Tag Archive: kinect

Bending over backwards for Fru

It’s hard to argue the fact that the Kinect is the latest in a long line of failed gaming peripherals. We could be here all day talking about why, but one of the main reasons is that in the nearly six years since it released, I can barely name a handful of good games for it. Most were too gimmicky, too unresponsive, or just simply weren’t fun. Although the Xbox One’s second generation Kinect was better equipped to deal with these shortcomings, it couldn’t do enough to warrant the system’s higher price tag, helping to turn away many would-be early adopters. Even those of us who took the plunge with Kinect 2.0 have either packed it away or simply use it as a quick way to sign-in and enter download codes. So, I was downright flabbergasted to find one developer still working on a Kinect game (even though we hadn’t seen it since E3 2014), and even more so when that game turned out to be pretty damn enjoyable.

Fru is a puzzle-platformer that tasks players with guiding a small, masked girl through a mysterious world. Over the course of the game’s 110 stages, you’ll come to learn what happened to this world, what the girl is trying to reach, and why you, the player, have the ability to help her through this adventure.

There’s really not a lot to Fru’s story, which is definitely one of its drawbacks as it tries to differentiate itself from the failed, gimmick-driven games of the Kinect’s past. All told, there are only eight sentences of narrative in the entire game, and a few short scenes that string together the simple story. But for what the story lacks in depth, the gameplay makes up for in spades.


There are only two controls in Fru: running and jumping. You can run with either joystick on the Xbox One controller, and jump with either trigger. The reason for this is it allows you to play the game one handed, which is not only a great test of coordination (since many of us will have to fight hard against our gaming muscle memory), but also a necessity, as in all of Fru’s stages, your body will act as the catalyst that allows the little girl to advance.

You see, your silhouette—as detected by the Kinect—will activate switches, reveal hidden platforms and collectibles, block hazards, and even at times serve as a pool of water the girl can swim through. Each of the game’s four chapters adds more complexity to your responsibilities as the girl’s shadowy guardian, which also adds to the fun. In many instances, I found myself contorting in ways I didn’t know I could to help the girl advance. Whether literally rolling on the floor to adjust my position, arching my back to cut a wall in half and create makeshift stairs, doing squats to hit multiple switches at once, or even (almost) doing splits to fill up most of the bottom of the screen, I was ready to do whatever it took to create the perfect position for each puzzle. And as gimmicky as it may seem on the surface, I was hooked, not to mention impressed by the amount of depth Through Games was able to concoct to never make any of the game’s 110 stages feel cookie cutter or boring.

Unfortunately, what might be Fru’s fatal flaw is that it won’t last longer than a few hours for most players, even with all those aforementioned stages. Once you get past the ingenious interaction with the Kinect and solve all the puzzles, there’s really little reason to come back to Fru—a problem that hurts puzzle-platformers that already aren’t fighting the Kinect stigma.


There are 24 collectibles scattered in the game, which do up the difficulty a tad, but I was able to collect them all on my first run through. There’s also a bonus mode that was spawned out of Fru’s tech demo, which offers a two-player option. Giving a friend a chance to play side-by-side with you is nice, but the mode is really only a short offering due to the tech demo nature, and not nearly as deep or as polished as the main game.

I did find some replayability in the game when showing it to friends at least. If it was fun rolling around trying to solve the puzzles by myself, it was just as entertaining to watch someone else do it. We even passed the control around to others, offering up some unintentional multiplayer and impromptu teamwork as one player would pose while the other would use the controller to guide the girl across the screen. It still remained a short affair, however, thus torpedoing its party-game possibilities as well.

Even with its lack of depth, Fru succeeds in showing us that the Kinect may have never reached its full potential. The puzzle-platform genre adapted for the device worked well, adding a pleasant surprise to the lineup of dance, music, and workout games that seemed to work the best with the peripheral. The sad fact of the matter is that Fru still has a couple of issues, and as fun as it is, it’s not something that can lift the Kinect back up to a state of relevancy. If you have a Kinect, Fru is a good way to get a couple more hours out of it. Otherwise, we all can just lament over what could’ve been.


