What will they think of next? A few years after the Wii revolutionized gaming with its motion-sensing Wii remote, Microsoft has raised the ante with its Kinect Sensor for the Xbox 360. Think of the Kinect as a Wii on steroids. The idea behind the Kinect is that YOU are the controller. In fact, you don’t use a controller when using the Kinect. Instead, the Kinect detects your body movements to facilitate gameplay. But is it fun?
When you first start a game that utilizes the Kinect, you’ll notice the Kinect scanning the room. You’ll see a circle on the screen to represent where you are in the room, so that the Kinect can decide whether you have enough room for one or two players at a time. Then it is time for the fun to begin.
My wife and I have tried two games on the Kinect so far. The first is Kinect Adventures, which came with the system. Kinect Adventures has several games within it. The most fun of the bunch is River Rush, a rafting game. You raft down a river, trying to avoid obstacles and grab pins. You lean and move to the left or right to steer the raft, and jump to launch the raft into the air, where you reach higher elevations and grab pins.
Kinect Adventures illustrates the main difference between the Kinect and the Wii. With the Wii, you learned early on that the only motion that mattered was the motion of the remote. You could sit on your sofa if you were lazy, and largely achieve the same effect as someone going nuts jumping around the room, simply by maneuvering the remote. Not so with the Kinect. Your motions do matter. The higher you jump, the higher your raft goes. The more your body leans or moves, the more the raft moves.
This is reflected in other games within Kinect Adventures as well. For example, in 20,000 Leaks, you find yourself in a glass room that is being pummeled from the outside by fish. Holes start to appear in the glass, and you must plug them with your hands and feet. You can move forward and back, left and right, in order to reach all of the holes. Holes even appear on the floor, requiring you to position your feet to plug them.
The same dimensional-sensing technology is used in Space Pop, where you have to flap your arms, and move forward and back and left and right, in order to pop floating balls. It can be fun, but make that sure you’re secure in your relationship before you let your significant other see you striking some crazy poses.
The other game that we bought is Dance Central. This one really isn’t my cup of tea (having to memorize dance steps, after using my brain all day at work, isn’t my idea of fun), but my wife loves it, and has been playing it non-stop. An on-screen avatar walks you through a variety of dance steps for your choice of 32 songs, and the Kinect measures how well you accomplish each step. As you progress, the dance steps are strung together, until you’re doing a complete dance.
Just playing the games can give you a good workout. My wife commented yesterday that she was sore, after having played the Kinect for several hours the previous day with our nephew. If I had to pick one game that required the most exertion, it would be Reflex Ridge, from Kinect Adventures. Your avatar is in a roller coaster cart for the game, and you make the cart move by jumping up and down. You have to avoid obstacles as well, but the jumping alone takes some effort.
The Kinect works remarkably well. There is, though, a slight lag between your movements and your avatar’s movements. That lag is barely perceptible, and can be measured in fractions of a second. It is such that when you’re playing a game, you don’t even think about or notice the lag.
The menu system of the Kinect takes some getting used to, and isn’t uniform between games. In Kinect Adventures, you hold out your hand to position your avatar’s hand over buttons, and then wait a few seconds until a circle fills for your selection to be registered. In Dance Central, you navigate by using hand swipes. The menu navigation on the Kinect also doesn’t always make it obvious who is controlling the menu, which can lead to some confusion.
We also don’t have much experience with the Kinect’s speech recognition features. I haven’t been able to get it to respond to my commands of “Xbox Dashboard,” but I haven’t delved into any of its setup options, either.
Mutliplayer and Online
Much like the Wii, the Kinect is a social experience. Kinect Adventures, for example, is fun as a single-player game, but really shines with two players. In the rafting game, the players each stand on opposite sides of the raft, and must work together to navigate down the river. Communication is key, so that the leaning and jumping is done in tandem.
What impressed me the most from a technological standpoint, is how seamless the multiplayer aspect of the Kinect is. In Kinect Adventures, a second player can step into view of the sensor in midgame, and his or her avatar will appear on the raft. If the player steps offscreen, the avatar disappears.
The Kinect also supports online play. We’ve only tried it with the river rafting game in Kinect Adventures, but that one was indistinguishable from local multiplayer. My wife connected with a friend of ours, and was floating down the river with him at her side in the raft.
One of the knocks on the Wii was that it didn’t have depth, and that the novelty wore off as time passed. That was certainly our experience. A few months after getting it, we hardly played it. Wii owners do buy less games than owners of the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. Time will tell with the Kinect, but there are some aspects of it that suggest that it will have more staying power than the Wii.
Although debatable, the Kinect just feels less gimmicky than the Wii. Because your body movements actually do matter, there are many more possibilities for game developers. Much like Apple’s iPhone didn’t really start to shine until developers grew comfortable with the platform, I suspect we’ll see the same phenomenon with the Kinect. Games will get better and more involved over time. There are some who have described Kinect Adventures as more of a tech demo than anything. If that’s the case, the future is bright for the Kinect, because Kinect Adventures is great fun.
The Kinect also will have the benefit of being able to ride the Xbox 360’s coattails, when the initial Kinect buzz wears off. The 360 is the hardcore gamer’s platform, so it isn’t going away anytime soon. That will keep gamers around as the Kinect ecosystem grows and evolves.
The Kinect’s social aspects will also help. At the end of each game in Kinect Adventures, for example, you get to see photographs of yourself in action. These photos are taken by the Kinect’s camera, and are almost always worth a few laughs. You can upload the photos and share them online.
Could the Kinect fade away over time? It’s possible, but it has much going for it, and the support of a strong system behind it. Our bet? The Kinect will only grow over time.
You have a few buying options when purchasing the Kinect – a standalone Kinect sensor if you already own an Xbox 360, a Kinect bundled with a 4 GB Xbox 360, and a Kinect bundled with a 250 GB Xbox 360. The timing of buying a Kinect may be a gamble this holiday season. Indications are that there will be some great Black Friday deals if you hold out. There’s also the chance, though, that the Kinect could be in short supply and hard to get (in fact, Amazon is already indicating that supplies are limited and that orders might not be filled promptly).
So, is the Kinect a gimmick, or the real deal? If you have an opinion, share it in the comments.
If you use the links on this page to buy the Kinect, a small portion of your sale will go towards 40Tech. As always, we only use these links for products that we’ve tried, and like.
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