I finally got my hands on Kinect and a couple of its games for several hours last night with my wife and two kids. While I can’t say that it is a revolutionary experience it does offer a new way to play and shows some promise while also facing a few technical issues.
First up, my experience with a couple of the burning issues that have been floating around various gaming websites.
Is Kinect racist? No. My wife is black and our kids are mixed (or “mocha latte” as she says) so we pretty much cover the skin-tone spectrum. Kinect had no problems detecting any of us. My wife set up her Kinect ID which uses facial recognition without a hitch and it never had a problem recognizing her during any of the games or demos. What GameSpot and others may have been experiencing was poor lighting conditions according to Consumer Reports which also didn’t experience the issues caused by darker skin.
Does Kinect work sitting down? Yes. I sat down on my couch and was able to use the menus with hand gestures fine. The only time it didn’t work was if I leaned back in the couch and slouched. So, it will work when sitting down but you are going to want to be close to sitting up straight when doing so and within that magical 6-10 foot range.
Does you really need to be back 6 feet and have 8 feet of free width space? Yes but it has more to do with Kinect’s need to be able to see you from head to toe and the fact that you are moving your body more than you would with either the Nintendo Wii or Playstation Move. You physically need that space so you don’t smash your TV or the person playing with you.
Voice and Menu Navigation
While voice commands worked for me flawlessly I can’t say that they are an ideal navigation feature. From the dashboard you have to say “Xbox” to activate it. Then you have to say “Kinect” to get to the Kinect Hub. If you want to get into another application like ESPN you have to say “ESPN”. Once there, you then have to say “Xbox” again to activate voice chat in the application. Once you exit ESPN you then have to say “Xbox” yet again to use voice chat. Why can’t it remember that I was just using the voice commands? While I had no problems using the voice chat those extra ‘steps’ were annoying.
Using hand gestures to navigate the Dashboard menus also seems to share the same problem. It’s not so much that the voice or gesture navigation doesn’t work, it does. Instead the way it is implemented puts in additional steps that feel unnecessary. Once you get past those additional steps though it actually feels neat in an Iron Man or Minority Report way swiping and holding on to different menu items. While it won’t supplant the controller for me, initially I feel like it shows some promise and make me think that maybe this is something that can equal and possibly replace the controller for menu navigation with some more evolution.
Initial Game Play Impressions
I’ve only got Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals right now but there are more coming for in-depth reviews. My immediate reaction is that all the problems and most of the lag we experienced during the Macy’s in-store demo back in July are gone. Where Rally Ball was horrid before it is actually playable now. It had no problems detecting my daughter compared to her legs going crazy before. I have to give Microsoft credit for doing a great job of improving Kinect’s ability to detect since our initial encounter.
The three demos included with Kinect Adventures (Dance Central, Kinect Joy Ride and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved) do a good job of giving you a taste of other style of games that are out there. I had my wife dying laughing when I did Dance Central and the demo pretty much sold her. I think they should have kept Kinect Joy Ride a freemium game though. I get the sense that it was thrown into Kinect just so they’d have an extra game to show demonstrate Kinect’s capabilities which it does a decent enough job of doing just maybe not at the full price. Your Shape genuinely shows one area that Kinect can excel at and that is with fitness games. I felt like that brief demo gave me more of a workout than Wii Fit ever did and without all the hassles of the extra peripherals.
Back to my making my wife laughing at me while playing the Dance Central demo, this is probably one of the biggest hurdles with Kinect. If you thought you may look goofy playing the Nintendo Wii, you are guaranteed to do so with Kinect (my wife actually threatened to release the free style dance video starring me). There’s no faking it. You won’t look cool. Ever. It is a physical impossibility that even The Fonz would not be unable to overcome. The game developers realize that which is why the games include the ability to take snapshots and video of you playing it so that everyone can laugh. At you.
So get over your fear of looking goofy and have fun.
I’m actually surprised that I haven’t run into all the problems that some of the other game sites have mentioned. I was expecting problems. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable first night with Kinect. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when I told the kids that they had to stop playing and go to bed. However, my daughter informed that I wasn’t allowed to take the Kinectimals disk out of the Xbox until she got home from school the next day.
Overall, Kinect gave a first good impression in our household. If I were to give it a grade right now it would be a 4/5 based as much on the potential it dispalyed as much as on the current slate of games and how it is implemented. Microsoft needs to continue to evolve the Kinect detection software and menu navigation to make it a more full fledged and impressive offering. And of course, they also need to broaden the spectrum of games that will work with Kinect beyond the initial line-up of party games, dancing games, racing games and exercise games.
Stay tuned as we’ll have more in-depth reviews of Kinect games.