Kinect Sports Rivals finally launches on the Xbox One this week after a delay to “add polish and ship the game as originally envisioned” according to Microsoft. The game represents the first true test for the next-gen motion sensor and unfortunately it also represents the best and the worst of what has come to be expected from the Kinect. How bad? Well, it made this reviewer’s daughter break down in tears out of frustration.
So, there’s a story
Rare does deserve some credit for attempting to take the formula from the Xbox 360 Kinect Sports titles to the next step. There is a story mode of sorts available from the beginning as you are introduced to a virtual island where teams compete in Wake Racing, Rock Climbing, Tennis, Soccer, Target Shooting and Bowling. The first step is to follow the tutelage of the bombastic coach who informs you of the basics of how to use the motion controls in each sport. Afterwards, you meet up with the leaders of three top teams – Eagle Legion, Wolf Clan and Viper Network. Just think of them like the Hogwarts houses from Harry Potter and all three have personality quirks that will either cause a slight chuckle or groan.
The story mode is essentially you trying out for the three teams and competing with and against each of the teams for a few rounds until you reach the point that you can choose to become a member of one. After that, all single-player and multiplayer variations of the six sports open up but the decision doesn’t appear to make any sort of impact to the game beyond that yet. Rare says that will be coming in future updates to the game.
The sports and Kinect
So what of the sports themselves and the Kinect controls? Well, it’s mixed bag honestly. Bowling performs exceptionally well as long as you don’t throw your arm at too fast. The Kinect picks up position and the ball spin caused by wrist movement nicely. You’ll be picking up spare and strikes quickly once you find that sweet spot.
Wake Racing is good fun as well, especially with two players. Kinect does a surprisingly solid job of picking up arm movements and body leans. The courses provide good variation as well with jumps, mines and swerving in and out between ships too. There are moments where the reaction time doesn’t feel right but it’s hard to tell if that is because of the Kinect or because of the wave and water physics so it’s a wash there.
Target Shooting is an odd bird, though. You and an opponent face each other from opposite sides of a screen. Various targets will appear on the screen for you to shoot. Some targets are worth more than others, some will cause you to lose points, some have to be shot in order and some even move. Shooting is handled by holding your hand like a pistol (fun because it’s now banned in schools) and scanning across to move the target reticle over the target. Once the reticle is over the target, your gun automatically shoots. That’s right, you don’t pull a trigger. Additionally, where you point your finger isn’t exactly mimicked on screen. The reticle appeared to hover somewhere to the left during this reviewer’s playtests but your experience may be different.
Tennis in Kinect Sports Rivals plays almost the exact same as it did in Kinect Sports: Season Two by simply swinging your arm just like you would in a real game of tennis. The exception is the new Rivals-specific attitude and features that we will get to in a moment. It will take some adjustment in timing to hit the ball at the optimal point though as the Kinect is a good beat behind at picking up your racket swing which can cause some frustration until you’ve played enough to recognize the different ball speeds and when to swing.
Soccer is third returning sport and, like the other two, plays almost exactly the same as it did when it appeared in the first Kinect Sports. When on offense, you kick the ball up the field to teammates in set positions as defenders may move around to create or close openings like a giant game of Foosball. It felt a little wonky trying to get the ball to be kicked in the intended direction at times but most of the time it resulted in a kick on goal. Getting the timing down right for that final kick though is critical to getting the ball in the net. Meanwhile, defense is basically limited to watching the opposing team kick the ball down the field for a final kick on goal on your goal as you play the goalie trying to block. This is actually fairly easy to block most of the time as long as you remember that you can walk back and forth to get in front of the ball.
Finally, the last sport is the one that caused this reviewer’s eight-year old daughter to cry out of frustration. That would be the rock climbing competition. This is easily the wonkiest of the six events due to the fact that it asks you to reach up with your hand open, highlight a finger grip, then close your hand and pull yourself up. That sounds easy enough but it doesn’t work consistently especially when you have to reach your arm out to the side instead of up and even more so when you have to reach one arm across your body. That happens quite a bit as there are often times you’ll find the need to move sideways or diagonally.
There was a point where this reviewer turned the Xbox One off out of frustration with the climbing event because the wonkiness kept coming at the worse times such as trying to make it past an electrified set of grips or a windy section of the course that could knock the character off.
Climbing becomes even more problematic when playing with two-players as the area you have to stand in can lead to you placing body parts in front or behind the other player. This results in Kinect Sports Rivals not recognizing what either player is doing and, ultimately, disaster. Of course, you can also quickly find yourself reaching out of the camera’s view as well if you are not careful. This was also the most problematic sport to use voice commands with two players, for some reason.
This was the source of the frustration that ultimately led to a little girl to break down in tears as her character struggled to lock on to grips, sometimes climbed down when she wanted to go up and fell multiple times in one event.
All six events come with not only their own leveling system but also their power-ups that can be unlocked by leveling up and then purchasing them with in-game coins in the Store. You’ll need them too as you progress as you’ll be able to get faster wave runners, shields, or the ability to drop mines in Wake Racing, for example. The other sports have their own specific power-ups which help add to the flavor and the competition. These power-ups can be activated by calling out their name, which is handy when as long as Kinect recognizes your voice, or lifting a knee up and then down.
Kinect ups and downs
The character creator also deserves a special mention as the Kinect camera is used to build a character that closely resembles the real you….maybe. When this reviewer used it for his own character, it appeared to add about ten pounds to my face alone with both kids remarking how much fatter the virtual version looked than the real version. However, both kids’ avatars were surprisingly good recreations of them though it was off with the mixed skin tone for one. Hopefully, this avatar creation system will find its way into other games for the Xbox One.
Lastly, using Kinect to navigate menus in Kinect Sports Rivals merits a mention as well. In short, you are better off picking up your controller to move around than to use the motion controls or voice commands. Not only is it faster but it is less prone to error as well.
Kinect Sports Rivals is a sometimes enjoyable, sometimes maddening experience for the Xbox One which means it picks up exactly where the original Kinect on the Xbox 360 left off. Yes, Kinect Sports Rivals and the Kinect sensor are able to do a lot more but it still lacks the sense that this is a consistently enjoyable experience worthy of your $60.