I bought a Kinect on release day. It’s what I do. Unlike when I bought a Wii on release day at the very same Best Buy several years ago or an iPad on release day several months ago, this time there was no line or waiting list. About a half dozen of us gathered around the doorway five minutes before ten o’clock and then strolled on up to the display and had our pick of the pile. I bought the Kinect sensor of course, along with the nifty thingamjig that lets you attach it to the top of your TV. I picked up Dance Central and Kinect Sports along with Kinect Adventures (which comes with the sensor). I’ve now been living with it for a week.
This new acquisition reminds me in many respects of those heady first days when I bought my Wii. It’s a nifty new technology that promises to get me off the couch and into the game. I’ve been inviting friends and family over to check it out and be appropriately amazed. I still lose in boxing to people that I could totally beat up in a real boxing match. The technology itself draws oohs and aahs but is far from perfect. Like my Wii, I’m not entirely sure I’ll be using it a month from now, but I hope that I will be.
But despite all the similarities and the handful of technical issues, Kinect also feels totally different from the Wii. First of all, it’s always looking at me, and the fact that it sees my whole body really does make these motion games feel very different from Wii or Move games. Most of us quickly learned how to “cheat” the Wii controller. A flick of the wrist was often as good as or even better than a full swing of the arm. The Kinect, while often forgiving in the easier settings, still requires a full range of motion. Ever since I heard about Project Natal, I’ve been a fan of this all in, full body approach.
The experience isn’t perfect, and it varies from game to game a great deal. But of course the whole thing can’t begin until you’ve cleared enough space in front of the TV. My smallish living room is just barely big enough and requires moving a couple ottomans out of the way. For two players, I usually move a chair as well. Even then, the ceiling is low, and I’ve hit my hand on the fan twice. My 6 foot 5 inch pal Kent can’t play the games with jumping in them but did just fine with boxing, dancing, and soccer. It definitely provides an inertial dampener when it comes to choosing what to play. Sitting on the couch with my feet propped up with a controller in hand usually sounds more appealing than moving furniture and jumping around.
On the other hand, moving furniture and jumping around can be a lot of fun. And it’s a very different kind of fun, one we’re familiar with from the Wii of course, but as I said, I find Kinect games to be more fully engaging than Wii ones. It also helps that it’s part of my Xbox instead of a separate console, so the graphics are better, the sensor can be used for video chat and as a microphone for any online gaming. Controlling the dashboard with gestures is neat at first but so slow compared to a controller that it quickly loses its charms, but, hey, I’ve got a controller right here. On balance, a week in, it’s a pleasant addition to my gaming life.
The biggest challenge for the Kinect right now is that I’ve really only seen two types of games on the system: sports-style physical games and dance games. I haven’t played the racing games, but Joyride and Sonic Free Riders have gotten pretty bad reviews and, anyway, don’t sound too different from similar games from Kinect Sports and Adventures. I think the Dance Central experience is great and a ton of fun, and I really enjoy Kinect Sports, especially with other players. But I’m most curious to see what else developers do with this technology, and having played with it for a week, I myself don’t have any idea where this thing will go. Luckily, that’s not my job, so all I have to do is wait and see and hope someone comes up with some more interesting applications. I love the dance game that I have and enjoy the sports titles. I have no interest in purchasing another one of either game type. Maybe Steel Battalion will be the answer I’m waiting for? Heck, maybe even Harry Potter will be. Right now, I’m happy to have my Kinect but not interested in buying anything else that’s currently available for it. Microsoft needs to improve its library a lot if this new tech is going to be a success instead of a curiosity.