When the Xbox One was announced, Kinect Sports Rivals was said to be a launch title. In fact at the time Kinect Sports Rivals was the only game that would fully utilize Kinect out of the launch lineup. Unfortunately the game missed its launch window and was given an extra six months to marinate before being released. Was the extra time enough to make Kinect Sports Rivals the killer Kinect app?
I was a big fan of Kinect Sports on the Xbox 360. It was one of the few games for the platform that used the Kinect to any degree of success and made for a fun party experience. Kinect Sports Rivals continues that tradition offering up six different sporting events to sink your teeth into, this time using the new Kinect that was packaged in with the Xbox One.
The biggest question I had going into Rivals was not necessarily around the game itself, but instead how well the game would use the new Kinect. The first two Kinect Sports games for the Xbox 360 were some of the best at using the original Kinect, but still had some very noticeable issues with detection the deeper you got into the various sports. With Rivals you will immediately see the difference the new Kinect provides. You start the game by doing a face/body scan that then creates a digital avatar of you. Both my wife and I went through the digital scan and for the most part it did a decent job of creating replicas of ourselves. You can go back in and make adjustments afterwards if needed but for the most part the digital scan worked well.
From there you are dumped onto an island where you meet Coach the over-the-top obnoxious guide to the game. The entry into the game might be one of its greatest faults. My plan after downloading Kinect Sports Rivals was to go straight for Tennis and Bowling, but instead was put through some of the most tedious training I’ve experienced in a game in a long time. Coach who does refer to himself in the third person guides you through the games six events until the world finally opens up to enjoy.
Once the experience opened up things did get slightly better. To make this review a little more structured I’m going to talk about each event individually and then wrap up with my overall thoughts.
When the Xbox One was released, one of the first games I played was Kinect Sports Rivals Preseason which featured Jet Skiing. In this you reach out your arms and make a fist with one hand to represent acceleration. You can then open your first to let off on the gas and turning is how you would on a Jet Ski by moving your body and arms in the direction you want to go. It’s a solid mode but the track ends up being too short and playing with a friend can get pretty tough depending on your living room setup. There were a few times as well that during a race Kinect would lose track of me and I would go straight into a nearby wall.
Soccer may be the most conflicting event of the six. On one hand I thought the Kinect did a great job of picking up my leg motions but unfortunately the game itself just isn’t much fun. I would compare the Soccer mini game to foosball. All players are static on the pitch but can move from side to side. You pass the ball from player to player trying to avoid the horizontal movements of the opponents. Once you get it close to the goal you kick it in. The other team then passes the ball through your team and you get to play the goalie trying to block the opponent’s shots. The mode works really well but the game itself loses its luster after one or two goes.
I loathe the climbing game; it’s by far the weakest link of the six modes. Technically speaking it’s probably the most intricate but the game just isn’t much fun. You raise your hands over your head and grab for the next spot. The Kinect does a good job of picking up upward motions and you can get in a good climbing rhythm. The challenge in this game comes when you need to move horizontally, the Kinect seems to freak out when that happens. The game gets even more wonky when you play with two players where the Kinect has even more detection issues.
Probably the most popular sports mini game in any motion sports game is Bowling and it makes its return in Kinect Sports Rivals. The mode technically works really well. The Kinect does a great job of picking up spin and accurately capturing your motion. Playing by yourself this game is probably one of the most entertaining of the six. The only problem the mode has is with multiple people. When playing with a friend each time before bowling you have to raise your arms and then mock-grab the bowling ball. Its feels like the new Kinect should be able to keep track of two players and not require the arm raising before each frame.
I thought the game was joking when I first loaded up the Target Shooting mini game. This mode requires you to stick your thumb up and your index finger out in the shape of a gun and point and aim at a target. Accuracy is the name of the game in this one and the Kinect does a reasonably good job. I will say that after a while sticking your arm up pointing at the screen does get old. It’s a pretty fun mode once or twice but the enjoyment curve quickly declines from there.
I grew up playing tennis, so any chance I can play a digital tennis experience I am up for it. Kinect Sports Rivals does a pretty remarkable job with this sport, it’s by far the most enjoyable of the six. We’ve seen tennis in past Kinect Sports games but this version does a much better job of capturing spin and direction then previous ones. There are still issues with service where the Kinect will confuse your arm virtually throwing the ball in the air to the arm swinging the racquet. The rest of the game does work really well and it has the most depth of any of the six modes.
So there are my thoughts on each of the six different sports mini-games, but what are my thoughts on the overall package? It turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s obvious from the first time you boot up Kinect Sports Rivals that the new Kinect is far better at capturing your motion and likeness then original Kinect. But we kind of already knew that right? The rub is that almost all of the sports have either design flaws or issues with the Kinect that stop you as the player from having full enjoyment of the experience.
Technically speaking Kinect Sports Rivals is a far better Kinect experience than the previous two entries. But even with that, the game still feels like an under realized experience. None of the six events have much in way of replay value and outside of a few party scenarios the game doesn’t have the legs it needs to warrant a sixty dollar purchase. For me Kinect Sports Rivals is a passable Kinect game that does little to nothing to push Kinect game experiences forward. If anything it might do the exact opposite.