Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Kinect Joy Ride has gone through some fairly radical changes since it was first announced in 2009. Formerly known simply as Joyride, it was originally planned to be released as a free Xbox Live Arcade title, which was to make its money by charging players for new courses, items and game modes. Despite retaining its Avatar-driven, stunt-based gameplay, it is now a fully fledged (and priced) retail title, featuring controller-free Kinect support. As intriguing as a hands-free racer sounds, it's hard to imagine how the developers can faithfully recreate the racing experience without over-simplifying matters. Unfortunately, such fears are justified, and Kinect Joy Ride is just a little too basic and temperamental to rival its traditional controller reliant counterparts.
The reason for Kinect Joy Ride's inability to leave a lasting impression is the fact that by removing the controller, BigPark has taken away the element of skill that makes video game racing so exciting. Braking and accelerating is taken care of by the computer, which means that the margin for human error is greatly reduced. Players can only really mess up if they steer too late, or if the sensor doesn't pick up on their movements, which, in Kinect Joy Ride's case, is the much more likely of the two.
In order to steer, players mimic holding a steering wheel by extending their arms out at chest height and moving them from side to side - while poking their posteriors out in order to drift. There are times when the steering action appears to work extremely well and feels pretty reliable, but this feeling is often short lived. Plunging into corners with too much urgency exposes the mechanic and the lack of any physical object to hold will see players accidentally cross their wrists. This action confuses the sensor and sends the vehicle crashing into the sides. Boosting is only slightly more reliable and has players pull the imaginary steering wheel towards their chest in order to fill up the boost bar and push it out again in order to gain a burst of speed - it works as intended about 70% of the time. At regular intervals throughout the race, cars will speed off ramps and launch into the air, which is when trickery comes into play. By leaning backwards, forwards and to the sides, cars will spin and somersault for bonus points, which earn players extra fans. Fans are used to unlock new courses and challenges.
The courses are a little disappointing to look at, but remembering that Kinect Joy Ride started out as an XBLA title goes some way to explaining the mediocre graphics. The game is bright, cheerful and cartoonish, but ultimately just a little too bland to stand out. A few of the tracks use the same dusky colour scheme and end up looking like rejects from a Roadrunner cartoon - minus the sense of speed. The other courses aren't much better, and even the inclusion of pagodas, temples and crumbling airplanes doesn't help the tracks to feel anything other than sparsely decorated. The use of Avatars as playable characters injects some life and personality into the game and the rival cars cluttering up the lanes make some circuits seem busier and more interesting than they actually are. The fact that there are only seven race courses adds insult to injury, considering how indistinguishable they are from each other and how hard the game makes players work in order to unlock them.
Where Kinect Joy Ride excels is with its inclusion of a number of fairly diverse game modes. In addition to the standard race, which can be played against local or online adversaries, there's the battle race, which throws weaponry into the mix (think Mario Kart). Weapons range from straight Nintendo rip-offs such as missiles and mines, to slightly more original items such as ice blocks and teleportation devices. It can be quite tricky to use the weapons without losing control of the car, as players must extend their left arm to the side in order to select them. The Battle mode is certainly one of the more enjoyable features in the game; it's just a shame it doesn't have its own set of courses.
Stunt mode is fairly self-explanatory and charges players with the task of racking up the most points by performing tricks on a giant halfpipe - all the while collecting fruit for additional bonus points. Performing tricks is far too simple to justify an entire mode's worth of play, but collecting as much fruit as possible and attempting to smash the glass ceiling by launching cars as high as they will go, is actually quite addictive. Dash is probably the dullest mode in the game and is simply a sprint from A to B, avoiding obstacles by driving in the correct lane.
Smash and Trick are two surprisingly enjoyable modes when played in short bursts. In Smash, hundreds of targets must be mowed down before ramps are raised and cars can be launched into huge 'boss' statues. It's a good mode to practise drifting in, and it can be enormously satisfying when vehicles plough through lots of objects and collect fistfuls of coins. Unfortunately, the circular playgrounds can be tricky to navigate thanks to the dodgy steering mechanic. Trick has absolutely nothing to do with cars or racing, but is the only game mode not to suffer from some form of crippling control issue. On the wing of an airplane, one or two players must match the computer's pose and hold it. Switching from a Street Fighter style fireball to a strong man pose makes for some humorous multiplayer gameplay and leads to some embarrassing photographs.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kinect Joy Ride doesn't do the racing genre justice. Using the Kinect sensor to replicate the thrills and spills of arcade racing just doesn't work, due to the fact that too much player input is missing and the few actions players are able to perform are temperamental. The game is also a little bland, lifeless and contains too few courses. The number of additional game modes and the online and offline multiplayer goes some way towards counteracting the game's faults, but the core mechanic of the game is too broken for Kinect Joy Ride to be deemed roadworthy.
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