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while Kinect Sports: Season Two ultimately awaits, this week i thought i would take a trip back and contexualize next week's review by first revisiting the original Kinect Sports. cast your mind back then, if you will, to the winter of 2010: wooo-wavyflashbacklines-wooo.
The Giants have recently beaten the Rangers to World Series glory, News International's BSkyB control bid has been striking some as fishy and Wesley Snipes has been sent down for tax evasion. ah, what Halcyon days. amid all this excitement, Microsoft launches Kinect and millions worldwide unwrap Kinect Sports to try out their new toy.
generally speaking, the initial reviews are positive. the small selection of simple sports sims didn't set the world alight, but they do a decent enough job of showing what Kinect has made possible and of hinting at what might be to come.
if anything, the most disappointing facet of Kinect has been the fact that so few of the amazing things that seemed possible then have actually come into being in the interim. the fact that i'm returning to a launch title fifteen months on, and am genuinely unsure about what i might find by way of improvements in its sequel surely has to point to something of a wrinkle in Microsoft's vision.
the most significant facet of Kinect Sports is quite how multi-player orientated it was/is. it was presumably designed to make a bold statement about a new era of multi-player, all-age, physically interactive games. the sense that there was little to no need for anything that would pass for a meaningful one-player experience is perhaps more striking today, give what has (or rather hasn't) followed, than it was then. all six sports are playable in one-player mode, but aside from experience points to gain and multi-level AIs to defeat, there is little sense of a fleshed-out one player experience.
this, is of course, is nothing new - Wii-Sports, which is the most obvious point of comparison, did something very similar - but it does seem an odd omission for a control system launch-title on a console that has such a strong investment in single-player gaming.
another area in which it seems not to have taken full advantage of the response to Wii-Sports is that of the interrelatedness of the events on offer. with boxing, bowling, table tennis, track and field, beach volleyball and football (soccer) there is perhaps even less of a sense of cohesion than in Nintendo's original sports compendium. to my mind, having a discernible theme that links the sports/events is the easiest way into some kind of one-player substance - as soon as it makes sense to link performance across the various sections, then we basically have ourselves a proper, fleshed-out experience, no?
i see the need for variety, but would it really have been that hard to have chosen sports that offered both variety and cohesion? swap bowling for, for example, archery, and you have a potential olympic theme. or stick with bowling and table tennis, and from there develop a games-you-might-play-at-a-youth-club theme (others might include: darts, pool, British bulldog and heavy petting).
it quite easily outclassed its 2010 competition.
perhaps i am the only one who feels this way, but i much preferred the concept of the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games games. at least Nintendo tried with Wii-Sports Resort, in which they shaped the events to the perhaps slightly too non-specific theme of things a person might conceivably do on an island. the mistake they made, however, was making most of the events not that good. you do need to do that.
it seems to me, therefore, that good + cohesive is perhaps a real gap in the market for these sorts of games. the lineup for Kinect Sports: Season Two however - golf, darts, tennis, skiing, baseball and American football - seems to suggest that no-one else really cares about cohesion. as for good, well tune in next week kids...
back to this week, and let's turn now to the actual games. well, they still vary in quality and playability just as much as they did on release, and there's also now the issue of hindsight-informed longevity. starting with the lattermost, it's perhaps a mixed blessing for Microsoft that Kinect Sports still measures up as well as it does. while it quite easily outclassed its 2010 competition, UbiSoft's fairly woeful MotionSports and Hudson's interesting but flawed Sports Island Freedom, the reality is that disappointingly few sports titles have since emerged that have offered Kinect integration, let alone delivered it successfully.
as far as i'm concerned, the bowling and table tennis elements of Kinect Sports remain strong showings. the former offers (for my money) a more intuitive, realistic and satisfying experience than either Wii-Sports equivalent, while the latter is almost but not quite as good as the awesome table tennis game offered in Wii-Sports Resort, which from me is high praise indeed. the only downside comes from the fact that for some inexplicable reason, the multiplayer mode is a considerably stripped-down and significantly weaker version of the one-player mode.
beach volleyball is perhaps the most impressive of all the events.
in the middle stratum lies track and field - which consists of sprint, hurdles, long jump, javelin and discus - and beach volleyball. the track and field events generally do a good job of translating appropriate motions into controls, and the control mechanics are in most cases both accurate enough to make competition fairly compelling and unfussy enough to make for a pretty slick experience. however, i do question whether there is really enough here to sustain interest over time, even assuming a multi-player, natural competition type scenario.
beach volleyball is perhaps the most impressive of all the events in that it manages to marry a variety of movements with fast-paced and dynamic play. it does, however, seem to achieve this by making the controls slightly fudgier and more generous than might make the experience really engrossing. it's also here that the need for significant amounts of space for multiplayer fun becomes very obvious.
boxing and football (soccer) are the least successful inclusions, with soccer being the weaker of these two by some margin. boxing is a disappointment simply because the controls just aren't accurate enough to make the experience enjoyable. when play is so simple and there is such a limited pool of available options, it really grates if the control scheme cannot consistently manifest your intensions.
perhaps Season Two will be the herald of the new breed.
as for football (soccer), i get the feeling that it was designed by someone who's never seen let alone played football (soccer), and who in fact might have been accidentally sent to an under-13s girls netball match to do their research. space, energy and a sense that it would soon become tedious all prevent me from indulging the righteous anger that this part of the game induces, so let's just say that it's not as well designed or fun as it might be.
all in all, a year and a half after release, Kinect Sports still offers a pretty enjoyable multiplayer experience, even if it lacks a one-player experience worth revisiting with any regularity. i imagine, however, that the peoples at Microsoft have mixed feelings about its lasting, relative successes - just because few better sport games have come along for Kinect, it doesn't mean that this one is great. however, perhaps Season Two will be the herald of the new breed, and it won't be long until the sporting potential of Kinect is being fully stretched.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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