Kinect Sports Rivals
Ever since I picked up my Xbox One console, bundled with the new and improved Kinect 2.0, I’ve been excited to see where developers will be able to go with the new hardware. The new Kinect is an impressive piece of machinery. One needs only to use the voice command features and perform a few workouts with Xbox Fitness to realize this. However, the question remains: will it ever be more than a gimmick? Will actual self-standing video games using the Kinect be taken seriously as anything more? Kinect Sports Rivals is the first such effort on the Xbox One, and for a first effort, it comes off quite nicely, especially when playing with multiple friends.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the developers this time around chose to put a big emphasis on the characters and story of the game. To start, you’ll create your custom character using a very neat creation tool that uses the Kinect to replicate your body type, physique, and even facial structure. You’ll rotate your head and body to match on-screen prompts while the system “scans” your features. It’s admittedly not an exact science – I’m not sure my character would be recognizable as me – but it does provide a fresh take on character creation using the hardware.
The story is based around three teams who are seeking a new star. The characters of each are introduced and expounded on through cut-scenes and in-game competition. It’s kind of like ‘Grease’ meets cartoony sports personalities. They are all over-the-top and quite obnoxious at times (although sometimes in a humorous way). As you progress through the story mode of sorts, you’ll meet all of them, and figure out where you fit in. And this is where my biggest gripe comes into play – the game tends to force the experience on you – to the extent that you can’t even play the game with a friend until you’ve completed all of the training sessions for each sport with the “Coach,” and played to a certain point in the story mode for each sport as well. It would have been nice to have perhaps a Party mode or something, in which you can jump in to any sport with friends without needing to worry about the story progression.
To progress through the story, you’ll of course need to learn and excel at the various sports included in the package. And in terms of the sports, the gaming experiences range from a lot of fun, to not-so-much fun. Luckily, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the ones that impress. In order of how I would rank them, the included sports are: Bowling, Tennis, Wave-Racing, Rock Climbing, Soccer, and Target Shooting.
The top-tier of fun here goes to Bowling and Tennis. I’ve heard it said that these are like Wii Bowling and Wii Tennis without needing a Wii Remote and with cooler visuals. I have to say that this is actually a relatively accurate synopsis. These two activities simply lend themselves so well to the platform and control scheme. If you’ve played these sports on the Wii, you’ll feel right at home here. In Tennis, you throw the ball up in the air with your off-hand, and take your strokes with the other. With each swing, the game will read you angle of motion, wrist movement, speed, and timing. If you want to take a cross-court shot, swing early and follow through in that direction. If you want to go up the line, swing later and follow through accordingly. Swing low to high for topspin, and high to low for backspin. It simply works, and it’s a lot of fun to play – especially with a friend across the net. Bowling is also a satisfyingly simple experience. Reach over, pick up your bowling ball from the ball-return, and bowl. You can line up your body by stepping from side to side, and when you bowl, the Kinect will track your power, angle of throw, and wrist movement for spin. When you have four people who know what they’re doing, it can get competitive very quickly, and the best part is that it’s the most leisurely game.
Wave Race is my third favorite, and it’s probably the most technically involved and impressive. To ride your wave racer, you extend both arms out in front of you as if you were riding an actual wave racer. To accelerate, you simply make a fist with your right hand. To turn right, pull your right hand toward you and push your left hand away from you, simulating a handlebar turn. To turn even sharper, you can lean into the turn, and your craft will respond. When you hit a jump, you can lean back or forward to perform flips, and even raise your hands in the air to go “no-hands.” It’s a ton of fun, with the only downside being that your arms will be super-tired by the end of every race!
Rock Climbing would probably be tied for third with Wave Race. It’s mostly what it sounds like – you’ll be challenged to scale climbing walls in the lush island venue. To climb, you’ll reach up and around to holds and “grab” onto them by closing your fists. It’s a simple concept, but tough to master. At times, you’ll also have to jump to reach the next hold. It’s a game that’s all about pacing and fluidity. If you panic, you’ll end up flailing around and falling. Smooth and patient climbing are rewarded. Rock Climbing is also the game that provides the most frantic and comical party play. When you play with others, you’ll all be climbing the same wall, and while you’re racing to the top, you can reach up/over and grab your competitors’ ankles and pull them off of the wall! But if you miss, you’ll fall even farther behind. It’s a blast with friends, and has been the party favorite in my house.
Soccer and Target Shooting are the bottom of the barrel, and while some may enjoy them more than I did, I simply didn’t find them to be much fun. In Soccer, you time and direct kicks up the field until you’re in position to shoot on the goal. It sounds easy enough, except there doesn’t seem to be very much skill involved. As long as you point your foot in the general direction, you’re going to win most of the time. Target Shooting is nothing more than pointing your finger at the screen. When your reticule touches one of the targets, you’ll “shoot” it. There’s a center wall in between the two shooters competing, and you’ll shoot at your own targets on your side of the wall. Sometimes, a target on the other side of the wall will venture above the top, allowing you to “steal” that target if you shoot it before your opponent. It’s a nice bit of competitive touch, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still just pointing at the screen and moving your arm around. I’m not sure what they could’ve done differently to spice it up – perhaps it simply isn’t the best fit.
As you work through the story mode, you’ll earn XP points and fans for strong performances and wins. All this will allow you to purchase new outfits and power-ups for your character. You’ll definitely need the XP to get upgrades to continue to progress. This in my view is one of the game’s strong points. Though the story is annoying at times, you don’t feel like it’s a matter of repeating until you win. You’re at least earning points that will help you further master each sport.
In a concurrent download, we’re also presented with something called the “Hub World.” This is a social platform that provides you with weekly challenges, or presumably even daily challenges to keep the game fresh. While there isn’t a whole lot of content there as of this review, there is certainly a ton of potential if the developers are able to make good on pushing challenges to the platform.
The visuals and audio in Kinect Sports Rivals are mostly what I expected. The island setting containing all of the events is very pretty and whimsical. There is a ton of color and charm. Player models and movements are realistic, but they’re not supposed to be. They’re supposed to be charming, colorful, and fun, and in that regard they succeed. Voice acting is also colorful, and walks a constant fine line between cute and annoying. And as I said before, the game may have relied on the characters, cut-scenes, and story just a bit too much here. The sound effects and music, however, are fantastic in this reviewer’s opinion.
Kinect Sports Rivals is a good game. The controls have their issues, but in my time with the game, as long as you perform the motions in front of the camera in the way the game instructs you to, there are very few hiccups with motion detection and how your character responds on-screen. Four of the six events are ones that I continue to come back to, especially with friends, which for a game of this type is very strong, in my experience. This is a solid first showing for first-party support of the Kinect 2.0, and it has me excited about what the future holds for motion-controlled games. It’s not without its faults, but if you dig sports, and you dig video games, it’s very much worth checking out – especially if you have some friends to play with.
Reviewed By: Dan Nielson
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Kinect Sports Rivals for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.