Tag Archive: Kinect Sports Rivals

Getting nowhere fast

One of my biggest surprises during the launch of the new consoles wasn’t a particular game, but the absence of one. Microsoft didn’t release a wholly Kinect-oriented first-party game to show the potential of what the motion-control device could do for gaming. Well, six months after launch, Microsoft’s finally ready to rectify that glaring omission with Kinect Sports Rivals.

Rivals is developer Rare’s chance to help Microsoft grab that casual market early in this new generation—and prove why the new Kinect is worth an extra $100 for the Xbox One. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a single title, and after playing Rivals for a dozen hours–far longer than most any sane person should–I can say that Rivals may hurt the case for Kinect a lot more than it helps it.

Kinect Sports Rivals follows the same formula as seen in the first two games of the series, with six different sports you can choose from: Soccer, Bowling, Tennis, Target Shooting, Climbing, and Wake Racing. These sports are all tied together this time, however, by a story that sees you, as the newest athlete, come to Rivals Island, where three warring factions vie for control of this tropical paradise through the art of competition. As you play through the missions, which really just serve as extremely long introductions to the games, you learn the personalities of the island’s inhabitants and finally get to choose to join one of them. After unlocking the sports in Story mode, you can then play them whenever you want.

Kinect Sports Rivals actually started off on a high note that made me extremely hopeful. Not only was it a joy to hear David Tennant providing the narration (shoutout to all the Whovians out there), but Rare’s facial-recognition tech is definitely a boon for the Kinect. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well my digital face turned out after scanning it into the system, especially when I had some less than spectacular results when I tried it at Gamescom last August. Unfortunately, the entire experience was nothing but downhill after this.

It’s a nice idea to try to motivate players through a loose story to play the different activities, but when compared to the Kinect Sports releases that came before it, Rivals is the most poorly executed of the bunch. Problems that were frequent with the first generation of Kinect rear their head again here far too often. Many times, I’d have to turn on every light in my apartment for the sensor to recognize me, and even giving the camera a decent six-foot berth, it often would say it lost sight of me while playing several of the games. At one point, it even said that it couldn’t see my legs, probably because I was wearing dark jeans, even though I’d never left my initial position from when I started.

My fashion faux pas aside, I quickly grew frustrated as I realized that even with all the touted advancements in the new Kinect, the same issues just kept cropping up. Even trying to navigate the menus by swiping my hands was a nightmare, and I ended up just using my controller to select where I wanted to go on Rivals Island instead.

The games themselves are also either dumbed-down versions of things we’ve already played, or so simple that you wonder why you’d even need to bother with a Kinect. Target Shooting is just pointing at the screen, Bowling is the same as before, Climbing breaks half the time because every time you reach over your head the Kinect sensor goes bonkers, Wake Racing feels like a test to see how long you can hold the same pose, Tennis is just swinging your arm around, and Soccer never picks up your leg motions correctly.

A couple of new features do work, at least. The focus on challenging your friends and trying to beat their scores and times provides a hint of replayability for über-competitive gamers. The addition of power-ups, like bowling balls with superspeed or double scoring in target shooting, also gives many of the sports an extra semblance of strategy (when you can get everything to work).

As a whole, however, Kinect Sports Rivals falls far short of its lofty ambitions. It’s not fun, and it only furthers the argument that the Kinect is completely unnecessary–and unwanted. Now I know why Microsoft didn’t launch with a Kinect-oriented game. I just hope that they decide to abandon any future projects revolving around the peripheral. Maybe they’ll let Rare go back to making good games again.

Developer: Rare • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.08.14
Instead of making a case as to why you need a Kinect, Kinect Sports Rivals shows that the peripheral—and most games revolving around it—still have a long way to come.
The Good The facial-recognition tech; David Tennant’s narration.
The Bad Familiar tracking and space issues shine a light of doubt on how far the new Kinect has supposedly come.
The Ugly Remembering when Rare made good games like GoldenEye and Donkey Kong Country—I miss those days.
Kinect Sports Rivals is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Rock-Climbing Ray and the Great Kinect Adventure

The first two Kinect Sports games helped pave the way for casual gamers on the first Kinect, and while it won’t be available at launch, Kinect Sports Rivals aims for a similar success when it releases in spring 2014. At Gamescom, I went hands-on with two of the six sports Rivals will feature and got a firsthand look at the new Kinect facial-recognition technology.

