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Kinect Review

by Bill Hess

Kinect brings games and entertainment to life in extraordinary new ways – no controller required. Easy to use and instantly fun, Kinect gets everyone off the couch moving, laughing and cheering. See a ball? Kickit. Control an HD movie with a wave of the hand. Want to join a friend in the fun? Simply jump in. With Kinect technology evaporates, letting the natural magic in all of us shine. And the best part is Kinect works with every Xbox 360 right out of the box*.[Microsoft]

My inner most fanboy demons wanted to rise out against Kinect from the moment it’s existence as a casual peripheral for the 360 started to unfold during E3 this summer.  Come on, a grown man jumping around like an orangutan kicking balls and dancing like a fairy, Kinect was deemed as a product that just wasn’t for me.  Hell the one game that looked remotely cool, aside from Children of Eden was the Dancing Game and even the hottest girls I have dated have never gotten me to shake my groove thing, so it was doubtful that a video gaming device would do much better.  For the good of this site and my curiosity I bought a Kinect.  I went to a midnight release and while there weren’t many folks there, I still lucked out and was the cutoff for the last one left without a pre order.  

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I soon had a grin from ear to ear as I was doing the tutorials and beginning my first experience with Kinect.  Aside from many things that I read about the device, it felt fairly intuitive once you actually understand the controls and you’ll be breezing around the Kinect Hub, it’s components, and whatever game you are playing out of the extensive launch lineup (albeit 100% casual).  Before I fired up any games I took the Kinect Video Chat for a spin because I had a friend that also bought one that I haven’t seen in years but play on Xbox Live with quite often.  It showcased the cameras ability to track your body as I was showing my friend around my new and improved man cave slash office.  I loved this feature if not for having a real time chat with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile, eventhough this has been possible for quite some time on numerous platforms including the Xbox 360 with the old camera device.

Firing up my first Kinect title I was surprised at how tiring the game was.  This was the launch title, and I was merely drifting down a river popping balloons.  The sheer numbers of leaps and steering shifts started to get to my aging body.  But behind the pain I was having honest to goodness fun.  The games were making me smile as I tried to come to grips with some of the imperfections in the control scheme and the general unfamiliarity with the system and the games.  I haven’t had as much fun with a game in some time as i did with *gasp Dance Central.  If only for the new and different factor my first impressions with Kinect were well recieved to say the least.

The real trick that Microsoft and the other launch developers for Kinect pulled, on me at least, was that they managed to take titles that are clearly broken in every classical sense of the word in video games and somehow make them fun and somewhat engaging.  For instance, Fighters Uncaged by Ubisoft is a game that is absolutely horrible at first glance.  From broken unresponsive controls to mediocre graphics and presentation the game has stinker written all over it in big red letters, but for some reason I keep going back to play it again and again because in some weird way when it does work it’s an excellent experience.  I would go as far as to recommend it because it’s actually one of the deeper games out now.  If you were to believe the bullshit over the past 6 months about movement imput in Kinect, you would expect to see a noticeable delay between movement and its transalation to the screen.  I was happily surprised to see that this is not the case at all.  In the case of Fighters Uncaged for example you can throw some pretty nasty combinations (when its working) and it seems about as close to 1:1 as your eyeballs and brain can concieve.  Now thats not to say that it is 1:1 but there isn’t this noticeable lag that completely wrecks the experience.  At this time some games are worse than others and it can rear its ugly head at times,  though not enough to ruin the experience in the least.

It’s hard to play Kinect at this stage in it’s life and not think about its promising potential.  For example, Dance Central’s menu navigation system is by far the easiest and most natural of the bunch and I think it’s style and ease of use should be something that Microsoft looks more closely at when updating the Kinect dashboard in the future.  In this infantile stange for the device it’s hard not to fathom that there are other talented developers out there harnassing the technology that will deliver a killer app some time in the near future.

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The Kinect Guide Hub is where you will be spending most of your time while using your connect to navigate your Xbox 360 content and games that are compatible with the device.  For the most part it looks identical to the regular dashboard that was just updated on November 1st.  However, it’s just at lower resolution possibly and the end result is that it doesnt have that sexy HD look to it.  It’s understandable that the Kinect guide buttons should be bigger to circumvent frustrating button pressing mishaps but not at the complete sacrifice of style.

Showing Kinect to a friend that is entirely unfamiliar with the Xbox 360, I asked her to try Kinect for the first time. “Follow the prompts and learn to use it and tell me what you think.”  You’ll never guessed what happened.  Her first interaction with Kinect was an accidental purchase of 400 Microsoft points.  Yay for my bank account, but it could have been much worse.  But after that even she noted the distinct difference in resolution between the normal guide and the Kinect guide.  Personally I would have liked to have seen another layer of polish put onto the Kinect guide to give it the sexy feel that the upgraded normal guide received.

As a gamer that plays my Xbox 360 regularly and wanted to somehow integrate my Kinect Motion Controller into my gaming life  I expected this to be somewhat of a seamless integration.  Allowing me to use the Xbox 360 dashboard as I always have would have been a nice touch.  Unfortunately this is not the case.  Whenever you want to use the Kinect device you wave your hand and are taken into the Kinect Hub where you options are fine tuned down to the basics.  So you cannot browse your friends and which parties they are in, nor navigate to any of the pertinent system information or even the Windows Media Center which I thought would be almost certainly be the case.  There are alot of reasons that this removes some of the social aspects of Xbox Live and ultimately you feel a little less connected in the process.(no pun intended).  So by separating the traditional dashboard and the Kinect dashboard you would do well to keep a controller nearby just in case you need to access things that aren’t included in the Kinect hub.  This is a tad annoying.

There are some definite quirks with the camera, the detection, the setup, and the interface that will likely be ironed out in the coming months.  While working flawlessly at times the Kinect camera can just cut out at times.  Leaving you scratching your head as to why you need to move forward or backward, and why when you do move forward or backward nothing is happening.  Bringing up the Kinect hand controller is simple at times and at others a real pain to interface.  You can tell the camera has a hard time determining which hand to use and depending on your setup and situation, browsing a single screen it will feel more natural to try and use both hands.  Again, Dance Central is a good example of a game that uses menus for the left and right hands and it works flawlessly.  Though detection of which hands is not always the problem.  There are many times when you are waving a solid 5 seconds or so before the camera recognizes your actions and responds accordingly.  The camera also seems to work best with light derived from within the room you are playing in.  I’m not really sure if this was the case or not, but in my experience it seemed to work best when I played with the curtains closed and the light on in my room.  This is not always the best option because judging from my personal experience you’re gonna need to open up a window in there because it can get hot and sweaty real quick.

I really do want to put a loved rating on this new toy of mine.  Because I do love it, but understandably there are some problems as always with new technology.  There is a fun factor here that is undeniable and the games that did launch with the system utilize and capitalize on the strengths of the motion controller.  Kinect is a fun toy for young, old, male, and female gamers but obviously the success of the device is going only be as great as the software that is designed to take advantage of it.  The future looks very bright for this new entry into the motion controller arena.  Right now the offerings are undoubtedly laser targeted to the casual market, but are fun enough to distract the more hardcore audience long enough to justify the investment for the Kinect.  If developers embrace the strengths of the camera and can produce a game or games that can further engage the core audience on the Xbox 360, Microsoft might just have the next big thing here.

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Microsoft Kinect

  • Available On: Xbox 360
  • Published By:
  • Developed By: Microsoft
  • Genre: Peripheral
  • US Release Date: November 2010
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "Kinect is a fun toy for young, old, male, and female gamers but obviously the success of the device is going only be as great as the software that is designed to take advantage of it."
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