Despite containing noteworthy technology, possessing somewhat futuristic capabilities and launching alongside a boatload of hype, Microsoft’s first Kinect venture ended up being a letdown in the minds of the industry’s most ardent fans. The peripheral promised interesting and cool ideas, but simply couldn’t pull off the range of motion detection that we were all hoping for. On top of that, most of the games that were developed for it ended up falling into one or more of the following categories: overly repetitive, dull, mediocre-at-best, shovelware, only for kids and, of course, the all-important and most common, “It doesn’t detect my movement very well” category.
One of the most disappointing things about Kinect was how much it promised in comparison to what it delivered. Thankfully, though, Microsoft agreed with the industry’s devoted fan base on that one and promised to make Kinect 2.0 — which comes with all Xbox One consoles — much better. Whether they succeeded or not will take a handful of years (or more) to gauge, and it’d be unfair of us to rush to a decision based on the limited amount of Kinect 2.0-specific titles that are currently available, including Kinect Sports Rivals, this week’s motion-centric release. It’s been added to the list because it unfortunately suffers from some of the same issues that dogged its peripheral’s predecessor.
Before we go any further, it’s confession time, during which I must admit that I hadn’t played more than a five minute demo’s worth of a Kinect Sports game before I was asked to review Rivals. As such, I can’t compare the two previous, last-generation outings to the series’ first next-gen or current-gen (whichever you prefer) iteration. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m a newcomer to the genre, as I’m quite familiar with Nintendo’s related offerings.
Developed by Rare — the British studio that seemingly couldn’t do any wrong during the Nintendo 64 era, but has toiled ever since — Kinect Sports Rivals is well-described through its simple, but effective title. It’s a motion-based sports game, which takes things a step further by combining specific social features and the Internet, in order to let its players become rivals with those on their friends lists. It’s not a new concept, and is far from revolutionary.
The idea is that while playing single player events, your competition will include the scanned avatars of other human players. Others will, in turn, get to play against your character, and can add you over Xbox LIVE if they wish to jump in and play against you yourself. For some reason, the online play seems to be limited to friends jumping into other friends’ matches, which is why I couldn’t find an Xbox LIVE play option on the menu. In fact, I actually had to resort to the Help menu to make sure I wasn’t missing something within what is a convoluted and occasionally frustrating menu system.
The social aspect starts from the moment you load the game, and will keep going until you’ve grown tired of competing. However, Kinect Sports Rivals also happens to be a competent and fully functional single player game, which allows up to four-player local multiplayer via its Quick Play option. As such, those of you who are like me and happen to prefer solo gaming over social gaming will still be able to get quite a bit out of this title, so long as it tickles your fancy and you don’t have an aversion to repetition. Make sure to stick with short play sessions, though, because that’s the best way to experience Rivals.
What’s really neat and stands out about this social focus is Kinect 2.0’s ability to scan and interpret players’ faces. I was amazed when I booted the game up and found myself staring at an impressively accurate representation of myself within about five minutes. All I had to do was kneel down (to where my Kinect is positioned on my entertainment stand) and stay still as it modelled my colourful and cartoony, yet somewhat realistic-looking doppelganger. Sure, some concessions were made, as my chubby cheeks and beer belly were passed over in favour of a muscular physique and a chiselled jawline that made me look somewhat Russian, but I’m not going to complain.
Once I stopped gawking at how impressive Rivals‘ scanning feature ended up being, I was able to then start my career on Kinect Sports Island (or whatever the heck you want to call it). Therein, I was taught how things work by a chiseled drill sergeant named Coach, and got introduced to the three teams that compete against each other for sporting supremacy. Following that, I was asked to prove my stuff and audition for each one, throughout the course of a short, cheesy and somewhat basic (but still appreciated) storyline.
At the core of this game are six different sports, all of which have been turned into accessible and simplified arcade-style representations of their real-life selves. There are sports you’d expect to find in a package like this, such as soccer, tennis and bowling, and then there are three more creative activities: rock climbing, wake racing and target shooting. It’s an interesting mix that ends up working quite well, and the good news is that there aren’t any putrid stinkers to be found amongst the group.
Here’s how each short-burst sport works:
Soccer: Think of an interactive foosball table and you’ll have the basic idea.