First, it was time to create an avatar. While the goofy, kiddie fare of the past has been mercifully scrapped here, the new avatars in Rivals are still meant to be somewhat unrealistic—in theory, they’re supposed to match enough of your actual features so that you feel like you’re truly in the game.

Before I took control of the demo myself, I watched several others go through the face-scanning process and saw some amazingly accurate scans courtesy of Kinect 2.0—and also some that got everyone laughing. A bald man whose avatar was graced with wavy, flowing locks was probably the most humorous…at least until I took the podium.

The system immediately had trouble with my face. Usually, it can sense when you’re wearing glasses and will ask you to take them off (they’ll add some generic, Drew Careystyle black frames later). My frames were too thin (the game must have a “hipster” setting that I didn’t trigger), so Kinect scanned my face as if my glasses were actually the areas around my eyes. This led to several other mistakes, and in the end, I wound up appearing as a bald black man instead of an Italian-American from Jersey.

Allegedly, the customization in the final game will be robust enough that you can go in and fix anything you want—or give yourself ridiculous features like a blue Mohawk—but those features weren’t in the demo. So, I changed my skin tone, gave myself some hair, and threw on a beard, since goatees weren’t in the game yet, either.

The six sports featured in Kinect Sports Rivals include returning games like Bowling, Soccer, and Tennis, along with newcomers Target Shooting, Rock Climbing, and Wake Race. I was able to try two of the newest offerings, Wake Race and Rock Climbing.

Wake Race will immediately remind gamers of the N64 era, since it’s a pretty blatant copy of that system’s Wave Race 64. You race watercraft around a course, and the person in the lead after three laps is the winner.

The controls are simple, and I was surprised to find that the Kinect sensor followed me perfectly. You reach out and grab imaginary handlebars to let the game know you’re ready to go, and you control the throttle simply by opening and closing your right hand. Yes, that’s right—Kinect perfectly recognized when I made a fist or had my had open.

You tilt left or right to steer and stomp your feet to use a speed boost, which you can earn by doing tricks off ramps. Speed boosts can also be triggered via voice commands, but due to the noise level at Gamescom, this option was disabled for the demo. You can also perform tricks simply by leaning forward and back while your character’s in the air.

Once the game actually launches and your friends start creating avatars, you can, in theory, populate your friends’ games with your avatar—and vice versa. This actually reminds me a bit of Forza 5’s Drivatars, since the better you play, the more challenging your avatar will be if your friends download you into their games—making the challenge personal, even when you’re not doing split-screen in the same room.

Next, I got to try out Rock Climbing. Again, this wasn’t a very strenuous activity—maybe Rare learned their lesson from the exhausting running in place during American Football in Kinect Sports 2. All I had to do was reach above my head with open hands, grab when near a handhold, and pull downward to lift up my in-game avatar.

If I felt adventurous, I could jump up to put some distance between me and my rivals—of course, this also risked falling to a previous checkpoint in the race. But that wasn’t the best part: I could even reach out and grab rivals who were ahead of me and throw them off the course. They could do the same to me, but this actually incorporated some strategy into the experience and made it less of a blind race.

Overall, the Kinect detection wasn’t as sharp in Rock Climbing as in Wave Race, and I fell several times when the system failed to register my closed hand. I also got thrown off by a competitor when Kinect didn’t sense that I’d moved. That actually gave me the chance to see how fun Rock Climbing could be, though—I ultimately returned the favor on my competitor later on the climb.

Like with most Kinect-oriented titles, this one’s going to boil down to how well Microsoft’s motion sensor performs. Still, Kinect Sports Rivals is shaping up to be a fine continuation of the casual gameplay of the first two games, especially if the developers smash the few bugs seen at Gamescom.