Developer: Through Games • Publisher: Through Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 07.13.16
It’s sad that Fru came out so long after the Kinect was a viable gaming peripheral. Had it released closer to the Xbox One’s launch, we might’ve been able to laud it as a reason to own a Kinect. As is, it’s a solid little puzzle-platformer that might be worth a look if you haven’t packed your Kinect away—assuming you ever got one in the first place.
The Good Inventive take on the puzzle-platformer that keeps finding new ways to test you.
The Bad A little on the short side, and not much really in terms of story or replayability.
The Ugly This is the game the Kinect needed all along. It’s a shame it’s probably about two years too late.
Fru is a Xbox One exclusive (Kinect required). Review code was provided by Through Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Composer of the cosmos

When you think about the library of Kinect games for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, it’s a rather sad state of affairs. One developer, however, has consistently put their peripheral expertise to good use and taken advantage of what’s otherwise been a disappointing piece of hardware. Of course, I’m speaking about Harmonix.

Dance Central provided the group fun of Rock Band—but without the expensive plastic-toy inputs. Wanting to continue this trend but offer fans a bit of changeup from their bootyshake-prompting staple, they teamed up with Disney to explore the classic combination of animation and music: Fantasia.

Fantasia: Music Evolved is one of those few Kinect games that you can actually play comfortably from your favorite chair, because it only requires your arms. You play as Yen Sid’s—the wizard from Fantasia whose name is conveniently “Disney” spelled backward—newest apprentice, and must prove you’re worthy of wearing his magic hat in the hopes of responsibly conducting the cosmos with your rhythm-infused fingertips. As your mastery improves, new worlds full of music and sound will come alive as you play 33 classical and contemporary songs, along with unique minigames, like beatboxing with talking vegetables or harmonizing with a yeti, to add your own special tracks to each world.

Along the way, you’ll also encounter Yen Sid’s former apprentice, Scout. This is where Music Evolved differs from most other Harmonix titles, since it actually provides a story. Once you’ve grasped the gameplay basics, Scout will come along and accidentally unleash “The Noise,” a cacophony of offbeat, ear-splitting rhythms that you must vanquish from the game’s 10 worlds by playing through the soundtrack and unlocking a pair of remixes for each song. Some remixes, for example, might see a classical piece from Dvorak and give it the old 8-bit treatment or take a contemporary artist like CeeLo Green and give “Forget You” a dubstep drubbing.

This is where I found a bit of fault with Music Evolved, however. With only 33 songs at launch (more coming via DLC, of course) you can blow through the whole thing pretty quickly—and disappointingly, for a $60 title. In order to force a second playthrough, though, you can’t unlock the second remix for each song, and therefore can’t 100-percent the game unless you play each song again after beating the story mode.

While it was still fun, I felt limited by not being able to just unlock each remix and minigame on my first run and hated having to go back and play many songs that I didn’t particularly care for a second or third time seemingly just to push the game from a three-hour experience to a six-hour endeavor.

Also, 33 songs isn’t a lot at all, but I was also disappointed by the fact that a game with the word “Disney”—a company known for its fantastic cinematic music—didn’t use any iconic songs from their films to flesh out the soundtrack. One could argue that the original Fantasia only used classical compositions, and the couple of original pieces that composer Inon Zur (best known for contributing to game soundtracks such as Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, and Soul Calibur V) adds are great, but then why do we have to deal with Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj? I’d much rather have had any number of songs from The Lion King, Aladdin, Mary Poppins, Cinderella, or The Jungle Book to really hammer home the Disney feel and flesh out what quickly feels like a paltry playlist.

That said—and musical tastes aside—I couldn’t deny how much fun I had during the short time Music Evolved lasted. Each of the game’s worlds is beautifully designed in regards to the cartoonish art style, and being able to interact with each one in weird, wonderful ways filled me with a surprising, childlike glee. The Kinect picked up my motions rather seamlessly, even in my tiny living space, and as I swept my arms around and saw the bright flashes of light and color onscreen, I felt like I was indeed moving the heavens to music like Mickey back in the 1940 film. Unlike Mickey, though, it’s much harder to fail in Music Evolved, and I found myself racking up huge multipliers and nailing at least 80 percent of the moves in every given song. There’s also no option to bump up the difficulty—songs are simply rated on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the hardest.

Beyond the core gameplay, though, the minigames might the brightest star in your orchestral sky. An assortment of different situations actually task you to think a little with pattern recognition and even require hopping about your living room as you charge up musical solar panels or realign the displaced pieces of a voice synthesizer. These elements aren’t limited to outside the songs, either. Five different games called “Composition Spells,” which also play an integral part to Scout’s story, allow you to mix notes while in the middle of playing a song and add a track unique to that particular playthrough.

