Kinect Sports Rivals – Xbox One
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date (NA): April 8th, 2014
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
After nearly 6 months, Microsoft finally gives us a proper showcase for the Kinect 2.0. (Does anyone even call it that anymore?) It would be easy to say that motion controlled games are in decline, though the presence of Microsoft and Sony’s peripherals to that end would suggest otherwise. Perhaps the technology is still trying to find its stride, or maybe the public needs a little more than simulated bowling over…and over…and over again to convince them to stick around for the long haul. Kinect Sports Rivals brings enough to the table to keep things interesting, but not quite enough to push “controller-less” gameplay to the next level.
Gaming enthusiasts have long been deriding motion controls since their very inception, and in some ways I believe the hostile reception has contributed to a general lack of variety. However, after spending time with the Kinect, Kinect 2.0, PS3 Move, and the limited offerings available through the PS4’s PlayStation Camera, it’s difficult to outright trash this maturing technology. Is it perfect? No. Is it executed well enough to have a good time with? Hell yes.
Rivals boasts 6 different “sports.” This probably sounds like a low number for such a recent game of this ilk, but believe me, playing these 6 is taken to a whole new level compared to previous titles. First, let’s take a look at all of them and see how they stack up:
Target Shooting: One of the least physically demanding sports, this does for putting-your-finger-in-a-gun-shape what Guitar Hero did for air guitar. Hold your arm out like a gun, and bang bang boom! The player shoots at colored targets moving around on a screen. Some are worth more points than others, some make you lose points if hit, others change value with time, and some can be stolen from opponents. Not much to do here but try and score the highest, but the activity itself is fun if not a bit repetitive.
Wake Racing (Jeskiing): Easily the most fun and diverse of the lot. The racing is fun and the controls are just novel enough to take some time to learn but not so bizarre that they’re impossible to master. Between jumping, hitting ramp, doing tricks, and dodging obstacles, this sport offers the most replayability and the most successful mixture of motion controls with an existing genre.
Bowling: A bit of a moot exercise at this point if you ask me, but here it is, and it’s about what you’d expect. Sling your arm and endlessly try to perfect wrist rotation. Nothing wrong with it, but it ain’t much different than what we saw 8 years ago on Wii Sports.
Tennis: Another one that’s easy to imagine if you’ve had any previous experience with similar games. Hitting the ball is actually a little trickier than it should be. It’s fun and worth playing, but again, not much different than what we’ve already been introduced to.
Soccer: This has got to be the hardest to get a decent handle on. Kicking the ball is easy, but timing and properly aiming goal shots is borderline mystery. When playing sequences as the goalie, you’ll often be forced to dive across the room for a successful block; a little too much movement done too quickly is required. Also, it isn’t so much “soccer” as it is trying to kick it into the goal and blocking. Action on the field is represented by roving opponents and/or teammates in fixed patterns. All one has to do is time their kick correctly. Should the ball slam into one of these foozball-like statues, the attempt to pass the ball to the scorer is voided.
Climbing: Rock climbing is my second favorite of the sports, approaching the same level of innovation as Wake Racing. It’s not quite as easy to get used to as the jetski, but the motions of grabbing grips and pulling oneself up are an impressive application of the controls. It could use a little more precision when it comes to hand-holds and moving sideways, though overall I found going hand over hand up the “mountain” to be mostly satisfying.
The quality of the motion controls and the sports themselves are really only half of the equation when it comes to Kinect Sports Rivals. Compared to Kinect Sports: Season Two’s (the previous installment for 360) straightforward menus and in-and-out gameplay, Rivals aims for a far more immersive experiences. Full of teams, challenges, training missions, and even an in-game store for both equipment and aesthetic upgrades, Rivals at least attempts to be more of a full game than its counterparts.
Microsoft may have redacted their decision to make the Xbox One “online only,” but remnants of the concept still linger in this first wave of first-party releases. The idea is that much of your time spent competing will be against other players online. An appreciable feature, I don’t believe it should be forefront. It seems that Rivals also utilizes a feature similar to Forza Motorsport 5, where actual player data is downloaded and used to create an AI version of how this character would realistically play.
Naturally, you’d think that a reasonable 2-player setup would be respected. Nope. Two people can get down on some one-on-one action, but it won’t let you use your regular person/avatar. Instead, pre-existing characters from the game’s “story” are randomly assigned. This feels a little cheap, especially after all the trouble the game goes to in order to scan your face and track you head and neck movements to make a “champion” that supposedly resembles the player. Both my son and I had to go through this lengthy and unavoidable process before we could properly play, only for us to be forced to play as other characters when we settled in for casual play.
Rare has done an admirable job of add a great level of depth to Kinect Sports Rivals. Whether or not this depth is something that players will latch onto is questionable. Indeed Rivals’ greatest flaw is that it fails to provide a quick and simple interface for casual, local multiplayer. While the numerous challenges and chances to upgrade one’s equipment add some flavor to the game’s repetitive nature, I’m still wondering if it’s enough to hold the average player’s interest. It’s a good deal of fun to learn, improve upon, and perfect one’s movements…but what then? Online and quasi-online multiplayer? Maybe.
The new Kinect camera/sensor seems to be on the up-and-up. It tracks movements well, keeps track of the different players on screen, and can distinguish small motions such as the opening and closing of a hand or slight leaning from left to right. A bit of added precision wouldn’t hurt, but the technology isn’t nearly as buggy, under-responsive, or hypersensitive as I was worried it might be. The only real problem is the gigantic spread that Kinect 2.0 expects you to have. We’re talking furniture rearrangement to be able to fully enjoy this. It’s not quite as boot-up-and-go friendly as I would like, and when 2 people are involved, it often gets angry about being too close to the sensor. I haven’t run into this issue nearly as frequently on the first iteration of Kinect, and I’ve been running my 360 on a different TV in an entirely different room with decidedly less space.
Kinect Sports Rivals is a solid offering and a very reasonable followup to Kinect Sports: Season Two, though I question whether or not this is the kind of experience people are looking for with regards to motion controls. Until another jump in technology, I think we may seen all there is to see when it comes to sports. Let’s keep up with these peripherals, but please, let’s also see what else is possible with ’em.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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