Rare's Kinect Sports on the Xbox 360 was a great way to show off the original Kinect. It was a fun game in its own right, but it also did a great job of showing off the features of the motion-tracking hardware. It's no surprise, then, that Kinect Sports Rivals was announced for the Xbox One. While the full game won't be available until early 2014, both Rare and Microsoft wanted Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason to be there on day one to entice players with a fun minigame and show off some of the improvements in Kinect 2.0.
More than a demo but less than a full game, Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason offers up one of six different sports available in Kinect Sports Rivals. In Preseason, you're given the chance to play wake racing. In the full game, you'll also get to play bowling, climbing, soccer, target shooting and tennis.
Also missing from Preseason is the champion feature, which uses the Kinect 2.0 to scan your face, putting you in the game as a character. Rare has experimented with this sort of thing before (face-mapping was one of the features cut from the Nintendo 64 version of Perfect Dark), but this is the first time the company is including the feature in one of its games.
Standing in front of the Kinect sensor (though you can play Preseason's wake racing sitting down), the increased sensitivity of the Kinect 2.0 immediately becomes obvious. After having spent a good deal of time with the original Kinect, we've learned to exaggerate movements just enough so every move is deliberate and distinct.
Trying to use that same deliberate style of play on the Kinect 2.0 is a mistake. The new controller can sense a finer range of movement, and Preseason makes use of that. Acting like the game is running on an original Kinect results in your wake racer moving wildly from side to side. To bring it under control, moves need to be more subtle. Perhaps the best analogy would be to compare it to the shift from digital controls to analog sticks on controllers.
In addition to the single-player mode, Preseason also offers local multiplayer via split-screen. After selecting the two-player option, the game asks player one to raise a hand before asking player two to do the same. This is so the Kinect 2.0 knows who is who. After that, play continues as normal. The only difference while playing split-screen is a slightly limited view. There was no issue with the sensor mistaking one player for the other, even in the relatively busy demo room where we played.
Because it is a limited experience, Preseason only offers a single wake race. You can play as many times as you like, but one track is all you're going to get. There are no achievements in Preseason; instead, the game offers a series of exclusive, timed unlocks that carry over into the full version of Kinect Sports Rivals. These items include outfits and vehicles, so in order to get them all, you'll need to play Preseason multiple times during each unlock window. For example, the week after launch will have special founder items available. In December, a Santa-themed wetsuit will be available. Miss a window, and you miss your chance to unlock those items.
Visually, the wake race course in Preseason looks like it was inspired by the Nintendo 64 classic Wave Race 64, just with a whole lot more detail. The course is set in a tropical island, and there are obstacles to avoid and multiple paths to choose. Like Wave Race 64, Preseason also looks to make impressive use of water physics. We only got a few minutes with the game, but during that time, the water certainly appeared to behave in a realistic manner.
As a day one freebie for all Xbox One owners, Preseason will likely see a lot of aggregate playtime. Some of that will no doubt be from gamers who are discovering the Kinect 2.0, while the rest will likely be from the hardcore set. Even though it doesn't offer achievements, the time-limited unlocks are sure to appeal to the compulsive collectors out there.
Editor's Note: For more on Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason, be sure to check out our hands-on gameplay video and chat with Danny Isaac, executive producer on the game at Rare.
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