With the ability to record game clips, you can also upload your best or most original performances to the Music Evolved YouTube channel, providing an interesting social wrinkle to what, by nature, is probably one of the least social of Harmonix’s games to date. There’s a local multiplayer component to Music Evolved, but it’s only for two people, and it can be a bit hard to track whose cues are whose when various swipes, punches, and traces start filling the screen.

Fantasia: Music Evolved may not be the deepest game, but it’s definitely a memorable one. It blends Harmonix’s ability to utilize music in interesting, dynamic ways with Disney’s uncanny knack to make most anyone feel like a kid provides a fun—albeit short—romp that once again provides that rare good Kinect experience.

Developer: Harmonix • Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 10.21.14
Waving your arms in front of your TV like you’re conducting some kind of cosmic orchestra is a surprising amount of fun, but the lack of content leaves the experience feeling a bit bare.
The Good Simple, fun gameplay; looking around Yen Sid’s workshop; Inon Zur’s original compositions.
The Bad Lack of songs on disc, repeat playthroughs required to unlock all songs/remixes.
The Ugly Harmonix is still the only developer who knows how to make a fun Kinect game.
Fantasia: Music Evolved is available on Xbox One and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Harmonix for the benefit of this review.

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.

Sweep the leg? I can’t, Sensei. I’m using Kinect.

When I look at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware, there’s not the largely noticeable jump that defined previous generational transitions. One piece of tech that was supposed to help embody the little bit of change we did receive, however, was the new Kinect sensor. Whereas the original Kinect needed all your playing conditions to be just right in order to work (and even then, it failed at times), the next-gen model was supposed to alleviate many of these problems.

Space and lighting issues would be a thing of the past, and the sensor would pick up the slightest movements—right down to your tiniest finger twitch. While the voice-command recognition can be tested via the Xbox One’s menus, we wouldn’t be able to see the most needed improvements until we actually got a game specifically designed for the peripheral. Unfortunately, if Fighter Within was supposed to show off how far Microsoft’s Kinect technology has come, then new-gen motion controls might be in trouble.

Issues to which first-generation Kinect users have become accustomed—such as inaccurate motion tracking and input lag—are prevalent in Fighter Within. You can’t even navigate the game’s menus effectively, because the recognition is so piss poor. I’d often have to use my controller to move through the wretchedly clunky user interface, since my body movements and voice commands were completely ignored outside of fights.

Once you manage to get past the menus, you’ll find the game has two modes. The first of these is your standard arcade-type option. You pick one of the game’s 12 fighters and move up a ladder comprised of eight of the other fighters (there are no mirror matches).

The other is a story mode called Initiation that follows a street urchin named Matt through 21 fights that are supposed to tie his tale together. I wish I could tell you something more about Matt and his journey, but there aren’t any cutscenes until the very end, and the between-bout dialogue is so devoid of personality that I quickly stopped caring. Oh, Matt’s father was a drunk boxer! And his opponent’s mother a disgraced Olympian! I wasn’t sure if I should use the Kinect to help determine a winner in brutal one-on-one combat or ask my Xbox One to find them a good therapist.

Then, finally, you get into actual combat, and it’s here that any fleeting hopes for Fighter Within at least being a fun tech demo are thrown out the window. The game does offer an interesting variety of moves for a motion-control game: standard punches and kicks, picking up sticks to whack your opponent in the face, jumping off scenery in the level, and even special powers—and you’ll need to go through Initiation mode just to be slowly introduced to everything your fighter can do. Of course, even with the added tutorials, it can be a bit much to take it all in, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with just a handful of moves that are more than enough to work your way through the ranks.

Still, this is all contingent on the Kinect sensor actually picking up your movements. Straight punches and kicks aren’t a problem, but the more complex the maneuver, the less likely the game will accurately translate it onscreen. Often, my grab and throw attempts turned into straight punches, kicks turned into wasted special moves, and raising my arms above my head for one special turned into nothing but a high block. And if you move too quickly, the delay between your actions and what happens onscreen becomes more prevalent. There’s nothing more frustrating in Fighter Within than watching your character throw extra punches into a blocking opponent after you’ve stopped—and then being helpless as the computer takes advantage.

