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One of the things I've been saying in my “Pro-Xbox One Advice” bits at the bottom of articles where Microsoft and/or the Xbox One is presented in a mostly negative light, is that they need to focus more on Kinect integration into games. Well, Kinect Sports Rivals is one of those games that wholly utilizes Kinect, or at least tries to.
Microsoft recently released the preseason of Kinect Sports Rivals, which is available for download right now, for free. I know, shocking. The full game won't be due for release until later in spring, but Xbox One owners can get a taste of the game right now with the preseason challenges.
The game is consistently being updated with challenges leading up to the full release this spring. The challenges are mostly negligible for anyone who only cares about whether Kinect 2.0 works correctly or not, and I'm here to tell you that it does not work correctly.
I should preface any of the following criticisms with the fact that I've only experienced the wake racing segment along with the multiplayer component, so the impressions below may not wholly represent what you'll experience with the other mini-games.
So first up, you can't play Kinect Sports Rivals without Kinect. Trust me, I tried. There are no controller options.
With that out of the way, I should mention that the game looks pretty slick, has great animations and – for the most part – fairly smooth frame rates, in single-player.
What fun the game may contain is quickly hampered by the cumbersome response accuracy from Kinect. It may or may not read your movements correctly (although the more you play with it in single-player the more responsive it becomes). You may or may not have to keep stopping mid-game to reposition Kinect so it properly picks up movements and you may or may not have to keep flailing your arms around to regain control of your character. Oh yeah, and make sure no one walks past, walks near you, or stands within the view of Kinect or else it'll completely screw up the game and mostly likely cause you to crash and die.
The game is played by holding your hands in a fists and moving your arms forward or backward to turn; leaning your body performs tricks or stunts. One of the major problems is that Kinect can't always tell when your hand is closed or open, which determines your acceleration, which in turn determines whether you're winning or losing. Even if you keep your hand closed as a fist, sometimes Kinect will slow you down as if your hand is open, which means you'll be holding your hands in front of your TV, groping mid-air by opening and closing your palms like you're equipped with the Oculus Rift while playing "Baywatch The Game: Pamela Anderson Edition".
Now, the latency between Kinect reading movements and displaying the appropriate reactions on-screen actually isn't that bad... when it works. If you can manage to get the thing to read your movements in a stable enough fashion and long enough not to crash and burn, there are some moments of intensity and fun to be had, no matter how short-lived they may be.
If the above sounds like a hot, janky mess... that's because it is. Now for two-player, take that hot, janky mess and multiply it by two.
It was next to nigh impossible to finish a round since Kinect would constantly “drop” one player or the other and it would have to “re-calibrate” the position of each player in the pause menu until Kinect could pick up both players. In short, it's a pain. More time was spent trying to get Kinect to recognize the right player than actually playing the game.
The gamble Microsoft put on Kinect will only pay off if they can actually fix the darn thing. Supposedly, the magical OS patch due in March will remedy many of the console's performance issues. If, by then, Kinect operates a lot more fluently then it currently does, Kinect Sports Rivals might have a chance. However, if the patch doesn't fix the Spybox's reliability then it's going to be a hard console generation for Microsoft.