Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Good Science Studio
A strange and surprising thing occurred when Nintendo released the Wii. For all of Sony and Microsoft's hardware prowess, Nintendo's modestly powered machine began to outsell its rivals at an alarming rate. Considering the success of the PS2, the lack of interest in the Gamecube, and the new console's funny name which conjured up images of going to the toilet, it was an unexpected shift in power in the world of gaming and one that made Sony and Microsoft sit up and pay attention. With the Wii's simple-to-use motion-controlled hardware able to lure previously uninterested parties to gaming, Sony and Microsoft decided to get in on the action and release their own motion-controlled devices designed to reel in the masses. Following the release of Sony's PlayStation Move in September, it's now Microsoft's turn with Kinect, complete with bundled launch software Kinect Adventures.
Kinect Adventures is essentially a collection of mini-games, which seems to be the norm these days for the launch of any gaming device which doesn't use a traditional control pad. If the aim of the new hardware is to bring people together, including those who may not have any experience playing video games, then Kinect Adventures certainly meets this criteria - the more players the merrier, regardless of whether they know their Master Chief from their MasterChef. Unfortunately, this can be difficult due to the amount of room that is needed to play a game with more than one person (8 feet is the recommended distance from the television for two players). Kinect Adventures is designed to be played by the family in the living room and not in the confines of a small bedroom. If in doubt, the snazzy, self-aware Kinect camera evaluates how much room players have to manoeuvre before the action begins and advises on whether or not more than one person can join in.
Once furniture has been moved or friends and family members have been kicked out of the room, the game is ready to go and people can get their first true taste of the Kinect experience. The menus are designed to be as simple as possible and can all be easily navigated with players' hands - it's like being in a primitive version of Minority Report. There are five different games to choose from, each with half a dozen or more individual courses or challenges to complete. It's not a massive selection, but the multiplayer and novelty aspect of Kinect Adventures is enough to ensure that people will continue to come back for more.
Without doubt, the pick of the games is 'River Rush', which encapsulates the Kinect experience perfectly by asking players to work as a team in order to pilot a raft through a series of rapids - avoiding hazards and collecting A icons for extra points. It's extremely easy to play and requires participants to do no more than a make a few jumps and move their bodies from side to side. With lots of branching routes and hazards, however, it's essential that players are on the same page and communication is crucial in order to hit the checkpoints, nab those high scores and achieve the best time possible. It's one of those games where failure is just as much fun as success and bumping into each other and playing the blame game is probably more enjoyable than nailing a perfect run - so long as the arguments don't become heated! It's also the best-looking game of the bunch and features some really bright and colourful graphics as well as some excellent water effects.
'Reflex Ridge' features a similar premise - although it's much more of a competitive game, forcing players to face off against each other in order to finish obstacle courses in the quickest time, while also collecting the most A icons. In multiplayer, the races are split-screen and each character moves along a track on a platform. Without wishing to sound like Dodgeball's Patches O'Houlihan, it's imperative that players dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge all of the hazards that appear on the tracks, as well as jump up and down and pull shapes in order to gain speed and maximise the amount of A icons players pick up. The added competitive element and the high amount of cardio-vascular activity featured in 'Reflex Ridge' makes it a definite contender for game of the package, and it can be used to settle the disputes boiling over from 'River Rush'.
The other three games aren't quite as impressive or as much fun, but they’re not complete duds either. 'Rally Ball' charges players with the task of hitting balls at targets at the end of a hallway. Extra points are earned by keeping the ball in play without letting it go past your avatar. Hitting certain targets unleashes lots of extra balls and it can be quite a challenge to keep them all in play at once - quite often it's more luck than judgement if you do. Judging the pace of the ball as it bounces off the wall and back towards the player can also be tricky and it's the one game in the package which felt a little unresponsive. '20,000 Leaks' puts players in a giant underwater container which is bombarded by vicious fish keen to see you drown. Cracks appear all over the container which can only be plugged by using body parts. It's very simple and fairly dull in single player, but reasonably humorous (almost reminiscent of playing 'Twister') when played with extra people.
'Space Pop' is another game where all of the action takes place in one small area - albeit a 3D area which adds a sense of depth that is missing from the other games. Bubbles seep into the room at all angles and players must move back and forth and side to side to pop all of them in order to rack up the points. In addition to the sense of depth, 'Space Pop' stands out by allowing players to float, which is achieved by flapping your arms around to ascend, holding them out to hover and putting them to your side to thud back down to the floor. It's by no means the best game in the package, but it did stir happy memories of Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe floating around Willy Wonka's factory in the 1971 film adaptation of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - unfortunately though, belching doesn't aid the descent.
All of the games can be selected in free-play, as well as Adventure mode, which mixes the events together and throws in medals, human statues and the ability to unlock timed events. Human statues are like interactive rewards and players can record movements and vocals for their statues to replicate. It's quite an insignificant addition to the game, but does show off the hardware's capabilities just that little bit more. Without doubt the best bonus content comes in the form of in-game photographs, which can be uploaded to Kinect's dedicated sharing website and certain social networking sites. The game usually takes three photographs in each event at the most opportune of times - very much like a rollercoaster cam before a big drop. Whether or not people eventually tire of the in-game photography remains to be seen, but the initial buzz of having your picture taken while performing a jump or flinging your arms around to collect A icons is enough to ensure all of the pictures taken at this early stage feature a smile.
Kinect Adventures is very much the Wii Sports of Microsoft's launch lineup. It's not teeming with depth and you would begrudge paying top dollar for it, but it shows off the new hardware's capabilities with enough aplomb to justify its choice as the game that's bundled with the goods. On the downside, when played individually in a small room, the hardware can be quite unreliable and some of the games can be fairly dull. With enough people and enough space, however, games are tremendous fun and working together or against each other - all the while posing for the camera - results in some hilarious hands-free gaming sessions. Kinect Adventures is a good start for Microsoft, and will leave the player wondering what else can be achieved with this latest piece of equipment.
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