It might not be entirely fair to condemn the new Kinect, because after playing this game for several hours, I think Fighter Within just may be one of the most poorly designed motion-control games we’ve seen yet. Simply put, it’s a complete mess. It almost feels like this was a game meant for the motion-tracking technology of the original Kinect, but because nothing was in the pipeline for the Xbox One’s launch window to show off what its new sensor can do beyond dancing and workout games, the project was shuffled from one platform to the other. That’s still no excuse, however, for this being one of the worst launch games I’ve ever had to play, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Developer: Daoka • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.22.13
Fighter Within was buried under the rest of the Xbox One launch lineup for a reason. This one-on-one fighter is a throwback to the problems of the first Kinect—and does nothing but sow seeds of doubt that the next-gen Kinect sensor is any different from its predecessor.
The Good Interesting array of moves, including arena interaction. 
The Bad Input lag can be pretty terrible; lack of overall movement recognition, navigating the menus.
The Ugly How winded I was after some of the fights.
Fighter Within is a Xbox One exclusive. 

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.

Crash and burn

Up until yesterday, I had no idea what Crashed Ice was. If you came up to me on the street and asked me, I’d probably say it was some sort of alcoholic beverage. And considering Red Bull puts on the event, I may start experimenting with that one later (I’m thinking some blue grenadine and vodka needs to be in there). But, no, Crashed Ice is actually a winter extreme sport involving skating downhill at breakneck speeds while dressed as a hockey player on a closed track. So, considering my love of hockey and my unfortunate experience playing many Kinect, sports, and Kinect sports games over the past couple of years, I figured “How bad could it be?” Famous last words if there ever were ones.

Released to coincide with the first event of the 2012-2013 World Championship season, Red Bull Crashed Ice Kinect allows your avatar to don pads and blades and try to become the faster skater out there as you avoid various real-life and in-game exclusive obstacles. Featuring avatars based on actual Crashed Ice competitors like Kyle Croxall and Jasper Felder, you and three others race to the finish in each event, just like in the actual sport. Being that the game is Kinect based, you’d expect maybe some leg movement, but instead of moving your legs to gain speed, you just swing your arms back and forth as fast as possible in a motion that is more reminiscent of skiing rather than skating. And, unfortunately, Red Bull Crashed Ice Kinect happens to be yet another prime example of a game that fails primarily because the Kinect sensor can’t pick up your motions a majority of the time if you go too fast, obviously defeating the entire purpose of what a race is supposed to be.

The controls aren’t the only failure of Red Bull Crashed Ice Kinect, however, since it’s not like there’s much strategy to this game. The entire concept is “you go downhill as fast as possible.” The faster you swing your arms, the faster you go (if the sensor picks you up), and so the challenge centers more around your level of aerobic fitness than anything the game actually throws at you. Sure, some sensationalized jumps and a Hulk-like stomp move to help knock your competition down to try to give the game a fun, arcade-like feel. But again the Kinect often fails to pick up the rare moments you need these over-the-top maneuvers to advance through the game.

Of course, it’s not like there’s much of a game here to begin with, either; the game consists of only five events. And given the brevity of these races, you can blow through the entire campaign in less than an hour. Even with online leaderboards and the ability to download ghosts of friends or top racers to go against, the game basically equates to a dollar per track. You spend more time on load menus than actually playing this game. So, with the control problems and lack of depth—and the fact that most people don’t even know what Crashed Ice is—this game could be free instead of $5 (400 Microsoft points) and it still wouldn’t be worth it! After putting in far too much time with this, I can say it’s a game everyone should avoid—and that I need to go comfort myself by experimenting more with my Crashed Ice drink recipe (maybe I should put some Natty Ice in there?).

SUMMARY: Even with its cheap price of only 400 Microsoft points ($5), when you combine the game’s poor recognition of your body movements and a severe lack of content, there just isn’t enough of a game here to warrant any sort of purchase.

  • THE GOOD: Head-to-head racing with ghosts.
  • THE BAD: Everything else.
  • THE UGLY: This may be the only skating we see this year with the NHL labor impasse (I miss you, hockey!).

SCORE: 2.5

Red Bull Crashed Ice Kinect is an XBLA (Xbox 360) exclusive.

Gimmicks Assemble!

