I remember the first console I laid eyes on as an impressionable youth: the Atari 7800. It was at a friend’s house, and his older brother had recently bought it. We played until he came home, and chased us off it. In 1990, my fate as a gamer was sealed when I got the best thing next to my own pony: an NES.
Fast forward, and I’ve been a gamer for my entire life, but not a console gamer. I had been enticed away by the world of PC gaming. So what could bring a relatively hardcore PC gamer back to consoles? The XBox 360 with Kinect.
What about this device made me jump back in? And now that it’s been out for a few months, how does it perform?
There’s a lot of curiosity that surrounds the Kinect. While motion gaming isn’t anything new (Wii, anyone?), motion gaming without a controller is something that’s a little bit new and strange. For the un-initiated, the Kinect is an add-on sensor bar for the XBox 360 with a pair of depth sensors (like your eyes), a camera, and a microphone that’s able to track your body and movements. From there, depending on the game, it can either use specific actions (flapping your arms, jumping) or semi-precise tracking to translate into in-game actions.
From a gameplay standpoint, this is a pretty unique and fun experience. Having sampled the Wii with friends over the last several years, it feels very different having the game track your body as opposed to a controller, and not having to press buttons is a refreshing feeling; even outside of the game proper, most games use hand motions, (or feet motions in some cases) to navigate menus.
There is some frustration inherent in this, though. The sensor (while often creepily precise in terms of matching your body, as my silhouette in several games shows me) will sometimes either not register a movement, or get confused if you’re wearing baggier clothing (confusing your elbow with a fold in a shirt, or your knee with the end of a pair of shorts). It’s a small frustration, but it adds up after awhile, and can be game stopping if a game won’t move on until you’ve replicated something you’re seeing on screen (which is, luckily, a very rare occurrence).
Gaming, even in the simplest of games, is incredibly active. You should be prepared to break a sweat playing many of the titles (and not just the exercise ones). The XBox will even occasionally suggest that you take a break, or drink some water, while playing. It’s a nice touch on their part, especially as the suggestions tend to be very un-obtrusive.
In multi-player (and who doesn’t love multi-player), the XBox can track up to two active players (although it can recognize up to six at a time). While this isn’t the first time that I’ve been in the middle of full contact gaming (hitting another player’s controller, while un-sportsman-like, was an accepted practice during gaming with my friends, as were projectiles), it’s the first time that it’s part of the actual game. The Kinect is surprisingly adept at tracking two people, and even when crossing each other’s paths or switching places, it could differentiate between the two players. There’s something a bit fun about jumping in front of another player to intercept incoming points, or forcing them into a different play area (and not seeing the game get confused).
Game selection is currently limited with the Kinect, and most games available are aimed at the casual gamer or the social gamer. There’s nothing inherently bad about this, but it will be interesting to see if they can take the system and aim it towards their more hardcore players (an area that the XBox 360 has long been associated with). A few titles that are slated for release later this year seem to be aimed at this market.
Another downside is that, while the Kinect will take pictures of you during play (and some of them can be pretty hilarious), it’s difficult to get them off the XBox to share. It’s a minor complaint, overall, but does diminish sharing capabilities.
Overall, the Kinect does what it promises to do: it has taken motion control, and pushed it to the next level. The games, while aimed at a more casual crowd than the 360’s core audience has been in the past, are fun and incredibly active.
What do you think of the Kinect? Let us know in the comments, or via Twitter!