Kinect, a Week Later: Great Technology, Disappointing Games

Kinect_post.jpg

Microsoft


After nearly two years of hype, on the Kinect Xbox 360 add-on debuted last week, with a unique combination of cameras, infrared sensors, and microphones to listen to voice commands and track you and your friends' every move. It wowed me enough upon its launch, and after a week of play, that basic thrill hasn't changed. When its games make the most of my arms, feet, hops, and dodges, I'm still smitten.

But my most intense Kinect-related movement has come from swapping games. A new control scheme like a touch-screen or a Wii remote is only half of the equation, because what good's a new input without software to match?

There's a game-of-the-year experience here unlike any other. But to get it from Kinect, you'll need to buy six games minimum, to mix and match them and create the ultimate hodge-podge game. A little soccer here, some aerobics there, along with a speedy drive, some pet-related antics, and an occasional obstacle course... they all add up. By themselves, each disc falls flat.

Except for one. Dance Central, from the makers of Rock Band, currently sits on my "best of 2010" pedestal. I've tried other dance games before, from the arrow-pad hops of Dance Dance Revolution to the over-simplified arm-waves of Just Dance, and none have ever sat right.

Dance Central, by contrast, senses your dance moves in three-dimensional space. Really, it senses 'em. All of 'em. You cannot fake Kinect out with arm-waves from the couch, nor with half-assed motions. Those knees have to go all the way down. Your arms need to jut out. And when you perform a jazz square, your four steps need to not only match the beat, but also cross in front and behind, with matching arm motions, just so.

Ohmygoshthatissoooooooocool.

This basic revolution in control comes with a welcome diversity of songs, ranging from hip-hop to pop to club bangers, and each comes complete with an appropriate set of moves. "Funky Town" has the dorkiest, simplest moves, while Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction" makes you flat-out work it, and this range bears out well when playing with a large group.

Developers Harmonix could've added more songs, or more modes, and the inevitable Dance Central 2 will have both. But the experience here so far hasn't bored me yet. Not even close.

That brings us to Kinect's problem: its disparity between Dance Central and Every Other Game On Kinect. Nothing else comes close.

You'll find Kinect Adventures free inside every Kinect, like temporary tattoos in a Cracker Jack box. As such, the game comes off a little thin, but it's not ashamed to simply prove to new owners that, yes, this Kinect thing works.

It accomplishes the task via five arcadey games, each lasting about two minutes per round. Smack a ball at targets in 3D space; guide a raft down a river by leaning and jumping; plug leaks in an aquarium using your hands and feet; dodge oncoming obstacles while riding a mine cart. (The fifth game, which sees you floating awkwardly in a spaceship, is best left ignored.)

The mini-games' two-minute lengths are a form of mercy, as even the simplest ones require a good amount of swatting, kicking, hopping, side-stepping, and all-out flailing for the highest score. Microsoft doesn't want anybody getting the wrong idea here; Kinect takes hydration, stretching, and stamina.

As such, I'm okay with the game being relatively thin. It's not an epic quest, but a quick-burst series of games that I turn to again and again for "I want to act like a hooligan for seven minutes" sessions. And I don't mind the exertion. Really, I like the ways Kinect Adventures uses my full body to play around without blatantly copying the Wii.

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Sam Machkovech is a freelance arts and tech writer based in Seattle, WA. More

Sam Machkovech is a freelance arts and tech writer based in Seattle. He began his career in high school as a nationally syndicated video games critic at the Dallas Morning News, eventually taking up the mantle of music section editor at Dallas weekly paper the Dallas Observer. His writing has since appeared in Seattle weekly The Stranger, in-flight magazine American Way, now-defunct music magazine HARP, gaming blog The Escapist, and Dallas business monthly Dallas CEO. He currently serves as a games and tech columnist for Seattle web site PubliCola.net, as well as a volunteer tutor at the all-ages writing advocacy group 826 Seattle.

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