Prior to its annual press briefing, which will be held later today, Microsoft gathered busloads of people at the Galen Center in Los Angeles on Sunday evening for a presentation.
By the time you read this, you've probably already heard that Microsoft's Project Natal has an official name: The Kinect. Microsoft revealed the name at a special event performed by the Cirque du Soliel. While the event was fairly light on information, aside from the big reveal of the project's new name, it did feature some snippets of video from Kinect games, giving us an interesting glimpse into the system's capabilities. As it was a fancy presentation, there is a good chance that most of this video was pre-recorded, so it's difficult to judge how good the Kinect's movement-reading abilities are. However, that didn't stop us from getting a look at the kind of games that are being developed for it.
It was quite clear from the videos that Microsoft is attempting to take on the Wii directly. A number of the games were clearly made to compete with some of the Wii's top sellers. A lengthy portion of the proceedings, for example, was devoted to an Olympics-based game that was clearly designed to rival Wii Sports, right down to using the Xbox Avatars in place of Nintendo's Miis. It included minigames like soccer, sprinting, the javelin throw and yes, even bowling. By and large, these games looked slightly more complex than their Wii counterparts. Soccer, for example, seemed to use body motions to control passing and kicking. Based on what we saw, it didn't seem to be a one-for-one soccer game. Instead, it seemed like competitive minigames, where successful minigame completion turned the tide in the favor of the winner. The presentation mentioned that the sports game could be played via Xbox Live with people in other countries. It will be interesting to see if a Wii-like party game will hold the same appeal when you're not in the same room as the other players.
One of the other titles they showed was a dancing game, which is where the Kinect looks to be at its strongest. It was called dancing, but it was more like a game of follow the leader, where the on-screen avatar would perform a series of dance moves and encourage the player to follow along. These dance moves ranged from asking the player to swing his elbows to telling him to play air guitar. If the player screwed up or did badly, the game would take a "time out" and instruct the player step-by-step on how to perform the correct movements. From the brief presentation, it seemed like something that would be appealing to the kind of people who enjoyed Just Dance or various other Wii-based games in similar genres. There were only three moves shown in the short clip, so it's hard to tell how varied the game can get.
There were other games shown in similar genres. One seemed to be a yoga simulator. It's not exactly a game, but it has great potential to appeal to those who are looking for something like Wii Fit. Likewise, there was a rather adorable-looking game where you played with a tiny tiger cub. You could scratch and pet him with movements of your hand, or you could use gestures and movements to try and teach him tricks. It was a game clearly in the vein of Nintendogs, and considering the fact that they were giving out plush dolls of the tiger after the show, it seems likely that Microsoft is banking on adorable tiger cubs being a big selling point. There were also a series of interesting-looking challenge games where you have to move your body into unusual positions to get through a constantly scrolling obstacle course, which seemed like it could be a fun workout title.
Perhaps the only game that appealed to the usual gaming crowd was an unnamed Star Wars game, seemingly based on the Clone Wars cartoon series. This game had the player controlling a Jedi with his body movements, swinging his hands around to wield the Jedi's signature lightsaber, and making thrusting movements with his hands to push Stormtroopers with The Force. The video ended with the appearance of a fully suited Darth Vader who moved in to attack the player, although we didn't get to see how this fight looked. There doesn't seem to be a way to directly move your character around. Instead, a certain set of movements made the Jedi pull himself forward with The Force. While it is tough to say what this means for the Kinect, it makes one wonder how it will handle more traditional games. It is difficult to see how a first-person shooter or RPG would work on the Kinect, although it's not fair to judge it based on a brief video.
The most notable thing about the Kinect presentation is that Microsoft was clearly gearing it as a family entertainment package, as opposed to the usual sort of Xbox game. Almost every video showed an entire family playing together, and the kinds of games that were being presented were party titles intended for multiple players of all age groups. There were also some brief looks at a Kinect-controlled Xbox dashboard, including motion-controlled menu selection and a video chat feature. It certainly had a futuristic air to it, although some of the brief glimpses made me wonder exactly how convenient it would be after the shine of movement-controlled browsing wore off. Still, it was difficult to say that it didn't look neat in a "Minority Report" sort of way.
Kinect's debut was too light on information to form any concrete opinions about what was shown. It served mostly as a guidepost toward what the Kinect's goal will be: attempting to topple the Nintendo juggernaut. With a wide variety of family-friendly games, almost all comparable to big Nintendo hits, it's not hard to see the Kinect catching the eye of the same crowd who made the Wii a smash success. However, since it is an add-on instead of a stand-alone system, it seems like a lot is riding on Microsoft's eventual price tag for the Kinect. Make sure to check back later this week for more Kinect info and impressions as E3 gets into full swing.
More articles about Xbox 360