Every time you walk into a comic book store nowadays, it seems there is some sort of new major event going on, especially with Marvel. This constant bombardment of universe changing stories makes it so that mighty Marvelites barely get a chance to breathe when it comes to keeping up with the flood of fiction usually before them. Fear Itself, World War Hulk, House of M, Dark Reign, Avengers vs X-Men, Civil War, Chaos War, Schism, and Spider-Island, are just some, not even close to all, of what has happened in the past few years of Marvel. So when we first heard we were getting a Marvel Avengers Kinect game based off of Secret Invasion, most of us were shaking our heads at the idea since in modern comic terms, this four-year old story arc was already considered ancient in the mythos of Earth-616 and is not nearly as beloved as some other stories.

The basic premise of Secret Invasion was that the shape-shifting Skurllls had found a way to transform themselves to resemble many of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes without being detected and then inserted themselves as sleeper agents amongst the super hero populous. Once it was revealed with Skrull-Electra’s death, the event had everyone guessing as to whom they could trust and just where all the original heroes had gone. And so the idea of jumping into the shoes of everyone’s favorite heroes to bash those green-skinned, three-chinned, would be conquerors led to Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth.

The game has you play as 20 different characters from the Marvel Universe and take on both regular and Skrull versions of many of these heroes and villains in a fighting game style as you loosely follow the events of Secret Invasion. From the infiltration of the Baxter Building where the Fantastic Four make their home to the attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, you must fend off dozens of foes overall as each level has several conflicts associated with it.

Each round of fighting features a pair of heroes or villains on each side, but should one character’s lifebar be depleted, the match is over. In terms of the motions you must perform, anyone who played Ubisoft’s previous Kinect hero game, PowerUp Heroes, should be familiar with the actions as you kick, punch, and swing your arms around to mimic moves that the actual Marvel characters might do. From clasping your fists together and swinging upward for a massive Hulk uppercut to opening your arms up wide for an Iron Man Repulsor Beam, the game does a very good job of recognizing your movements and what exactly you want to do with each character. To immerse you in the experience even more, there are even voice commands where if you scream certain phrases during Ultra Attacks, like ‘HULK SMASH’, your moves are even more powerful and as cheesy as you may sound, the gimmick is surprisingly fun.

As tight handling as the game may be for a motion game though, its core mechanics are overly simple and the motions become repetitive and boring as you quickly realize just how many battles you have to work your way through in order to beat the game’s campaign mode. The story adaptation also clearly needed more work than it got and if you are a diehard fan of the comics, you won’t appreciate the characters and scenarios that were randomly added to try to force some longevity into this title that even then should really only require a few hours to beat.

Despite its fatal flaw of being as repetitive as every other Kinect game out there though, Marvel Avengrs: Battle for Earth actually has a lot more polish than you might expect from a game of this nature and is a great way to get your butt out of your chair to pummel some of your all-time favorite comic book characters. Along with some tight controls, there is a versus and co-op feature that allows you to play with or against your friends and could prove to be a great way to kill a rainy day should your living room have the space for it. The look and sound of the game also helps give the game an authentic comic book feel. All told, if you’re a Marvel fan really looking to get into the shoes of one of your favorite characters, there are worst things you can do than play Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth.

SUMMARY: As usual, the gimmicks quickly become evident and tiresome, especially for folks familiar with the comic arc this game’s story is based off of. However, there is some surprising polish here and you might have more fun with it than you’d expect as it is one of the few Kinect games where the controls actually work.

  • THE GOOD: Great look and sound to the game that mimics the comics well
  • THE BAD: Simple game play that can become boring quickly
  • THE UGLY: Skrulls and their triple chins

SCORE: 7.0

Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is available currently for Xbox 360 and will later be available on Wii U. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.    

The longest journey begins with a single step

There are a lot of great Kinect games out there—exercise games, dancing games, even some iOS ports—but the hardcore audience is sorely underrepresented on the peripheral. Long have the hardcore waited for a game for the Kinect that could give them an experience similar to what they would get with a controller in terms of enjoyment. And I think, finally, they may have found one in Fable: The Journey.

Fable: The Journey is set 10 years after the end of Fable III. The hero of Fable III went missing a few years prior; Albion is in shambles because of it, as those who would prey on the weak have gone unchecked and an ancient evil has begun to sow it seeds once again. As chaos reigns in the cities of Albion, though, a group of nomads who skirt along the edges of the countryside avoid most of the insanity by keeping to themselves and taking care of each other. Here, among this group of wanderers, players take control of Gabriel, the slacker of this cabal with his head in the clouds who dreams of the days when there were still heroes. Little does he know that his dreams are about to become a reality…

After becoming separated from the caravan when he oversleeps, Gabriel soon finds himself on the most epic of journeys in order to get back to the only family he’s ever really known. Shortly after he starts his trek, though, he picks up a certain blind hitchhiker along the way who reveals to him that the old age of heroes, where they were born, is dead and that a new age of heroes, where they are made, is about to begin.

