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Kinect for Xbox 360 review

KinectArms a-flailin’, legs a-kickin’ and heads a-bobbin’. That’s the view that Kinect gets as you and your pals progressively lose your inhibitions.

The genre of action gaming, made groundbreakingly popular by the Nintendo Wii, has taken a while to migrate to the Xbox and PS3. Finally with Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect, the wait is over. So has the wait been worth it?

First impressions of the Kinect

The Kinect ships in a thankfully small box, which is easy to carry home for instant gratification purposes. Inside the box, the Kinect sensor takes up most of the space, with a setup guide, the Kinect Adventures game and a one piece cable with power and USB connectors in there as well.

The Kinect sensor is actually smaller and more premium looking than I was expecting. It’s a glossy black plastic affair, with a rubberized base that helps it perch on top of your favorite TV. The main unit is connected to the base with a little silver neck.

The setup guide is easy to follow and installation took just a few minutes as the Kinect progressed to calibrate itself by looking around and listening to ambient noise in the room. An automatic update was also downloaded during the installation process. After that I was all set.

Using the Kinect

When you start up an Xbox 360 with the Kinect installed, the regular dashboard appears and then the Kinect needs another few seconds to start up. You can then interact with the Kinect by waving a hand in the air or by talking to it. Both methods work well, but the voice control likes a quiet room to help the Kinect to understand what you’re saying.

The regular dashboard scoots away and the Kinect dashboard, or Hub as it’s known, appears. From within the Hub you make selections either buy holding your hand steady over a tile for a couple of seconds or speaking the name of the tile you want to engage. I expect most people will choose hand waving, unless you have a quiet room in which case vocal instructions are a viable option. The hand waving is intuitive and easy to use; the first time I tried, I didn’t hold my hand steady for long enough and the selection didn’t engage. But when you get used to sticking a steady hand in the air it becomes second nature.

Once you’ve engaged the Kinect into action, we hit the first hitch. Unfortunately only a few of the Xbox’s capabilities are available through the Kinect Hub. You can access the game disc currently in the drive, a very limited amount of DLC such as ESPN and some other video content, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no access to Netflix or the remaining bounty of good stuff we’ve come to love from the living room friendly world of Xbox.

I would expect that the Xbox dashboard and Kinect Hub will converge in time as more Xbox apps become compatible with the Kinect. But at the moment it feels like we are in the dangerous territory of having two parallel software interfaces coexisting on the platform.

I’ve been using the Kinect with two launch titles: Dance Central, which seems to have been the most popular title so far and Kinect Adventures, which ships with the Kinect. I’ll start with Dance Central, which is a dance game that fills the dual role of being both amazingly good fun and getting you in shape.

Dance Central includes a decent selection of songs that have their own dance moves. As you progress through the game learning the moves, the Kinect tells you how good your dancing is and is very responsive to your movements. You can slow down the action if you’re having difficulty nailing a particular step.

What makes Dance Central so amazing is that I completely forgot that the Kinect sensor was even there. I felt like I was interacting with the game tutor in my own private dance class. There was nothing to hold or wave, no sensor mats to walk on, nothing strapped to my body relaying information. The beauty of the Kinect is that when games work well, they’re wonderfully immersive.

After a good shot of not dancing very well, but sweating profusely, I turned to Kinect Adventures. This bundled game is a collection of simple active games that do a good job of showcasing the Kinect’s ability to track multiple players with fun games. There are five mini games in Kinect Adventures that all require active play. Kinect Adventures is a mild to very active game; at the extreme end of the scale Reflex Ride will have you jumping constantly to propel a cart, while dodging obstacles in your path. It’s a non-stop sweat ride, in a good way.

Some of the games, like Rallyball, demonstrate how Kinect can sense the arrival of a second player and turn a game instantly from being a one player into a two player game. It’s seriously cool to see your avatar walking into the Rallyball court and just start to play alongside the existing player. You can then walk off and the game continues, but with one player.

Kinect Adventures lacks the depth of Dance Central, but is a more immediate and better party game. It’s also free with the Kinect, and plays better than you might expect of a free game.

Some Kinect downsides

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you’re expecting the Minority Report experience (I wasn’t but I continue to live in hope), then brace yourself for disappointment. Precogs do not ship with the Kinect at this time. Joking aside, the hand gestures work well but lack the fluidity of the Minority Report aspiration. Ultimately the Kinect sensor has to be able to figure out if you just waving your hand or actually performing a gesture, so the couple of second confirmation period makes sense.

Occasionally the Kinect sensor became confused when two players were in the room. Sometimes it would give menu control to player one and on other occasions it would switch to player two. Not a biggie, but inconsistent.

Speaking of rooms, now we know why the early demos were done in such spacious environments. Kinect likes a spacious room. The setup guide asks for the Kinect sensor to be 6ft away from you for one player games and 8ft away for two players. That’s a stretch in my New York City shoebox, and it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to buy the Kinect to use it in a small room. The distance from my TV to my sofa is just over 8ft and we were able to play one and two player games fine; although during two player games the Kinect occasionally asked one of us to move backward if we started edging forwards during the limb-waving hysteria.

Does Kinect raise the bar for action gaming?

Overall my Kinect experience has been hugely enjoyable. Aside from a couple of minor issues, I’ve been immersed into the game environment in a way that could only be bettered by Tron. Graphically we seem to be a little stuck in Wii-world, so I’d love to see a Call Of Duty for Kinect. That would take the experience to a whole new level altogether.

Neil Berman

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Nov 22, 2010 - Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , ,

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