Kinect Sports: Season Two Review- Game On!
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Microsoft has returned with the next big Kinect game! They enlisted Rare (the developers of the well known Banjo Kazooie games) and BigPark (Kinect Joy Ride) to create Kinect Sports: Season 2, a follow up to the well-received Kinect Sports. I’ll be the first to say that I am not a big sports games fan, but I have been looking for a reason to dust off the Kinect, get back to the life of motion-based gaming, and get a little exercise in the process. Microsoft has given us football, baseball, darts, golf, skiing, and tennis to enjoy for this round of active gaming. Most of the sports were quite enjoyable and a great workout; here is a recap of each activity and my experiences with them!
Tennis was the first sport that I ventured into; you know, start off with just some basic arm movements – nothing major. So I picked a one-player match with a rookie opponent (all using voice control which I will expand on towards the end of the review) and was sent to the court. The sound of the packed avatar audience filled the room as my avatar made his Kinect Sports debut. A video tutorial, voiced by an elderly sounding English man, quickly taught me how to play before the game began. I loved this feature; being able to see exactly what you are supposed to do instead of haphazardly flailing your limbs was key to actually doing the movements right. I served up the ball and the match began. The gameplay was a little choppy at times, as the Kinect is known to have some tracking issues, and they still show. Sometimes when making the hitting movement (swinging my arm forward), my avatar’s arm would go through his body or freak out into spasms. Despite this however, the system adjusted quickly and was still able to accurately respond to my movements. Winning my match by one volley, I cheered, the screen prompting me to celebrate.
The game keeps track of your experience, giving you points for achieving different in-game goals. When you reach a certain number, your character levels up. The leveling system allows you to be matched up evenly against other players when playing competitively online, so you never play against someone with far more experience than yourself. It also tracks the calories you burn during play and saves the data from each session, even if you switch sports. I would like to view this as a step towards personal health, because some of these sports are very active, not to mention tiring.
At the end of the game, a replay video is shown of your recent match in which you can see every mistake or brilliant play that you just did. You even have the option of uploading your video to the online database so that others can watch your spastic movements and have a good chuckle. I refrained from doing this though; trying to hold on to whatever dignity I still had left. Tennis left me feeling good, but I wanted to get a little more active so I moved on to baseball and brought in some help.
I looked at baseball as a great opportunity to get a little one-on-one play going, so I invited my brother – the perfect guinea pig – to help me test it out. Player one starts out as the batter, while player two pitches. It all felt very natural through the two innings of play. You can perform different pitches by moving your arms in certain ways, making it more difficult for the batter. You can even pitch and hit left handed, so lefties can all be at ease! If I hit the ball (and it was not a homerun), I was prompted to run in-place; the faster you run, the faster your avatar runs. If a homerun was hit, my avatar, and any other players on 1st, 2nd, or 3rd base, would automatically head to home plate – scoring runs for my team (and, if you are close enough to the plate, you can even slide in). If the ball is hit to an infielder, players can attempt to catch it by moving their hand to the green target on the screen. This all became amazingly immersive. At one point, my brother even dove to catch the ball only to fall into a bowl of tilapia he was eating during the game. After a good laugh, we continued the game through the two innings with no problems. Claiming victory, winning 13-5, I was getting more excited about the sports games genre. I got my experience, watched the ridiculous replay video, and was informed that I had burned off 220 calories. I decided that we should move on to skiing.
Skiing in a one-on-one match was rather simple. We picked our hill out of three choices (each choice can be played in easy or hard mode) and were transported to the snowy mountain top. Competitive skiing consists of two runs down the hill. You tuck your body down to gain speed and slalom (weave in and out) through flags; however, missing flags hurts your final score at the end of the match, so you might want to keep that in mind from the very start. Each run has a couple areas where you are required to jump; not jumping causes you to lose speed and potentially get passed by your opponent. After the two runs, the misses are calculated and the winner is announced, as simple as that. I could not find a flaw in this straightforward design. One play was enough for me – I wanted to try a game on co-op mode. Football seemed to be the best choice for this, so we pressed on.
To me football is like a Twilight movie: very boring and I want nothing more than for it to end. Needless to say, Kinect football was not initially very enticing to me, but I decided to give it a whirl. We picked co-op mode and were instantly thrust into the Kinect stadium. My role in this game was to pass the ball – essentially I was the quarterback. Player two was responsible for both running the ball after a complete pass whilst dodging defensemen and also for returning kickoffs to run down field. I think in terms of physical activity, the second player gets all the action in this game. All I had to do was crouch down, stand up, and throw my arm in a direction.
Even more frustrating, was trying to get the most out of the voice recognition system when choosing a play to run. I don’t know whether it was the sound coming out of my television that was interfering with the Kinect’s ability to understand me, but I sometimes had to repeat play names 5 or 6 times for the system to know what I was saying. Aside from that, football was pretty enjoyable and, like the other sports, was very immersive. I found myself incredibly engrossed in the games, even excitedly doing victory dances when I scored – dances that would bring shame to my family and people within a 50 foot radius of me. I find this kind of immersion lacking in a lot of games today and I believe that this is where the Kinect system shines; it is built to bring this level of gaming back.
So after four quarters of football, each consisting of both sides getting 4 downs, we had met our match and were defeated. My teammate departed after this and I had burned a total of 520 calories. After a brief break I moved on to a game I thoroughly enjoy: darts.
Single player darts is a simple game of 501, or so I thought. It is a game of skill which I feel Kinect Sports: Season 2 has massacred. My immersion was washed away and replaced with confusion and rage. All it tells you to do is line up your shots and make a dart throwing motion, seemingly simple enough, but it just would not work. For example, wouldn’t you assume that you should aim where you want your target to go? Not according to Kinect Sports; you aim off to the side to move the targeting system instead of actually aiming at the dartboard on the TV. To add to this, the arm detection was wacky. Sometimes the game thought that I had my arm pulled back to throw even though it was fully extended. Other times, I would pull my arm back and the game would not respond. I got so fed up with this that after my 11th or 12th attempt I had to quit. I think to make darts work for the Kinect there needs to be a sensitivity update. After having the fun ripped from my soul, I was praying for a happy ending; that ending came to me in the form of golf.
If I had one word to describe the golf portion of this game it would be flawless. I elected to play the full 9-hole version, and boy, was I glad I did! You stand sideways to begin your swing and can move back and forth to turn your avatar to adjust your aim. Extend your right arm to switch clubs, line up your shot, and swing away. The speed of your swing determines how far the ball goes. The game was so smooth that the immersion came back to me and I was happy once more. After completing the game with a score of 7 under par, I breathed a sigh of relief to be ending Kinect Sports: Season 2 on a good note.
If darts was not included in this game, it would possibly be one of the most entertaining games I have played all year. As I mentioned earlier, voice controls are very prevalent and can control almost every aspect of the game from menu control to play selection. Sometimes they are more responsive than others but, as a whole, they work. Some mini-games are also added for fun, like a ski challenge course and golf target practice. Online play is also an option, either with friends locally or over Xbox Live if you’re looking for further challenges. Despite some of its flaws, Kinect Sports: Season 2 is very interactive and I have to say that, even for people like myself who don’t like sports games, it really got my attention and kept it until the end.
Kinect Sports: Season 2 gets a 4.25/5.0
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