply grabbing their foot and then taking them for a ride. A stamina meter is also there to manage your climbing because just like the real deal, you will get tired, so the game does encourage pacing yourself. Rare did a great job incorporating climbing to Kinect Sports Rivals even though I’m not a fan when it decides to be a game rather than an experience with wind and electricity thrown into the equation.
Target shooting is arguably the most boring sport of the six in Rare’s sequel and it wasn’t surprising to me when it was first announced. Remember that one E3 where Ubisoft showed off Kinect controls using a gun for one of their Ghost Recon games? That is basically Kinect Sports Rivals’ shooting game in a nutshell. This was also another sport I didn’t mind sitting down because you’re not as active as the other sports in the package, but your character also sits down shooting at targets. That alone makes the experience weird, so I decided to stand up to shoot instead. The targets have designated patterns to score points, but it decides more of a game when a turret is there to steal points from your opponent and vice versa. If that happens, you have to move around to avoid incoming fire. Generally, pointing at the TV screen shooting targets doesn’t make for fun gaming and also just awkward as a whole. There were also times where pointing at the screen alone not doing the fire animation hit a specific target, so that is another case where the Kinect is imprecise.
The other three sports, soccer, bowling, and tennis, are self-explanatory in terms of controls. Soccer, however, has been the most inconsistent sport of the six with my Kinect. This is also where being a small room became an issue for me due to my feet barely being readable. My kicks are not responsive and timing is usually off when playing soccer as the only thing I’m good at in this mode is saving goals as the goalie when on defense. The soccer game itself is not your normal soccer you would see in FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer as it is just a pass the ball to a certain area and then going for the goal scoring kick. You also have a shot clock to score and having that adds more pressure to the game’s controls being responsive. Defenders are trying to block your passes as you navigate the ball through the field and when going for the goal, you can throw some spin to your kick to try to throw your opponent off. Soccer in Kinect Sports Rivals is where I was fighting the Kinect controls the most due to it’s inconsistency of being responsive especially when timing becomes more key in these type of sports.
We seen bowling and tennis before in past Kinect Sports games and Nintendo’s Wii Sports series. While Wii bowling and tennis were fun and sometimes too easy with the Wiimote, those two sports in Rivals are personally better because of the full body experience alone. With bowling, you can bowl normally along with including spin to your throws. The only time when that sport is unresponsive is when I was randomly flailing my arms around and the Kinect recognized it as a throw. For tennis, controls responded well for me. I do wish the game animates two hand swings however when I was doing them, but you can perform top spins, lobs, and smashes, but not so much with slices and drop shots. Timing was also spot on for swings compared to my kicks in soccer.
Other than the gesture controls in the sports, Kinect voice and gesture commands were also implemented in Kinect Sports Rivals’ menus even though I still find myself using the Xbox One controller to navigate, especially when buying in-game items from the game’s store. Five months with the Xbox One now, I gotten used to the Kinect’s voice commands by now telling my system to turn on/off, going into apps/games, etc. and the same is the case with Rivals. Saying “listen” in the game’s menus just like saying “Xbox go to…” in the system’s home menus is a pain at times due to saying one more word to proceed to whatever’s next. Personally I still haven’t used my hands to navigate through the Xbox One’s dashboard compared to the games themselves, but the timing of raising your hand first and then navigating to whatever you want next is still a hassle to me. Despite Kinect being around for almost five years now on 360 and the One, we still haven’t fully embraced the no controller culture especially with menus, but there’s still time as the next generation of consoles wear on.
Did the Xbox One’s Kinect camera pass it’s first big test with Kinect Sports Rivals? I wouldn’t say it passed with flying colors, but it is almost there. Some sports shined the most in Rivals with wake racing and rock climbing while others are too inconsistent like soccer. The face scanning in the character creation is impressive and a step in the right direction. My personal case with my setup being in a small room can be an exception, but Rare’s sequel can not validate Kinect’s price tag alone. Sure we are early into the Xbox One’s life, but Kinect still needs more games to validate itself to make the system worth it as it’s current price tag.
Other than D4 and Fantasia: Music Evolved, Microsoft does need to step it up this E3 with top quality Kinect games to the point it becomes more than a novelty. Then again, we have been saying this for years throughout Kinect’s existence that it needs killer apps to legitimize motion controls as more of a standard than a gimmick. Until then, Kinect still needs a lot of prove itself to break out of it’s shell being the main reason why the Xbox One is $100 more than the Playstation 4.