Nov. 4, 2010 at 12:07 AM ET
Despite plenty of initial skepticism, Kinect is proving to be a pretty cool gadget with lots of wow! power.
Microsoft's motion-sensing device for the Xbox 360 — a device that lets you play video games using your body movements and the sound of your voice rather than a controller — is easy to use, surprisingly accurate and the kind of thing that really might change the way people play games. (See Todd Kenreck's review here.)
But for all the gadgetry kapow, it's really the games themselves that will determine the long-term success of Kinect. Will these body-controlled games capture our hearts and minds for the long haul ... or turn out to be nothing but gimmicky disappointments and a passing fad?
So far, Microsoft has announced 17 Kinect-enabled games that will be available starting with the device's launch today and on through the holidays. And if you check out the list of Kinect games revealed so far (see below), what you'll find is a whole lot of casual party games, lots of fitness games ... and almost nothing that would fall into the hard-core gaming category. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal but, as always, my opinions are my own.)
No, you won't find a Kinect-enabled first-person shooter, for example, or a Kinect-enabled role-playing game. At least not yet. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Halo" players and "Call of Duty" players don't need motion-controlled gaming on the Xbox 360 right now. They love their traditional handheld controllers and they would quickly and loudly mock any game that unnecessarily forced motion and core gaming to coexist.
No, Kinect is largely meant to open the Xbox 360 to a new crowd — the casual gamer and even the non-gamer. The Wii gamer, you might say. And having spent time with several of the Kinect-enabled launch titles, I'd say that Microsoft looks as though it's going to succeed handily in this department.
That is, the games I've played so far are a lot of fun to play and a snap for even the noobiest noob to jump right into. Not only that, some of these Kinect titles may just convince even those seasoned players skeptical of motion-gaming to try out games they didn't previously think they'd be interested in.
The thing is, controlling a game with the swipe of your hand or with the movements of your body — arms, legs, head, feet — really is cool. (Remember the movie "Minority Report"? Yeah, it's pretty much like that). I asked a variety of people, each with a different level of gaming experience, to try several Kinect titles with me, and there wasn't one of them who didn't say "Wow!" and want to play more.
All in all, Kinect is off to a good start. Yes, developers and publishers are going to have to significant diversify their Kinect gameplay offerings in the months to come — party games and fitness games will quickly grow tiresome. But the important thing is, these initial games show that Kinect works. And, perhaps even more importantly, they give us a glimpse of some of the truly interesting and innovative gaming possibilities to come.
As developers wrap their heads around this device, I look forward to seeing the next round of games and gameplay styles they dream up. Meanwhile, here's a look at some of the Kinect games available in stores right now.
(Good Science Studio/Microsoft Game Studios), included with every Kinect sensor, available Nov. 4
This is the game you'll get when you buy Kinect. Yes, it's yet another collection of mini-games, but it's a collection of mini-games that actually manages to make mini-game collections new and interesting again.
From "River Rush" to "20,000 Leaks," there are 20 imaginative and downright goofy adventures that can be played alone, but really shine when you have friends or family playing together.
In the "Space Pop" game, for example, you'll find your avatar floating in a gravity-free room filled with bubbles. It's your job to make your avatar pop as many bubbles as possible. To do that, you'll have to flap your arms and run around your living room floor. Kinect will track your movements so that your on-screen avatar does what you do, floating and flying about the space, popping bubbles.
As I said ... these games are totally goofy. But fun. You will laugh at yourself, you will laugh at the people around you. And that's a good thing
(Rare/Microsoft Game Studios), $49.99, available Nov. 4
Nintendo has its "Wii Sports" game, Sony has its "Sports Champions" game and now Microsoft offers "Kinect Sports." And the basics of each game remains the same: These are all collections of sports-themed mini-games that are great for a party.
Like its competitors, "Kinect Sports" offers up bowling, boxing, table tennis, soccer and volleyball as well as track and field games. Of course, the difference here is, you're using your entire body to play these games rather than waving a motion-sensing wand around as you would with the Wii or PS3. And as I said before, that's proving to be pretty dang cool.
Play the soccer-themed game and you'll actually use your leg to kick a virtual ball to your virtual teammate, or perhaps you'll jump up in the middle of your living room and use your real head to headbutt a virtual ball to score a virtual goal.
But Kinect is not a perfect device and it does, at times, seem to lag behind registering your movements. The "Kinect Sports" boxing game is one of those places where you'll notice the lag. Though I was surprised at how well Kinect was able to register some of my quicker jabs and blocks, there were times when it simply couldn't quite keep up.
But in all fairness, I've experienced the same thing (and worse) when playing "Wii Sports" boxing and, to a lesser degree, when I took Sony's "The Fight: Lights Out" for a test drive at PAX.
"Your Shape: Fitness Evolved"
(Ubisoft), $49.99, available Nov. 4
A warning: Some Kinect games will hurt you. In a good way. "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved" is one of those games. Seriously, I could barely walk the morning after going through my first session with a virtual personal trainer as part of this fitness game.
