Initial Kinect for Xbox 360 Impressions

Posted November 5th, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Only one day in with Kinect and it has been a surprisingly enjoyable experience. This comes from someone who has not bought into the concept of motion-based gaming previously. The question certainly remains whether it will have the desired replayability factor but I’m confident enough at this point to have decided to sell my Wii. I’ve kept that console around just in case a compelling game comes along but having Kinect makes it feel unnecessary and obsolete.

I know the price has been a point of contention at $150 but I don’t find that to be so bad. Especially when you consider a full setup for Rock Band or Guitar Hero (amongst other peripherals) have cost more and they only function for a single game series. Kinect has a ton of potential going forward. I feel pretty confident in saying that a baseball game could be a big success but as of now there are no dedicated traditional sports games available.

The hardware was easy to set up and the process only took a few minutes. The biggest thing to consider with Kinect is the amount of space available. If two people are going to play at the same time that means about eight feet of clear space in front of the TV will be necessary. I had to rearrange things a bit but I have things situated well now. If it is just one person playing about six feet is probably sufficient. Also if you live in an apartment that isn’t ground floor you can pretty much forget about Kinect because you’ll be making too much noise jumping around.

Activating Kinect at start up requires either a waving motion or the use of the voice command “Xbox – Kinect”. The Kinect Hub then opens up and this is where the motion can be utilized. Kinect does not allow for you to navigate the regular Xbox 360 dashboard at this time.

The responsiveness is quite good and the camera tracks impressively well. This is the case in the Kinect areas and in the games so far. My arm did start to get tired though given that any selections made through navigation have to be held in place for a few seconds so it knows that’s what you want to do.

Better than the motion navigation though is the use of the voice commands. Kinect has several microphones which do an excellent job of picking up sound. Simply saying Xbox will pull up a list of options for what can be said. For example, in the Kinect Hub, saying “Xbox – Next” will move it to the next screen or “Xbox – ESPN” will open up the ESPN3 feature. Even within those areas the voice commands can continue to be utilized. Netflix is missing from the Kinect Hub but my understanding is they’re working on getting that in there soon.

One disappointment though is that the voice commands can’t be used like that within a game. Several times now I’ve wanted to go to the dashboard from in-game and had to grab a controller to do so. It would also be nice to pause the games or pull up the Xbox Guide just through voice commands. I suspect that will be something that gets added in at a later date.

I’ve been impressed at how the camera recognizes me when I walk in front of it and automatically pulls up my personal profile. If someone else walks up it either will recognize them if they’ve played and set up a profile or assume it is someone new. In games that allow it a second person can just jump in at any time and start playing which is pretty neat. I have not tried the video chat feature yet but have heard that the video and audio quality are quite good.

Thought I’d drop a few thoughts on two games I’ve been spending time with, Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals. I’ll be doing detailed write-ups in the coming days for Kinect Sports and MotionSports.

Kinect Adventures is the game that comes packed in with the hardware making it basically the “Wii Sports” of Kinect in that regard. There are five different mini-games. All have initial appeal and are quite fun especially when played by more than one person or spectated in person. Kinect Adventures even has online play which I have yet to attempt. Overall it seems to provide a good demonstration of different things the games can do with the hardware.

That being said I can’t speak to whether the fun will last. I suspect like Wii Sports it will fade with Kinect Adventures and possibly quickly. It is essentially just a collection of mini-games. However I think Kinect Adventures will have some lasting appeal at least in group situations.

The favorite mini-games seem to be Rallyball and River Rush. Rallyball is fast paced which means it ends up being frantic and in many cases more about luck than anything. But because of the pace that gets overlooked and it remains fun. River Rush is the river rafting that has been seen in a lot of videos promoting Kinect.

The 1st party games offer uploading to the Kinect Share website. Right now those are Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports. At various points the camera will take pictures of the game being played or record portions to put together for highlight videos. They are low quality captures but as they are just meant to be shared as a social feature that isn’t a big deal.

Living Statues can be pretty hilarious too, they are offered as sort of a reward after completing each adventure mode. They are wacky looking animals that you record voice and movement too and then the voice playback is distorted for the character.Those videos can then be watched and even uploaded to the Kinect Share website as well.

Kinectimals is a game more intended for kids, and I can say from experience that it is a huge hit with the intended age range. I watched an eight year old girl play that for three hours straight last night before forcing her off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her be captivated on one single thing for that long a time plus she was burning off a ton of energy int he process.

The game opens with the adopting of a cat and then it basically becomes just playing with the cat and completing different tasks along the way to gain points and discover new areas of the island. I was surprised at how the various tasks were expanding, such as using a toy car that the cat is sitting on to knock over certain things that have been set up. It basically turned into a racing game for that with the steering wheel on screen to turn and pushing the wheel forward to accelerate and pulling it back to go backwards.

Haven’t really gotten far enough with it yet to say how solid it is as a game (I’ve read it actually gets fleshed out as progression takes place) but it definitely has charm. Kinectimals along with Kinect Sports and Dance Central seem to be the consensus for best launch games.

Overall I still need to spend more time experimenting with Kinect but I’m impressed. I went in having decided to keep an open mind and not really have certain expectations whether they be low or high. The fun being had right now is something that can’t be overlooked, but whether Kinect lasts will depend on the software that comes out. The hardware though is very intriguing and hopefully improvements are rolled out in the future that take advantage of it even further outside of games.