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Wipeout In The Zone

(Activision; US: 14 Jun 2011)

Falling on Your Face for Fun

I love the idea of my Kinect. It’s great for dancing games (well, Dance Central) and fitness games. It makes Child of Eden even more interesting. And right now that’s kind of it.


So, I’m always looking for something new and exciting to do with the technology. i>Kinect Labs scratches that itch a little, but like everyone else who writes about games and owns a Kinect, I’m still waiting for more from the peripheral’s games. Wipeout in the Zone is not that game.


Now that I’ve got your expectations in the right zone, we can discuss Wipeout on its own merits. Based on the ABC television show Wipeout, the game recreates the zany, Japanese-game-show-style obstacle course full people getting slammed by large foam objects and knocked into the mud while commentators make corny jokes at their expense. The game is pretty much an exact recreation of this concept, and playing the game feels a lot like watching the show. You’re not going to get wet or muddy. Instead, you’re going to have to listen to family-friendly but still just a little smarmy commentary, and there are endless replays of contestants getting bonked in the head.


As a Kinect title, this all entails a lot of running in place, jumping and crouching, leaning and swaying. Also as a Kinnect title, the controls seem a little laggy and imprecise. Timing jumps requires jumping before you want your avatar to leap, and running in place needs to stop before you want your little doppelganger to skid to a stop. On the plus side, Wipeout uses physics that are much more Mario than real world, letting your character jump higher than any Olympic athlete. The cartoon physics are especially great when it comes to the Big Red Balls section of the course. On the TV show, contestants inevitably fall into the water when trying to navigate these enormous, bouncy spheres. In the game, impossible physics can catch you in a cycle where you bounce off at a 45 degree angle and then fall right back to the same ball and bounce off again. Some contortion of leaning, jumping, and flailing can brute force its way through the wonky physics and make it to the other side intact. It looks dumb and plays terribly, but it’s more fun than having to watch those replays.


But clearly I’m not the target audience for this game. That’s why I invited my friend and his six-year-old son, Jack, over to play. Jack doesn’t have a Kinect at home, so he’s always excited to come use mine. He’s also a big, big fan of the television show Wipeout. He is, in fact, the target audience for this game. Excited as he was to play, even Jack was a little discouraged at first by how bad the menu system controls. Moving the cursor with your hand actually feels difficult, like you’re having to physically drag it across the screen. But once we got going, Jack started to get into it. The three of us played multiplayer and were able to learn from each others’ mistakes and figure out what strategies worked.


Most of the time, the game lets you skip a challenging obstacle by raising your hands in the air and taking a 60 second time penalty. That’s a great feature, and Jack liked using it (as did his father and me). Weirdly though, in one section that he was having a particular trouble with—the finale of a course—he wasn’t allowed to skip it. He kept failing over and over, and later I did too. I finally got it, but by that point we were all kind of sick of the game. Jack had noticed all the same faults that I did—the imprecise controls, the sometimes unpredictable physics, the lack of variety. When I asked him to give it a score on a scale of 1 to 10, he said 6. I would’ve given it a 5, but I’m not the target audience, he is. So, 6 out of 10 it is.

Rating:

Rick Dakan is a novelist and former game designer whose books include the Geek Mafia trilogy from PM Press. For more of his prose and musings, go to www.rickdakan.com.


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