Our son is going to grow up in a world where sitting on your butt to play a video game is no longer the default. The Kinect controller is literally a game-changer.
For the past couple months, my husband and I have been part of the beta test program for Kinect and some of the new games for it. It only took us one or two play sessions to agree that this was one gadget that was going on the Christmas list. Except we knew there was no way we were going to wait until Christmas. Our Kinect is now downstairs by the TV, and I’m pretty sure I know how we’ll be spending the weekend.
The two games I played during the beta test were Dance Central and Kinect Adventures. Dance Central is the Kinect version of Dance Dance Revolution. Rather than hopping on a floor pad trying to hit combinations of foot buttons, you’re replicate specific dance moves using your whole body. The bad news is that you’ll probably look pretty dorky at first. The good news is that you won’t look any dorkier than everyone else! One nice advantage Dance Central has over Dance Dance Revolution is that you never have to worry about the pad slipping around underfoot. I’ve lost many a round of DDR due to shifting or rotating my body without realizing it, and I would end up stomping on the corner pad when I want the side one. There are no buttons to hit with the Kinect, so there’s nothing to slip off. I thought it was a lot more fun getting arms and hips and everything else involved.
However, the one I kept coming back to was Kinect Adventures. It’s got half a dozen mini-games you can play–my two favorites are Rally Ball (you’re playing virtual handball) and 20,000 Leaks (you’re in a glass cube underwater, blocking leaks with yours hands, feet, and whatever other body parts are available). All the games can be played by one or two players, sometimes in co-op mode and sometimes competitively. You can pull out the minigames to play individually, or you can move through the adventure, earning living statues as you go. I found all the games to be pretty intuitive and very easy to pick up.
There were a couple things during the Kinect beta test that I wasn’t thrilled about. It took me a little while to get the hang of the “back” pose that takes you back to the previous menu. When selecting a tile in the dash, I had to hold my hand palm-forward over my selection for several seconds; maybe I’m just naturally jittery, but for some reason this pose was difficult for me. I haven’t checked out yet whether that has improved with the shipped version. But the amount of time spent doing either of those is small relative to the amount of time spent jumping, swerving, dancing, and ducking, and I think I’ll get used to it with plenty of practice.
The games and the moves are intuitive, but more importantly, they’re just plain fun! Even if you’re a little shy about getting up and looking silly in front of others, like I was, it doesn’t take long to get into the spirit of the game. You simply can’t be blasé about it when you’re balanced on one foot using your forehead to block cracked glass in 20,000 Leaks, or flapping your arms to levitate your avatar high enough to pop the last couple bubbles in Space Pop. It’s almost impossible to not get into the music when you’re swinging your hips and shaking your shoulders. You can’t help but laugh at yourself, and that’s what will draw people back again and again.
There is a downside to the Kinect, and that is that it’s not for those nights when you want to veg out on the couch with some mindless button-mashing. Some nights, I just want to put my feet up and plow through LEGO Indiana Jones without moving much more than my thumbs. But I don’t think hand-controller-driven games are ever going to fade completely out of the picture. It’s like how the DVR changed television watching; even though you can now watch your shows whenever it’s convenient and skip all the ads, there are still going to be times when you want to watch TV live, commercials and all. The Kinect isn’t going to entirely replace the handheld controller, but it is going to radically change how we play many of our games. I’m excited to watch it happening, and even more excited to jump up and be a part of it.