Like any piece of fresh, cutting-edge console technology, Kinect is probably going to spend the first few months of its life being understood best by its own creators. As was the case with Nintendo’s Wii and the Playstation 3’s Move, almost all of the very best Kinect software available at launch has come from Microsoft’s own stable. There are definitely a few exceptions (like Harmonix’s utterly marvellous Dance Central) but for the most part, it’s clear that Microsoft are easily the most adept at wowing new adopters of this hugely ambitious and impressive piece of new gaming tech.
A kart racer probably wasn’t a genre title that many people expected to launch alongside Kinect, but Microsoft have managed to craft a quietly distinctive and enjoyable game nonetheless. Once you get used to the control scheme – you hold your hands out in front of you as if you’re gripping an invisible steering wheel – it’s a fun and thoroughly unique experience, with aspects like acceleration and gear shifts taken care of by the game. There is an enjoyable boosting mechanic (triggered by pulling your hands back and then lunging forward) and although some hardcore console gamers may wish that they were using a traditional control method at first, much like Nintendo’s Mario Kart on the Wii with its steering wheel peripheral, it’s very rewarding once you properly get your head around it. Joy Ride is about as accessible as a game of this kind can be, and shows the true weight of Kinect’s ability to appeal to almost everyone.
Although it perhaps doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of Nintendo’s Wii Sports, Kinect Adventures comes a very close second in the pantheon of all-time-great console freebies. Probably second only to Kinect Sports in its ability to wow you with what Kinect can do, it’s a bright, breezy and genuinely addictive collection of highly amusing little minigames. Although the structure of play is completely linear – you progress simply by unlocking each difficulty tier one after another – you’re compelled to move on by the sheer strength of the minigames themselves, but also by the little reward ‘statues’ that are spliced in between each batch of challenges. Your voice is recorded, layered with different special effects and then plastered on top of things like chipmunks or your own avatar, as he or she panics whilst trapped between the jaws of a giant shark. These mini-movies never stop being amusing, and can be saved and/or shared online. But even without these clever little comedy morsels, Kinect Adventures is simply a terrific collection of upbeat, family-friendly minigames.
Of all Kinect’s stellar launch line-up, Kinectimals has been getting some of the best reviews from videogame critics, and it isn’t hard to see why. Although it can be compared both to Nintendogs as well as Sony’s EyePet, Kinectimals is definitely the best title of the three. Cute without being sugary, inviting without being manipulative, it may ostensibly be another minigame collection on the surface; but the way that it commands dedication and rewards progress both serve to turn it into something that feels like a well-rounded “proper” game. And because you’re never far away from another objective and are ushered in the right direction if you accidentally stray, it is clear that it has been very thoughtfully designed with its primary target audience in mind from the outset. Older players looking for a sharper degree of challenge may initially look elsewhere for their Kinect-based kicks, but the sheer wealth of strong content and the warm sense of humour single this out as another one that works for just about everyone.
This is the big one. After the aforementioned Wii Sports set a new genre benchmark four short years ago, Microsoft have now stepped up (as Sony recently did) to try and trounce it. Wii Sports, Sports Champions and now Kinect Sports are all wonderful, impeccably designed piece of software, and choosing which of them is the best is basically impossible. But Kinect Sports is likely to make your jaw drop more than once, and we’re not entirely sure that we ever said the same about the competition. Besides working flawlessly for the entire time that we played it, the degree of control that it offers you is frequently startling. One of the football minigames in particular – in which you kick balls at respawning target plates behind a perpetually energetic goalkeeper – allows you to do things like gently tap balls into the low corners by using the outside of either foot. All of the other games within Kinect Sports work just as well, and if you’re picking up Kinect this Christmas – it shouldn’t be left to shine without this.
Watch the Kinect Sports trailer here: