Rare Ltd is a subsidiary of Microsoft that once made some of the finest games around. That’s not to say that the quality isn’t present in their more recent stuff, they just had a few missteps before departing fully from traditional gaming in favour of Kinect. Now that the Xbox One comes packaged with a more powerful version of the Kinect, it’s time to see if Rare can truly make the device sing with Kinect Sports Rivals.
As this Xbox One Kinect only title is the first of its kind out of the gates, the first impression of the facial recognition and body physique detection is that it can be hit or miss. Even in a room it claimed to be on the dark side (it was daylight outside and the light was also on after it first warned me of this), it did a somewhat admirable job of creating a stylised persona based on my physical attributes (i.e. being a fat bap with a slightly wonky nose).
I did need to alter some details, partially because of the fact Kinect still can’t do hair right and partially for self-esteem. When tried with another person however, the result didn’t look anything like them, but that hit or miss nature is to be expected when trying full body recognition.
What isn’t expected is just how deaf the Kinect seemed when attempting to talk to it. Now, I have a rather unusual accent that I like to describe as what happens when a Northerner migrates to the South. When using voice commands on the dashboard, the console only occasionally doesn’t recognise a particular voice command. In Kinect Sports Rivals, Kinect has selective hearing. The activation is “Listen”, which Kinect seems somewhat oblivious to most of the time, but it’s even worse if you have a profound lisp.
Six game types are available, combined with a campaign mode where you must eventually pledge allegiance to a particular group. After laborious loading screens that take an eternity to finish, you finally get a chance to play. Games generally involve scoring more points than your opponent or finishing first in races. The only sport that feels drastically different to its real-life counterpart is Football (Soccer). You and your opponent each take turns passing to blue silhouettes while avoiding the red defender silhouettes. The aim is to get it to the striker before unleashing your shot at goal. Then you take your turn as goalie as you must block your opponent’s shot.
With this kind of technology, some games are bound to perform better than others. Bowling and Shooting are the best of the bunch, with Kinect managing to recognise the simple inputs well and matching it with fun gameplay. Football also controls well enough, though it is difficult to punch the ball as the goalie. The tutorial for Tennis doesn’t tell you how to serve aces, or about the requirement to move your body and when to hit the ball with your racket, meaning there is a small learning curve after the tutorials.
But the worst offenders are the other two games. Wall Climbing is fun until you lose your climbing rhythm, meaning you may end up climbing down instead. Wake Racing on the other hand is imprecise, making a habit of not registering your inputs, so steering and performing tricks is a constant gamble. Each game comes complete with customisable options, including power-ups for use in games when fully charged. This adds a casual friendly layer to the game, but they only seem essential in certain sports. Each one has a multiplayer variant, but you require a large living room to really take advantage of Kinect for more than one player.
As for the presentation style, it feels like Centre Parcs staffed by the cast of a Saturday Morning cartoon from the 1990’s. It invites you in with a wonderfully coloured style, clean course design and a generally pleasing aesthetic. Having David Tennant as your initial guide is a direct contrast to the generic stereotypes of Drill Sargeant, Eagle Squad’s Frat-Bro/East European combo, Wolf Clan’s tribal family, and Viper Federation’s meme-spouting Nerd. Tennant aside, they’re all painful to listen to.
Kinect Sports Rivals is definitely not going to make anyone discard their Xbox One controllers any time soon, but what it does is make a good case for showing what Kinect can do. Mini games walk the fine line between enjoyable and broken, averaging in total as mediocre in single player modes. There is a degree of fun to be had with signing in with up to four players both on console and online, but the control issues linger and load times before they start are still stupidly long. That said, there is a sign that motion gaming can take off with a few refinements and for what it’s worth Kinect Sports Rivals is far from terrible.