Ever since its release, people have been questioning Microsoft’s decision to include the Kinect with the Xbox One. Many think that the many voice and gesture gimmicks when traversing the system’s menus are unnecessary, and that the machine’s $500 price point is because of the peripheral and it would benefit from now having it included.
Developed by Rare / Published by Microsoft Studios
Available for the Xbox One.
*Review code provided by Microsoft.
Microsoft has two ways to prove Kinect’s value to its consumers: make it invaluable to the system’s use and craft games tailor-made for the camera. While the success of using Kinect when it comes to moving through the Xbox’s menus is debatable (it works eight out of ten times), it’s games like Kinect Sports Rivals that justify the existence of the packed-in camera. Despite not being perfect, Kinect Sports Rivals is, so far, Microsoft’s best argument when it comes to defending Kinect.
So let’s address the questions on everyone’s minds right off the bat: How are the controls? Does it work? The answers are yes, it controls well almost all the time. It’s that “almost” that keeps it from being the Kinect’s killer app, but what it accomplishes is impressive nonetheless. Rivals‘ six games are fun and entertaining takes on well known sports, which add their own spin to make it possible for the player to engage with them from their living room. Of these six, soccer is the weakest link, since it’s that “almost” that keeps this game from reaching as high as it can. It often trips over its own controls and makes it a chore to play.
Right from the start, Kinect Sports Rivals impresses with its crisp visuals and surprisingly exact technology. Once you boot the game for the first time, the game will ask to scan your face to create your sport champion. What results is a very close recreation of the players face. Mine was the closest I’ve ever gotten an in-game avatar to look like me, and it does all this by just having you hold still and then moving your face left, right, up, and down.
Following that, you’re thrusted into the meat of the game. Every sport has its own tutorial to get you acclimated to it, and it’s in these tutorials and the events that follow that the game’s story takes place. That’s right, Rivals has a story that unfolds as you play its six sports, albeit a superficial one. See, the conceit is that you’re trying to go up the ranks and become a sport superstar, and three teams are seeking to add a new player to the mix. It’s your job to garner fans by playing and choosing which team you’ll join. While it’s fun to see a bigger emphasis on story in a game like this, with motion-captured cutscenes and all the other bells and whistles, they sometimes tend to get in the way. The cutscenes are often enough that they disrupt the flow of the game, and this is on top of the already lengthy load times.
The six sports present in the game are wave racing, sharp shooting, rock climbing, soccer, tennis, and bowling. Wave racing and rock climbing are probably the most fleshed out of the bunch and the ones that feel the most natural to control. In wave racing, it’s surprising how well Kinect can detect when you open and close your hand to signify letting off and stepping on the gas, respectively. After a short tutorial, it’s easy to grasp how to turn your jet ski and how to pull off jumps. The same goes with rock climbing. The motion of reaching out to grab a rock and pull yourself to it feels natural and immediate. This was probably my favorite event, as it has enough depth to keep you entertained for quite a while. What starts out as an easy climb up a mountain, quickly transforms into a challenge as you start coming upon rocks that crumble if you hold onto them too long, rocks that electrify you and strong gusts of wind that try to blow you off. And that’s without adding the ever present danger of another player reaching out and grabbing your foot to pull you off the mountain. This adds a sense of urgency that pushes you to become the best at the sport to avoid having other players catch up to you and pull you down.
Bowling and tennis are not unlike what we’ve seen in other games, like Wii Sports. The difference here being that Kinect is quite capable of detecting small movements in addition to the bigger ones. This adds another layer of strategy and depth not present in other games. For example, it’s very easy to add a bit of a spin to your ball when bowling, making it easier to tackle spare situations. The same can be said about tennis. Spins give you a tighter handle on where to make the ball go. Also, the force you put behind your swing affects if the balls just reaches your opponent or goes over their head, making it easy to overtake them the closer they get to you and the net.
Sharp shooting is the simplest of the bunch, only asking that you point at the screen like a gun and shoot the colored targets faster than your opponent, sometimes in a specified order. But even this simple event has its own twist. Not only can you steal some of your opponent’s targets by shooting them first, but you can steal from his high score. In front of every player is a turret that charges up as you take down targets. When fully charged, the player can activate it and have it shoot the other player and steal points from them. This can also be done to you though, but you can avoid the blast by dodging left and right.
Soccer is sadly the game’s biggest mistake. Since it’s obvious you can’t replicate a whole field in your living room, the game plays more like foosball, with opposing players moving left and right on a rail, trying to catch your kicks. And this is where the problems begin. While it’s understandable why this concession had to be made, it makes soccer less exciting that it should be, and this is made worse by the inconsistent reading of your feet by the Kinect. More times than not, I found my kicks heading off in completely different directions than what I intended them to go to at no fault of my own. It’s not a rare sight to see your legs go crazy as if they had a life of their own as Kinect tries to figure out where they are in your room. All these things compounded made soccer the sport I least partook on.
All of these are tied together with an XP and gold system that allows to garner more fans and afford different costumes, rides, etc. The game also includes the Kinect Sports Hub, a space where you can peruse through the leaderboards, see how your friends are doing and access daily and weekly challenges. This will help the game keep its legs in the long run.
Microsoft and Rare have done a commendable job in proving that there is a place for the Kinect in your living room. Despite soccer’s failings, the rest of the events in Kinect Sports Rivals control surprisingly well, translating your movements into the game much better than any Kinect game has in the past. Lets hope it just keeps getting better as time goes on.