Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Kinect Sports: Season Two is another lightning quick sequel to one of our favourite Kinect launch titles. Along with Dance Central, Kinect Sports made largely excellent use of Microsoft's motion tracking technology, delivering a game that could be picked up, played and most importantly of all, enjoyed by all members of the family. Hopes were high, therefore, for Microsoft's second round of sports games, especially having seen the improvements Harmonix made to Dance Central 2 within an equally short production period.
For those new to Kinect, Kinect Sports: Season Two is a sporting-themed mini-game compilation (in a similar vein to Wii Sports), which uses Kinect's motion tracking technology to transform players into virtual athletes. There are six sports on offer, as well as numerous related mini-games for up to four players both offline and on.
Unlike Nintendo sequel Wii Sports Resort, however, which added new sports and updated a few of the originals, Kinect Sports: Season Two swaps the six events of old for six brand new games, a decision that stops the title from fulfilling its potential.
Games such as darts, golf, skiing and baseball represent the best that Kinect Sports: Season Two has to offer. The success of these games is partly down to the excellent cartoon visuals and over-the-top television-style presentation, but is mainly due to the fact that the sports are inherently simple to grasp and translate well to the world of hands-free gaming.
Take darts, for example, an enormously fun game requiring players to do little more than aim and throw. Granted, playing with Kinect is much easier than the real thing - largely thanks to the aiming auto-lock feature - but virtual darts still requires a steady hand and a skillful touch, resulting in moments of immense satisfaction when hitting those triple-20s or nailing a match-winning double.
Golf is another game that really benefits by keeping things simple. It works exactly as one would imagine: players line up a shot, swing, and hope for the best. The controls are intuitive, accurate and easy to grasp, while the ability to change clubs with voice commands, view courses by shielding eyes and crouch down to line up tricky putts, are nice touches that really showcase Kinect's potential.
With Sega's disastrous hoverboarding title Sonic Free Riders still fresh in our memories, we were a little sceptical about the skiing event, but fortunately player input is kept to a logical minimum. The aim is to beat your opponent to the end of a course, all the while slaloming through checkpoints to avoid time penalties. Players lean left and right to change direction, forward to gain speed and jump to launch off the occasional ramp. It's very simple and certainly not the best game on the disc, but it's good fun while it lasts.
Baseball is perhaps the most pleasantly surprising of the new range of sports. Games are split into batting and fielding segments, adding a welcome dose of variety, especially as both sections offer an equal amount of fun. Batting is exactly as you'd imagine, with players stepping forward to add power to shots, while occasionally needing to run on the spot to get to first base.
Pitching, on the other hand, is all about matching on-screen cues. Some batters can't handle a slow, left-handed curveball, while others aren't too fond of a straightforward fastball. By fulfilling the pitching requirements you have a much better chance of striking the opponent out and performing your finest Kenny Powers celebration. The only weak point is fielding, as it's a little too easy to catch the ball, requiring nothing more than a quick hand movement to send opponents back to the bench.
Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, Kinect Sports: Season Two contains a few duds. Tennis is easily the most disappointing game in the package, featuring broken gameplay, terrible sensor detection and giving players very little control over their avatar. Shots appear to happen at random, ball and racket never come into contact and the computer offers very little in the way of a challenge.
American football, meanwhile, isn't as inherently flawed as tennis, but is much more tedious. Offence is limited to four downs and six passing plays, which fall into three categories: short, medium and long. Hiking and throwing motions work well, but receivers have no way to avoid or block tackles, leading to some pretty random touchdowns.
Field goals and punt detection is equally haphazard, and the Kinect sensor is seemingly incapable of picking up any kicking power whatsoever, despite our best efforts. Defending, meanwhile, is literally non-existent. Opposition attacks appear as randomly generated plays on a grid, eliminating the satisfaction of victory or agony of defeat.
Despite its shortcomings, Kinect Sports: Season Two offers more positives than negatives. Well executed plays are followed by musical snippets from popular songs, embarrassing video highlight reels provide additional laughs, while avatar posing and crowd chants create a wonderful atmosphere.
The game also features a collection of high-score mini-games - such as the dart-based balloon popper - which are highly enjoyable and very addictive. Quick Play is a fun mode pitting two teams against each other at random sports and mini-games, while Challenge mode enables players to record sporting feats and send challenges to offline friends. It's very similar to EA's Autolog and enhances the game's social element.
Kinect Sports: Season Two is a case of one step forward and one step back. Games such as darts, golf, baseball and skiing are intuitive, responsive and make wonderful motion-controlled mini-games, while American football and tennis are poorly executed and offer little in the way of enjoyment.
If you were to take a dash of the original Kinect Sports and a spoonful of the sequel, you would be left with an essential party game. Unfortunately, despite some positives, Kinect Sports: Season Two doesn't quite hit the gold standard.
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