While playing Kinect Sports, it is difficult not to think of comparisons to Nintendo's own Wii Sports. The game is family-friendly, designed around a new control scheme and quite likely to have you exhausted after a solid play session. Spend more than a cursory moment with it, though, and it quickly becomes obvious that not only is Kinect Sports an experience in and of itself, but it also does a great job of highlighting why the Kinect has the potential to be such a game changer.
Fire up Kinect Sports, and the first thing the game offers up beyond the standard sign-in formalities is the opportunity for you to work up the crowd. By itself, this is a throwaway moment, but when you see it for the first time, it is a brilliant introduction to motion control because it gets players used to how Kinect works. In six months or a year, this sort of thing won't be needed, but for now, it's a welcome addition since everyone picking up the game is also going to be new to Kinect.
Once you're comfortable waving your arms around the screen, you can hop into the main menu, which offers up three options: party play, the main event and minigames. The main event is the core of Kinect Sports and where you're likely to spend the most time as a single player. You have your choice of six different games: bowling, boxing, soccer, table tennis, track & field and volleyball.
Bowling is probably the easiest of the bunch, with the game's default settings weighting things heavily in favor of the player. It's fun, but you'll never score as well in real life as you do here. Boxing feels a lot like the NES classic Punch-Out!, only you're using your whole body as the controller. It's a good blend of arcade and simulation, though the game occasionally misreads a hooked punch.
Soccer takes a similar approach, though it tends more toward the arcade side of the fence. You play as the entire team, taking control of each individual player as soon as the ball is passed to him. FIFA it's not, but for a casual option, it's more than passable.
Table tennis is perhaps the most addictive game of the bunch, if only because it ends up feeling so real. With the ability to recognize the difference between a forehand and a backhand as well as to add spin to the ball, table tennis does an excellent job of hiding all of the programming magic from the player and making it feel like you're standing right in front of the table.
Volleyball translates well to the Kinect, with the game using an on-screen indicator to show you where the ball is heading and offering up plenty of time to react. Because it uses your whole body, volleyball always feels accurate, with no obvious misreads.
Track & field is actually a combination of five individual events, including a discus throw, hurdles, javelin throw, long jump and sprint. The hurdles, long jump and sprint events serve as another NES throwback, though this time the game that comes to mind is the Power Pad exclusive, World Class Track Meet. Running in-game is simply a matter of how fast you can run in place, though jumping is pretty accurate. At least with the Kinect, you can't cheat by stepping off to the side as you could with the Power Pad. The javelin throw feels natural, though the discus throw occasionally misreads movements, similar to the errors in boxing. It seems as if the trouble point is centered on detecting Z-axis movement of an extended hand, though it's impossible to tell whether the issue is with Kinect Sports or the Kinect sensor itself.
The minigames offer up variants on bowling, soccer, table tennis and volleyball. You can also choose to play any of the individual track & field events. Every option in the minigames is designed to get you playing quickly, if somewhat spastically. For example, there's the volleyball minigame that is more like dodgeball than anything else, or the soccer minigame that has you playing as a goalie who's trying to fend off a constant stream of goal shots.
For the most part, the games in Kinect Sports support one or two players at a time, with more than two taking turns in front of the sensor. This works out well, as the games that support simultaneous play (such as table tennis) feel natural with it implemented, while those that don't are often more physically demanding. After all, it's probably not a good idea to have two players in close proximity with arms and legs flailing wildly.
Party play is designed to appeal to groups, giving players the chance to split into teams and then compete in a series of minigames. Instead of the standard avatars, party play uses over-the-top mascot characters to represent each team. When it comes time to play, someone from the selected team steps into the sensor area and takes on the challenge. Because scoring is team-based rather than player-based, you are free to swap around at any time. It's a great way to get a whole room of players involved.
Another nifty aspect of Kinect Sports is the after-match "highlight" reel. Rather than have a specific time during gameplay when it is recording, Kinect Sports captures video of various moments during regular play. At the end of the match, the highlight reel plays on-screen. If you like what you see, it can be uploaded to a secure sharing site direct from your Xbox 360. Then, point your browser to https://kinectshare.com/ and log in with your Xbox Live username and password to download or share your video online. If you don't like the video, it is automatically deleted from the Xbox 360 as soon as you close the highlight screen.
Kinect Sports may have a simple premise, but that very simplicity is what allows it to shine. As much a tech demo of the Kinect's abilities as a game, it is somewhat surprising that Kinect Sports wasn't chosen as the featured pack-in title. If you own a Kinect, this is a game that really should be in your collection.
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