And so it came to be that all of the major consoles did have a sports-themed motion control game, and there was much rejoicing.
Well, there may have been — some people are always rejoicing about something. My personal reaction after playing Sony and Microsoft’s Wii Sports competitors was more like, “Wow, I really feel like I’m back in 2006.” Sure, there are differences between the titles, but good lord - the similarities are striking.
Kinect Sports is, of course, the sports mini-game collection for Microsoft’s Kinect. It houses six main sports activities re-imagined for full-body motion control. Overall, the quality of each mini-game was surprisingly high — perhaps I had become too disillusioned with the numerous sub-par Wii mini-game collections over the years.
Before diving into the games themselves, however, I’d like to spend a moment talking about everything surrounding them. With the jaunty menu music, abundance of Avatars, and big, bright, friendly buttons - you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into something made by Nintendo. On balance, however, I prefer this aesthetic to Sony’s overly sterile presentation in Sports Champions. Rare (the developers) have done a good job of making the whole game feel genuinely… happy.
Take the title screen, for example — raising your hands above your head will cause a whole stadium of people to raise to their feet, cheering and clapping. The more self-centred among us may never get past this screen. Beyond that, everything from the help screens to the warm-up sequences before an event feel polished and well focus-tested.
There are a bunch of licensed pop/rock songs in here, too. Hearing snippets of Queen’s “We are the Champions” or Robbie Williams’ “Let me Entertain You” was surprising, in a good way. It certainly helps add to the feeling that this title wasn’t pushed out the door for as little money as possible.
None of that matters if the events themselves are boring, frustrating, or forgettable, of course. Let’s break them down…
Bowling is here, and funnily enough, controls in a very similar way to the version found on the Wii. The two major differences? It’s much harder to simply flick your wrist to throw a ball, and (of course) you now have nothing in your hand whatsoever. I thought this would be more of a problem than it actually was — the game does a good job of working out when you would have released the ball. And, of course, bowling is still great in multiplayer, and is bound to cause wonderfully bitter rifts in your household.
Track & Field is a collection of even more mini mini-games (mini-er?), such as a 100m sprint, javelin throwing, and hurdles. Each event doesn’t take very long, but it provides an easy way to get a competitive mini-tournament happening when you have several people playing. The events here are mixed. While javelin throwing, hurdles, and long jumping are fun, events like the sprint and discus throwing don’t seem to have a clear enough link between skill and outcome. As a result, these events feel more luck-based than anything, although still fun in a group setting.
Boxing may be my least favourite of the bunch. Performing quick jabs on the Kinect made me feel very disconnected to what was happening on screen, whether because of lag or simply a lack of contact between my fist and someone’s face. Even playing against a friend was frustrating, and our matches devolved into aimless flailing, hoping some of our punches would connect.
Soccer is… well, it really isn’t soccer. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. When your team has the ball, you get control of whoever is about to kick. You can’t move, but you do get a choice of who to pass it to next, which you do by — obviously — kicking. Once one of your players is near enough to the opposition goal, you can kick again to try and score. On defence, the opposition will attempt to get the ball past you, and you need to move your body to intercept. Again, it’s limited and stripped down, but can be a fun way to kill five minutes. Not one of the best activities on the disc, but far from the worst.
Beach volleyball, like Soccer, is actually a collection of discrete motions that need to be made. You don’t control movement, only the passing, setting up, and implementation of shots. Having said that, it’s still pretty fun when playing with a partner, although the novelty does wear off quickly.
Table tennis is… interesting. I really noticed the lack of a paddle in my hand far more than I noticed the lack of a ball in Bowling. Hitting the ball in various ways didn’t always achieve the result I was expecting, either. On the other hand, this is another event that’s fun in multiplayer, and when you get used to how the game wants to be played, it can get pretty intense. Oh yes, and being able to move your body left and right to change positions at the table? Brilliant.
Beyond the main events, you’ve got a Party mode that lets you jump right in to slices of various mini-games. It’s a good way to get going quickly. You can also play mini versions of the mini-games, such as a quick-fire Bowling variant that has you hitting differing collections of pins. These are fun, but won’t hold your attention long.
And that’s really about it. Like Wii Sports, you will probably have a lot of fun while the Kinect technology is still new and exciting, but after that wears off, you’ll only bring this one out for parties or over-energetic kids. That’s not to say you should ignore this title, not by any means, but don’t go expecting an in-depth game that will keep you occupied for a long time. Kinect Sports may just be the best of the first-party motion sports games, but it still feels like it should have been released four years ago. Whether that matters or not — and whether you yourself have had your fill of mini-game collections — is entirely up to you.