Kinect Sports Rivals Could Save The Kinect’s Gaming Credibility

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Kinect Sports Rivals will debut on the Xbox One on April 8th, 2014. Courtesy / Microsoft

The Kinect is well-known, but not for the best of reasons. The original version that Microsoft sold for the Xbox 360 was incredibly pricey, its gaming abilities incredibly limited, and its compatible titles incredibly…underwhelming.

Well, let’s be honest: the Kinect games were bad, for the most part. “Just Dance” and “Dance Central” worked, but that’s about it. And Just Dance has also been available for the Wii and Wii U too, with a dedicated motion controller (the WiiMote) that’s worked properly from the beginning. Other games, like “Star Wars Kinect” or “London 2012 Olympics,” were a complete debacle.

Experiences like that became the legacy of the original Kinect -- imprecision, frustration, and limited compatibility, all for $150 added to the price of an Xbox 360.

So the trepidation the gaming community felt about the “new and improved” Kinect 2.0 (monitoring and spying concerns aside) was understandable. Here Microsoft was, forcing every Xbox One owner to incorporate a Kinect into their gaming setup, meaning their new console would cost $100 than a PlayStation4. Still, now that the Kinect was packaged with every Xbox, there was hope that game developers would embrace the technology and do some epic things with it.

The question is, has it worked? Well…

No, not really. Sure, the Kinect 2.0 works for voice commands (and recognizing your swear words in sports game, punishing you appropriately), but the whole “You are the controller” tagline that Microsoft has touted for years still hasn’t come true. None of the Xbox One games have made good use of the new Kinect.  “Fighter Within,” a launch title on the Xbox One, was only playable with the Kinect.

Though I suppose that depends on your definition of playable. But anywhere you look for a review, you get the same summary: it looks nice, but it’s utterly impossible to use. Not the strongest start for a piece of hardware meant to revolutionize the way we play -- again. Clearly, Microsoft needs to do something to convince customers that their new Kinect will actually work well for gaming.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the release date of their newest Kinect-based game: “Kinect Sports Rivals,” scheduled for release on April 8th. Okay, so it’s a sports/minigame experience with an incredibly shallow story and a silly premise.

But that doesn’t matter. The important part is that it’s supposed to appeal to the masses, much like Wii Sports did for the original Wii. Oh yeah, by the way, “Wii Sports” sold 89 million copies. To put that in perspective, “Grand Theft Auto IV,” one of the most successful games in the past ten years, sold 25 million. Across multiple consoles.

So you can see where I’m going with this.

Granted, the Wii was half the price that the Xbox One currently sells for. But if Microsoft finally publishes a product that makes a legitimate case for Kinect as a gaming peripheral in the “next” generation of consoles, it could be a huge sales success. Normally, I wouldn’t be optimistic about a Kinect title (“Star Wars Kinect” did break my heart a few years ago, and I can’t say I’ve fully recovered), but Kinect Sports Rivals has one huge reason to care.

Rare: the same company responsible for the “Donkey Kong Country,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Perfect Dark,” and “Battletoads,” is making “Kinect Sports Rivals.”

Yes, okay, so they made the previous Kinect Sports games too, and those are just bad. But hear me out! Microsoft pushed those titles out quickly, and the final product reflected both that impatience and the shortcomings of the original Kinect. Rare has had twice the amount of time to develop “Kinect Sports Rivals,” and the Kinect 2.0 does actually respond to movements.

Microsoft promises that players will be able to use the Kinect 2.0 for a myriad of sports games like wave racing and rock climbing, playing as cartoonized versions of themselves (the Kinect 2.0 will take pictures of the player and create a digital avatar based upon that information). Players should be able to compete both locally and online.

What all this may mean is that Microsoft will be able to finally hang their hat on a good Kinect game and say, “You see? It does work! Told you!”

For their sake, I hope so. Because the Kinect has never been taken seriously. The eight year old WiiMote is still the standard for motion gaming, and you need only to look at console sales to realize that Nintendo’s accessible “Wii Sports” lineup drove the numbers.

Microsoft wants to take a bigger piece of the gaming market, don’t they? Here’s their chance to distinguish themselves, instead of playing the resolution and pixels game with Sony, using the company’s capital to buy studios and leverage exclusive titles. A proper Kinect game would help justify the premium Microsoft charges for Xbox One ownership.

I just hope they don’t mess it up. Again.

 

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