The most impressive thing about this game—and this should please Fable fans tremendously—is the story. By adding a new take on the original three Fable games’ story, as Theresa tells things from her point of view along the way, you see now how they all tie together as the story progresses. This brings closure to the last few loose ends of those great tales while also setting the foundation for a brand-new epic down the line. With tremendous voice acting, a script that maintains a dark humor throughout, and a plot that’s more than worthy of the original trilogy, Fable: The Journey’s story will suck in fans of the franchise and won’t let them go.

A great story cannot cover up this game ‘s fatal flaw, though. Unfortunately, like the few other Kinect hardcore games, when you boil Fable: The Journey’s gameplay down to its foundations, it’s really just an on-rails arcade shooter that you control with your hands. You’re forcibly dragged through a large chunk of Albion on your cart, pulled by your lovable horse Seren, and it can understandably get tedious at times, especially when the humorous banter of Theresa and Gabriel dries up. There are some mini-games that break it up occasionally, but even these can become repetitive and after a while. All you really want to do is get as quickly as possible to the next area where you blast franchise mainstay bad guys likes Balverines, Hollow Men, and Hobbes, as well as a few new bad guys produced by the Corruption exclusively for this game.

Aside from the repetitiveness, though, this really is one of the more polished Kinect games out there. The sensor actually picks up your arms when you try to throw fireballs or perform any of the other spells Gabriel learns along his adventure, which, if you play with the Kinect with any sort of regularity, you know is a big accomplishment. There is also some replayability to the game with a full-blown arcade mode alongside the main campaign where you can play through certain segments of each level again and attempt to hit high scores and chain together combos. Combine all this with graphics that just might make this the best looking Fable game yet, and all I can is that if you’re a Fable fan with Kinect, The Journey is a must-have.

SUMMARY: A great story that Fable fans will absolutely eat up, but some long stretches of lonely road keep this from being an absolute must-have for every Kinect owner.

  • THE GOOD: The deepest, most complete story for a hardcore Kinect game yet.
  • THE BAD: Riding in a caravan is about as much fun as you’d think…as in, not fun at all.
  • THE UGLY: Everything the Corruption touches.

SCORE: 9.0

Fable: The Journey is an Xbox 360 exclusive. 

What a wreck

Continuing on with the Xbox’s Summer of Arcade promotion is the one required Kinect title of the group: Wreckateer. Best described probably as a 3D Angry Birds clone, Wreckateer sees you play as an up and coming trainee in the lucrative world of…well…wrecking. 60 Goblin infested castles await you and your Scottish-accented trainers as you have been tasked by your king to clear the land of these green, smelly little hellspawns. And, of course, the only way to do that is to destroy the castles they now call home and send them packing.

The controls for the game are simple, and as proven with many Kinect titles in the past, the more simple the controls for the sensor to pick up, the better. All you have to do with Wreckateer is walk a step forward to grab your ballista launcher, step backwards to ready it, turn to aim, and spread your arms out to let go and let buck shot fly, hopefully demolishing all in the shot’s path. And so yes, the controls for Wreckateer actually work and don’t require constant recalibration like some other motion control games, and their simple appeal make them perfect for gamers of all ages.

The only other motion you have to worry about is raising your arms above your head to activate the special abilities of some of the shots you can use. With six special shots in all ranging from the lift shot, which you can boost in mid-air up to three times, to the split shot, which breaks up into four smaller pieces and scatters its chaos across the screen, the game has a bit of strategy to it in that looking ahead and saving certain shots for certain targets is critical to reaching the best score possible. And only by medaling with at least a bronze high score, can you advance to the next castle.

Unfortunately, even with the controls of the game being as solid and as responsive as they are (for a Kinect game anyway), the game play itself loses its appeal rather quickly. I love blowing stuff to kingdom come as much as the next guy, but 60 castles was a bit much to be standing in front of my TV for and most of them really just seemed like excuses to try to bloat the game into a slightly longer experience.

