Pick Up Post: Early Impressions of Kinect


 

As recently as yesterday morning, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get a Kinect this holiday season. I had no plans to buy one, and had told everyone planning on getting me gifts to not buy this for me. Despite it being the hot new thing (that I got to play in advance), I’ve had my concerns with how its priced, the Kinect’s launch catalogue of games and some overall apathy towards motion-controlled gaming.

Even with all of those things going against it, I now have a Kinect and a bunch of games to go with it. Without going into detail, let’s just say that the stars aligned in Kinect’s favour. Having spent a few hours playing with the device now, has it turned this skeptic into a believer?

When I set up my Kinect, I discovered that space is going to be a major issue for people wanting to use this thing. The manual says you’ll need at least 6 feet of distance from the sensor to accommodate one player and at least 8 feet to accommodate two simultaneous players. This is worth noting for a number of reasons. One, you’re going to have to move coffee tables, sofas and any other objects in the Kinect’s way to make this thing work. Two, if you don’t have access to a room big enough, this device might not work at all for you. Three, and this is subject to change, the Kinect doesn’t support four simultaneous players.

While space isn’t necessarily an issue for me, lighting sort of is. Our gaming setup is in the basement, which is dimly lit. Facial recognition doesn’t work for us due to lighting. Rewiring the house lighting to accommodate the Kinect isn’t really an option for us, so we may look into buying lamps.

Now that we got those two major qualifiers out of the way, let’s talk about how well the thing works. Even though motion-controlled gaming is not new to this generation of consoles, Microsoft’s controller-free experience does operate tangibly different from the Wii and the PlayStation Move. Being able to use your entire body to bend it like Beckham in Kinect Sports, shake your booty in Dance Central or exercise naturally in EA Active 2 feels more natural than either setup will ever be capable of handling. It sort of caught me by surprise how much fun I was having with it. When Kinect is working at its best, it feels natural, yet totally new at the same time. I’ll talk about the games I have in more detail in future posts.

When it doesn’t work, it really takes you out of the experience. The Kinect has varying degrees of not working. It’s funny when your on-screen avatar bends like a contortionist. It’s consistently annoying to navigate through menus using Kinect, because a controller would work much faster. At its absolute worst, Kinect can lead to flat-out broken gameplay. Kinect boxing is pretty much useless, as the Kinect can barely register any of your punches. To put it in perspective, it’s a big step back from Wii boxing, which came out four years ago.

Which brings me to my big concern with the Kinect. Despite its limitations as a peripheral, I’m enjoying it. It’s fun to use and games like Dance Central highlight the potential for this device down the road. However, games like Dance Central are few and far between. The current catalogue consists of mini game collections and other casual-gamer-friendly content that doesn’t do anything that we haven’t already seen anywhere else. Outside of Dance Central, there’s nothing else I would want to play on Kinect, and I have no idea what’s coming out for it that I would be interested in.

The potential for Kinect going forward is pretty high. There is definitely is a weird magic that comes with controller-free gaming that could get better over time. Is it worth investing in one now?  Unless you need another version of Wii bowling or are dying to play Dance Central, I think you can wait for better software support or at least a price drop. If I could only buy this on my own, I would have waited, too.

I will have impressions on Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports and Dance Central soon. Stay tuned to In Third Person for my thoughts on those and much more going forward.

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