Starting with their goalies, each team must pass the ball from player to player, while avoiding defenders (who move in set patterns). There’s no running, or anything labour intensive. Instead, you simply attempt to get the ball from your goalie to your striker, and doing so allows you to either kick or head the ball at the opposing net. Then, regardless of the outcome, the shot clock restarts and it becomes the other team’s turn. Basic, but relatively fun.
Tennis: This one isn’t much different from the grunt-filled sport that inspired it. It’s merely one-on-one tennis, with motion-based controls that only pertain to serving or hitting the ball. The running is handled for you. Simple, huh? It’s also a bit underwhelming and lacks some necessary precision with regards to its controls.
Bowling: Ten rounds of one-on-one ten pin bowling is what awaits you in single-player land. However, this one sport allows for up to four player local multiplayer, due to its turn-taking design. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, though: An alley that is prettier than the one in Wii Sports, but contains gameplay that is similar. The controls are also imperfect, which leads to some frustration.
Rock Climbing: Although it takes place in outdoor environments, Kinect Sports Rivals‘ half-decent version of rock climbing has the type of grips that you’d normally associate with indoor parks. Using them, your goal is to be the first of four to complete a chosen course. Things get harder as you progress, though. For example, certain pathways may try to electrocute you, while others may require some tricky jumps (which don’t register as well as they could). What’s great, though, is that you can grab your opponents and pull them off of the rock.
Wake Racing: Here, eight jet ski racers compete against each other, with the goal of crossing the finish line first. However, to get there they’ll have to steer clear of explosive mines and other objects, while dealing with some challenging opponents. This is accomplished through the act of sticking one’s arms out and pretending to have a hold of the vehicle’s handlebars, while keeping a closed fist for speed and using an open fist to slow down. Tricks also come into play, but they’re limited like the course selection offerings.
Target Shooting: Separated by a forcefield, and each possessing a game-changing turret, two players must battle it out to see who can hit the most targets. There are quirks, though, including moving, numbered and value-changing targets. Gold ones are (generally) the best, and are worth the most points outside of rare special targets, while red ones are worth the least and skull targets take points away instead of giving them out. The turret? It charges as you successfully hit round icons with your pistol, and can be used to steal points from your opponent, who must dodge its fire.
By finishing well, completing certain tasks or using one of the game’s various unlockable power-ups to their advantage, players’ avatars earn money, fans and experience points. In turn, earned money can be used to purchase items — which are sport-specific and come with different attributes and power-up types — via the in-game store.
For the most part, I found that it didn’t really matter which racket, jet ski, soccer ball or bowling ball I used, because most of the campaign’s events were quite easy. The only real toughies ended up coming from the wake racing and rock climbing categories, because their courses would become more difficult as time went on. Soccer became a bit tougher, too, but the others didn’t. They mainly remained the same.
Unfortunately, Kinect Sports Rivals is a decent game that is marred by controls that fluctuate in quality. Although they, generally speaking, provide better tracking than the majority of the original Kinect games, the difference isn’t major. Precision is lacking in certain events, the game sometimes fails to properly register its players’ movements, and the menu system — which can also be navigated using voice recognition, or a controller — sometimes ignores hand movements. Its lack of precision is its most damning drawback, though, for obvious reasons.
Going further, the idyllic tropical world in which the game is set is quite visceral. Things pop, thanks to the use of a varied colour palette and both environmental items and characters that mix a cartoon motif with realism. As such, it’s tough to really fault the visuals. It is, however, important to note that their quality seems to lessen during split-screen gameplay.
Conversely, the game’s spoken dialogue is serviceable at best, with voice acting that goes overboard on occasion. Rivals‘ sound effects are noticeably better, though, and its Top 40s, club-inspired soundtrack fits perfectly. Let’s not talk about the writing, though. Deal?
As the sum of its parts, Kinect Sports Rivals is an above-average motion title that is held back by imperfect motion tracking, repetition and a somewhat flawed control scheme. Children and families will find it enjoyable, as will those who like these types of collections, but the hardcore crowd need not apply.
This review is based on the Xbox One exclusive, which we were provided with.
Kinect Sports Rivals isn't the incredible demo that Microsoft's Kinect 2.0 peripheral needs in order to prove its worth, but it still exists as a relatively fun game.