When Nintendo announced the motion gaming revolution that was the Wii, no-one saw it coming. Almost four years later, and only two months ago, Sony tried reinventing the Wii with the Move, and now Microsoft goes one step further with a fully controller-less motion gaming system.
With a new way of playing games that removes the controller from your hands entirely, has Microsoft’s Kinect reinvigorated the Xbox 360?
What is the Kinect?
Technologically superior to the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation Move, the Kinect asks you to drop the controller and just move your arms about in order to play the game. Forget the motion wands and remotes of other motion gaming systems and imagine, instead, your entire body as the controller.
That’s right: you. Your body will be monitored by a camera, depth sensor and microphone, all of which sit within a motorised plastic strip that then interprets your movements into on-screen actions.
Unlike the Nintendo Wii and Sony Move, you don’t have to purchase new controllers for each and every player who participates in a game.
Only one Kinect device is needed per Xbox 360 console, and each Kinect can work with up to four players, depending on the game.
A whole new way to play
While motion gaming isn’t a new thing, Kinect represents a whole new way of playing video games.
Because there are no controllers, you’re spend a lot of time flailing your arms about – like a branches in a wild wind – controlling actions that you can only see on the screen.
Setting up for Kinect gaming is easy, just plug the Kinect device into the Xbox 360 or the new slim black Xbox, or plug in both the device and a power pack if you have the older 360. From here, you simply just have to follow the onscreen instructions and occasionally stand in front of your TV when it asks you to.
Once loaded and working, your Xbox 360 Dashboard will have a small black and grey video window showing you what the camera and depth sensor see. Wave your hands to get the attention of the Kinect and the fun will begin.
What games can I play?
Like every game system, it’s the titles that are going to make or break the concept, and lucky for Microsoft, there are some crackers available at launch.
The only title to come with the Kinect, “Kinect Adventures” offers a fun and easy way to familiarise yourself to the motion gaming system.
A title based around mini games, “Adventures” will have you flapping the air as you attempt to bounce onscreen balls against walls and dodge obtacles. You will look a bit of an idiot, mind, so check your self-consiousness at the door before starting.
Oh, and did we mention that the game will occasionally record how crazy you look as you play? You can upload these to Facebook later on, and we know you will. We certainly did.
More like a pre-requisite for launching a gaming controller, Kinect Sports provides six sporting activities including boxing, track and field, soccer, beach volleyball, bowling, and table tennis.
Tutorials are available and each sport generally lasts more than two minutes, providing a fun and often sweaty experience. The included party mode is a nice touch that allows anyone to jump in on the action.
We loved the licensed music playing in the background, something that helps to reinforce this as something other than just “another sports demo.”
While sports titles have become a standard debut release, so too have cute fuzzy animal simulations.
“Kinectimals” puts you on an island with lots of lovable feline cubs and kittens, all there to be your friend. They’ll mimic your movements, respond to your voice, and encourage you to indulge in some mini games where you kick and throw objects to knock other objects down.
Designed for kids, Kinectimals is easily one of the cutest games we’ve seen in a while. Despite being for the rug rats, it’s still an idea to have a “mature” player on hand, as some of the movements can be hard to remember.
Kinect Joy Ride
The only racing title available at launch, Joy Ride lets you put your hands together to pretend you’re holding a steering wheel.
You don’t need to worry about braking or accelerating, as this is all taken care of for you. Instead, just steer with an invisible wheel to the left or right, and weave your body in different directions for stunts and boost.
Easily the best of the lot, “Dance Central” is a dancing game created by the same company that brought you Rock Band.
Whether in the movies or real life, you’ve seen these dance games that provide you to make dance moves on a grid underneath your feet. Dance Central does away with the grid and lets the Kinect monitor what you’re doing, giving you the chance to let your head and hands get in on the fun.
The difficulty modes range from easy to hard, and the moves are great fun to get into. You’ll also find a “workout mode” that will track how many calories you’re losing as you play.
We found “Dance Central” a lot of fun, even when it made us look like complete pillocks. Or accountants at a disco.
Sega’s “Sonic Free Riders”
Six titles might seem like a small amount to launch with, but we didn’t get a chance to take everything out for a spin.
For the health nuts, there will also be “Sports Island Freedom”, “MotionSports: Play For Real”, “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” and “The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout”. Dancers can also grab “Dance Evolution” and “Dance Paradise,” while gamers of other genres can expect to see a fighting game called “Fighters Uncaged”, a snowboarding and hoverboarding title “CrossBoarder 7”, Sega’s “Sonic Free Riders” and the movie tie-in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.
We have been told there will be more Kinect titles coming along soon, with at least one Star Wars lightsabre title on track in the near future.
More than games
Microsoft aims to make the Kinect more than just a gaming accessory, adding features that turn the Xbox into a better multimedia and communication tool than seen before.
When you wave your hands to start up the Kinect, you’ll find a new interface loaded with larger icons for you to pick. Hold your hand over the icon for a few seconds and you’ll select the item, the interface whizzing away and taking you to your selection.
This icon-driven interface makes the Xbox 360 dashboard easier for you to control with your hands, similar to the virtual display in “Minority Report” where you wave your hands in the air to make things happen on the screen.
Using your Xbox 360 without a controller can be done with the Kinect. You merely wave your hand around and hold it over buttons.
Outside of the Dashboard, Microsoft has added Video Kinect, a chat system that uses your TV and the Kinect to provide a video chat system in the way that Skype is now beginning to appear on various TV sets.
The system uses the widely uses MSN and Windows Live networks for communication, allowing you to connect up with your friends for simple video chat.
Or it’s supposed to, anyway. At the time of release, we couldn’t connect to any of our friends using MSN Messenger on either Mac or PC. Perhaps this will be fixed with a patch or new release of Messenger on these platforms at a later date.
The Video Kinect service allows you to video call your friends over Xbox Live and the Windows Live networks using the Kinect’s video camera and microphone.
Not without problems
If our previous comments haven’t been enough to convince you that we absolutely love what the Kinect is doing, then you’re probably not reading this review right.
But the Kinect isn’t without faults. After all, this is the “version 1” of the first controller-less technology, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.
For starters, the amount of room required for gameplay is going to be more than what most people have.
The amount of room needed to play is larger than what you might expect.
We have a fair amount of space in our offices, but you will need at least 1-2 metres of open space to let you interact properly. And that’s for one person. With each extra player you add, you’re going to need to move further back so the Kinect’s camera and sensors can capture everyone involved.
In a party environment, this may be a bit of a problem. We don’t know many lounge rooms that have more than two metres of empty space from the TV.
Another problem deals with proximity and how close you move to the screen as you’re playing. Naturally, as you get sucked into a game, you find that you move closer and closer to the camera. This can cause your actions to be misinterpreted, and in some instances, fail to register entirely.
You may also find your onscreen actions lag what you’re doing in front of the screen. It’s nothing major, and was most apparent in Kinect Joy Ride, with the cursor trailing our hand motions somewhat.
While the technology is amazing in how it picks up movement, it only picks up major limb movement. You may be disappointed to know that while your arm, head, body, and leg movements are translated into onscreen character movements, individual finger movements are not. The next time you’re trying to make your avatar hold the peace sign and nothing happens, this is why.
Despite these small problems, it’s obvious that Microsoft has a winner here. While it can take a little getting used to and the space requirements can be constraining, the results are are nothing short of amazing. We’re looking forward to the next year’s batch of games with eager anticipation.