Rare's sports-themed minigame collection has a lot to prove. It's the first big title to be released under their new rebranded corporate image... and has to defend its honour against several accusations of latency, lag and mechanical faults. I was genuinely excited about getting hands on and testing out these claims for myself... and after trying out three of the minigames, I soon had my answer.
It's a good thing that Rare still has three months before release... because Kinect Sports still needs work. A lot of work.
Before I could even enter the game, I first had to tangle with the menus. Selecting a game should be as simple as holding your hand over the icon of your choice... except that Kinect steadfastly refused to recognise my movement whatsoever. After some embarassed mutterings from the rep I was forced to bend my knees, squat on my haunches and flail at the camera in a vain effort to get it to notice me and assign the cursor to my right hand. This is probably a momentary recognition lapse rather than a global problem... but it certainly didn't make a good first impression.
In order to cheer me up, the rep suggested that I try warming up the crowd. This led me to a bizarre little minigame that essentially bade me to whip a stadium full of avatars into a frenzy by waving my arms about, clapping and generally making a massive tit-end out of myself. Unfortunately the voice recognition was disabled... meaning that all I could do was wave my arms to lead a Mexican Wave or jump on the spot to make the crowd leap from their seats. This got old very quickly... and more worryingly, my gestures frequently didn't register or caused a reaction several seconds later.
Apparently this mode will feature enhanced voice recognition, clapping and cheering mechanics by the time Kinect Sports is released. I certainly hope so... because at the moment it doesn't really seem to offer any sort of genuine gameplay experience whatsoever.
After this inexplicable bit of fluff was over and done with, I navigated through yet another stubborn menu into the Track & Field minigame. This essentially provided a hurdle where your avatars compete in a short multiplayer race. You'll jog on the spot increases your avatar's velocity (apparently, the height at which you raise the knee directly affects running speed) and jump in the air to vault over the hurdles.
This might sound like an awesome way of exercising and practising hurdling technique in the comfort of your own living room- except that the experience boils down to jogging on the spot and jumping on the spot when the upcoming hurdle turns yellow. It's a simple geture-based rhythm game rather than anything remotely resembling a true sports simulation (if anything, it's essentially a glorified version of the Bungie Brothers minigame from Warioware: Smooth Moves). Oh... and the lag? Not only was there visible latency, but it actively interfered with the game. Jumping simply isn't 1:1- and with that in mind, you might as well just be pressing the A button instead of going through the motions. Besides, we've been able to jump on the spot since the dance mat was invented. This isn't exactly showing of Kinect's next-gen prowess, is it?
The Bowling minigame was the last stop on our tour... and luckily, it was absolutely rock solid. Rather than faffing about with a Wiimote or controller, you simply bowl the way you normally would and the ball reacts the way you'd expect. Tiny flicks and movements of the wrist can be used to add realistic spin to the ball... and you can even throw it over your head or behind your back if you feel so inclined! My cricket bowl ended up in the gutter, mind. I've clearly got to work on my finger spin.
Bowling feels natural, intuitive and realistic- and is quite literally the finest attempt ever made by a videogame to capture the immediacy and subtlety of the experience. You can check out Matt's attempts at Kinect bowling below.
All in all, Kinect Sports delivered a decidedly inconsistent experience- and whilst I appreciate that more games will be available come November, my final thoughts are worringly negative. Apart from the truly wonderful bowling minigame (which could stand on its own, quality-wise), Rare really have their work cut out over these next couple of months. Serious latency and recognition issues need to be fixed- and mechanics tightened up across the board. More worryingly, Kinect Adventures is being bundled with the peripheral; thus making Kinect Sports an incredibly niche title with vague market appeal. We hope that the British developers can pull it out of the bag- for national pride, if nothing else. Fix it, Rare.
Second Opinion: This was hugely disappointing. To be honest I could leave it at that, but honour (and professionalism) requires something of an explanation. Basically, the game suffered from game breaking lag as Jon has already explained. But, on reflection, I've got to say that even the bowling was pretty average, only made to seem slightly better because of the utter mediocrity that came before it. As a large bloke, Kinect simply struggled to pick me up and, although I jumped more often than not too late, it stubbornly refused at any point to pick up that my feet even left the ground. The bowling is nowhere near as 'sophisticated' as the Wii's version, something it attempts to disguise through glamour and glitz. Not only does it not pick up the point at which the ball is released (how could it without buttons?) but spin comes not from a flick of the wrist but from the way in which you drag your arm across the screen following the ball's release officially making it less realistic than the Wii. Oh god. - Matt