Enough has already been written about the lamentable evaporation of Rare’s potential and talent through the developer’s conversion from darlings of the N64 era into Kinect’s flagship studio. We only have a page, so we’ll save it for now. Instead, let’s focus directly on what Rare’s produced here, which is a collection of sports-based activity games to introduce new audiences to the range of features offered by Kinect. We say ‘sports-based’ because, with the odd exception, there isn’t really a single game among this selection that feels like actually playing a sport in anything close to its entirety.
It’s a case of the player’s involvement with each sport often being limited to striking a series of on-screen prompt icons at opportune moments. Football and Beach Volleyball are the worst offenders here, with Football in particular offering a minimal sense of involvement; interaction is limited purely to motionless stand-offs with the other player, kicking the ball or blocking a pass, depending on an offensive or defensive role as player control is teleported around the field.
Table Tennis – that stalwart of the motion controller test – makes a surprising number of allowances considering Kinect’s body-tracking abilities, being trumped by Move’s latest efforts, but also failing, oddly, to match the Wii Sports incarnation. Apparently interpreting a full range of arm and wrist motions into only a handful of pre-selected on-screen gestures, we found we were returning the ball at every stroke, occasionally being informed we’d carried out backhand shots when we hadn’t, or scoring perfect returns even when windmilling our arms around in experimental parody.
It’s particularly confusing when placed next to Bowling, which is Sports’ fullest and most accurate simulation. Velocity, ricochet and even a fair amount of spin bowling are represented here, and there’s a tactility to the bowling motion which proves, at times, to be genuinely satisfying. Boxing is, aptly, a hit or miss affair in itself. While it’s fun to wail on one another for a while, once fatigue sets in it becomes apparent that, due to the lack of a character stamina bar, a flurry of short jabs will quickly demolish the opponent’s energy bar, while the lacklustre blocking system turns the entire event into an unsatisfying motion-masher.
Track & Field, finally, stuffs five further mini-events in, which prove to be the entertainment highlight of the package simply due to the game’s insistence that you “lift your knees” when running. The Keystone Kops-style dash that ensues is particularly amusing when played at high speed after the match, especially with a chum in tow.
Ultimately, Kinect Sports is, obvious limitations aside, an admirable first stab at capturing the controller’s intended casual family market. Lushly presented, and with enough of that trademark Rare wit to keep you smiling, it’s inoffensive enough fare before the real games arrive, but it’s going nowhere Nintendo’s not been already.