My other major problem with the game is the hit detection. Often I would smash these massive, sprawling towers at their base, and when they came crashing down onto other parts of the castle, as I stood by proudly, like a mighty lumberjack after felling a redwood, much of the still standing castle wouldn’t see nary a brick crack after being pummeled by the concrete I brought raining down upon it. This proved frustrating as I longed to see towers and castle walls topple like dominos. And this is when the towers actually decided to fall. There were several instances where it looked like a single brick was holding towers up that should have fallen, again adding to my frustration as I fell just short of the computer generated high score due to the game blatantly ignoring several laws of science.

When all was said and done though, I reminded myself that at $10 (800 MSP) Wreckateer is the cheapest of the Summer of Arcade titles and even if it became dull or frustrating after a while, there was indeed some fun had, at least early on, and I could see this easily winning over a pre-teen audience.. And should it’s arcade-like game play, high score targets, and online leaderboards be your cup of tea, then this might prove worthwhile to a larger audience. The rest of us know however that it’s probably just a lot simpler to download Angry Birds for an even cheaper price tag and we won’t need to move around as much either.

SUMMARY: Entertaining at first, the repetitive grind of 60 cookie-cutter levels wears on you quickly in this Angry Birds clone.

  • THE GOOD: Simple controls that respond relatively well to the Kinect
  • THE BAD: Dull, repetitive game play becomes boring after short amount of time
  • THE UGLY: Having to listen to Scottish narrators for 60 levels

SCORE: 5.0

Wreckateer is a XBLA exclusive (Kinect required).

The Groundhog Day of Video Games

Dragon’s Lair is considered by many to be one of the most important early arcade games. Only one of three games to be featured permanently in the Smithsonian along with Pong and Pac-Man, Dragon’s Lair marked a lot of firsts for the gaming world back in 1983. It marked the first time anything but a sprite was used as the main character in a game, courtesy of the game’s creator, former Disney animator Don Bluth. It was the first arcade game to cost 50 cents instead of just a quarter. And it was the advent of the quicktime event.

The entire basis of the game was to guide Dirk the Daring through a random assortment of rooms where he would have to dodge using the four points of a d-pad or attack with his sword and press them at the proper time. If successful enough times (or after enough quarters), Dirk would rescue the very lovely Princess Daphne from the dastardly dragon, Singe and they’d live happily ever after.

Flash forward nearly three decades later and the game has been ported literally dozens of times and has been on nearly every system imaginable. So it was destined I suppose that this arcade classic was to make its way to the Xbox 360. In the hopes of giving this relic a little bounce to its step though, the game has also been made compatible for the Kinect, marking another first for Dragon’s Lair as it is the first downloadable XBLA game where you can play the entire thing through either via the Kinect or a controller like in the old days.

But, after playing through the game with both control methods, I can say with total confidence that as historic as Dragon’s Lair may be, it does not stand the test of time. The original Don Bluth animation is still stunning, but there are various glitches abound that were never smoothed out due to the game’s format. It is also alarmingly simple and should not take you more than 30 minutes to work your way through on even the hardest difficulty levels now that you have to pay $10 up front instead of worrying about feeding quarters into a machine.

The game still holds some of its charm with the princess constantly calling for you to save her and the humorous ways Dirk can die if not quick enough with your button presses, but nostalgia can only do so much. And if you want to give kids a history lesson in games, there are surely better ways. The Kinect controls are also, as usual, absolutely unnecessary and if you really want to get the best experience from this game, you have to use the controller all the way. Jumping left, right, forward, and back to dodge doesn’t immerse you as much as I’m sure the additions were intended to.

All in all, Dragon’s Lair was a significant note in gaming history back in 1983. But now, in 2012, it just can’t stand up to the games that we are used to seeing today and I don’t see it being worth $10 just to have a history lesson on your Xbox 360. Nostalgia can only do so much folks and at in the end, it isn’t enough to make Dragon’s Lair really worthwhile.

SUMMARY:  There is a lot of historical gravitas that Dragon’s Lair carries, but with over five dozen ports since its 1983 arcade launch, the game lacks punch, especially on modern consoles. There may be a nostalgia factor here for some, and it might be a good history lesson for others, but the game really doesn’t stand the test of time.

  • THE GOOD: Few games carry as much historical weight
  • THE BAD: Short, simple, and lacks modern appeal
  • THE UGLY:  Definitely not Princess Daphne! Hellloooooo princess!

SCORE: 3.0

Dragon’s Lair is available on Nintendo 3DS, PSN (PS3), PS Vita, PC, iOS, and XBLA (Xbox 360). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA (Xbox 360).