Yeah, perhaps it's a testament to how out of shape I am. Nonetheless, I have to say, as someone who's never had much interest in fitness videos or the fitness gaming craze in general, this is the first game to truly make me think about working out in front of my television.
"Your Shape: Fitness Evolved" does the usual fitness video game thing, offering you a virtual personal trainer who guides you through a variety of exercise moves and fitness regimes. It gives you plenty of opportunities to specify the kinds of improvements you'd like to see in your body shape and overall health and it tracks your progress over the course of time.
But since "Your Shape" is using the Kinect sensor, it's able to follow the movements of your entire body and suggest corrections to help you do each exercise properly. And that just makes good sense — an exercise program that can actually "see" how you're exercising.
Meanwhile, the interface is as sleek as it gets and the Gym Games — a handful of games that are designed to give you a bit of a workout while also amusing you — are especially fun. "Virtual Smash" (a game in which you punch virtual blocks to destroy them) and "Stack 'Em Up" (imagine the future of "Tetris") may just make you forget that you're exercising all together. Until the next morning that is.
(MTV Games/Harmonix), $49.99, Nov. 4
This dancing game from the creators of "Rock Band" is, hands down, Kinect's killer app. If you own a Kinect, you should absolutely own this game — even if you don't think you can dance.
As with "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved," "Dance Central" teaches you different dance moves and dance routines and then uses the Kinect sensor to track the movements of your body to see if you are doing them correctly. Simply select a song from a variety of pop and hip-hop artists (Lady Gaga, Basement Jaxx and Beastie Boys among them). Then choose a mode to play it in.
In Break It Down mode, the in-game characters will teach you each dance move and the sensor will let you know if you're doing it correctly. In Perform It mode, you'll perform the complete routine, following the on-screen characters. The more accurate you are, the higher you'll score. Meanwhile, in Dance Battle mode, you and a friend can split up a song — each performing half of it and trying to outscore the other.
The game features more than 650 dance moves and 90 complete routines and you can perform each song on easy, medium or hard skill level. The music is good, the competition is a blast and if you didn't know how to dance when you started the game, you will by the time you're done.
(Frontier Developments Ltd./Microsoft Game Studios), $49.99, available Nov. 4
"Kinectimals" is the kind of game that the Xbox 360 needs — a game that opens the console up to the younger kids in the house.
It's a pet simulation game — one that lets players adopt an adorable (and I do mean A-DOR-ABLE) baby exotic cat. I'm talking lions, tigers, panthers and more. You adopt these critters (who are living on a lovely-if-mysterious island) and then care for, play with and generally frolick about with them.
As I did with Sony's "EyePet" game, I put "Kinectimals" to the test on my 3 ½ year old son. And surprise! He loved it. Yes, he loved "EyePet" too, but I have to say that "Kinectimals" was significantly easier for him to play since he never had to handle a controller — something that can be difficult for the youngest gamers.
Interacting with the "Kinectimals" critters is easy — reach out your hands to pet them or to scrub them with a brush. If you want your cat to do a trick like sit or play dead, you perform simple gestures. Squat on the floor and your cat will sit. Lie down on the floor and your cat will play dead. And "Kinectimals" offers a host of mini-games to play with your new-found friend as well. Drive them around in a remote-controlled car or play catch with them. It's the kind of stuff kids love … even grown-up kids.
"Kinect Joy Ride"
(Big Park/Microsoft Game Studios), $49.99, Nov. 4
This kart-racing game is the first Kinect-enabled game that made me actually miss holding a controller in my hand.
The game basics are this — you hold your hands out in front of you and grip the air as if you were gripping a steering wheel. You turn that non-existent steering wheel side-to-side to steer your race car, and you lean your body this way and that to drift around corners or perform stunts as you drive your car off a ramp and into the air.
The problem is, standing there gripping nothing but air during this game feels really strange. I suddenly miss the feedback that a handheld controller offers — the feel of gripping that controller in your palms when you're supposed to be gripping a wheel in the game … the buzzing rumble from the controller when you drive off the track or drive into something.
"Kinect Joy Ride" is certainly simple enough for anyone to jump into and the kind of wacky racing fun that could amuse a group of competitive friends for a while. But the controller-free scheme didn't help suck me into this game like it had with some of the above titles. Instead, it left me feeling disconnected from what I was doing and disinterested in hitting the racetrack again.
Also arriving for Kinect this Holiday:
"Game Party: In Motion" — (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment), $39.99 Nov. 18.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 The Videogame" (EA), $49.99, Nov. 16
"The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout"— (THQ), $49.99, Nov. 4
"DanceMasters"— (Konami), $49.99, Nov. 4
"EA SPORTS Active 2" — (EA), $99.95, Nov. 16
"Zumba Fitness" — (Majesco), $49.99, Nov. 18
"MotionSports" — (Ubisoft), $49.99, Nov. 4
"Adrenaline Misfits"— (Konami), $49.99, Nov. 4
"Fighters Uncaged"— (Ubisoft), $49.99, Nov. 4
"Sonic Free Riders" — (SEGA), $49.95, Nov. 4
"DECA Sports Freedom" — (Hudson Entertainment) Holiday 2010