Back when the Kinect 2.0 was announced as part of the new Xbox One console it was inevitable that a motion-based sports title would, at some time, be available. Sure enough, Rare have brought their successful Kinect Sports
franchise to the next-gen console with the latest installment, Kinect Sports Rivals
. With the enhanced capabilities of the new Kinect and console, there was the promise of more refined motion recognition, and increased fidelity in its capture. Does it manage this? Is the latest sports title able to take a podium finish or will it be languishing at the bottom of the table?
As has been much touted, at the start of the game, the player is encouraged by the smooth voice-over from David Tennant, to create their own champion. With an unnerving feeling that they are about to encounter a tron-like moment, the player is asked to stand close to the Kinect camera whilst it scans the player's facial features. The caricature produced is surprisingly good - although I don't think I have such a pointed chin. For the perfectionists among us, there is also the possibility to tweak the character further, but I found the generated image good enough. For those who are curious to compare, you can check out my earlier community interview
This is me ... sort of.
After creating their champion, the player is whisked off to a tropical island and sporting paradise which acts as a hub for the game. Navigation, throughout the whole of the title, can be done using the controller, voice, or Kinect motion controls, which is incredibly handy.
At the start you are encouraged to enter the story mode, which is new for the franchise. To be fair, the story mode just feels like an extended tutorial where you are introduced to the three different teams and the various sports on the island. The story, as far as it goes, is pretty straightforward, with each of the three teams vying to have you join them as a new team member. You get to play for each of the teams, meet the team captains, and have an ex-military coach bark at you whilst you learn the ropes.
The presentation is bold, vibrant, and colorful. The characters are all stylized caricatures, whilst the sports themselves are presented in nice detail. The climbing route along the length of freighter ship rising vertically from the harbor is particularly impressive. The sun is shining brightly, the island is full of life, and it all appears to be very welcoming. If it were real, it would indeed be a good location to holiday. The graphics during the sporting events also show an improvement from the previous titles, all is smooth and there are no frame rate issues or graphical problems of any kind to report. The water effects in the harbor during the wake riding look particularly impressive.
The audio presentation and music matches the visual side of the game. The music is light, bright, and bubbly with a pop-like soundtrack, and the audio for the sports captures the sounds of the events and the spectators watching. Overall, the game is very well represented in both audio and visual departments.
As with the previous titles, the game features a number of different sports, some of which are familiar to the franchise including Tennis, Soccer and Ten Pin Bowling. The title also includes three totally new sports for aspiring athletes to try their hands at: Climbing, Wake Rider and Pistol Shooting. Reading through the list, it might seem like a strange choice of sports events, and inevitably some are stronger and more playable than others.
Tennis and Ten Pin Bowling are standard affairs, however they do make good use of the additional recognition abilities of the Kinect. In Tennis, the way that you approach your shots enables the player to put top spin or reverse spin on the ball. There's even recognition for overhead smashes, and it all gets very vigorous at times. Ten Pin Bowling too, allows players to impart spin on the bowl enabling them to pull off some nice curve shots picking up stray pins.
The Soccer game is also similar to the previous incarnation, although this time the player essentially plays as either an attacking player or the goalkeeper. The game effectively becomes something like a real life table soccer game with the artificial players moving around on fixed tracks. Moving forward, the player is challenged to pass the ball around them to another member of his team before moving into a shooting position and taking a shot which has to be judged at the right moment to have maximum impact. When defending, the player becomes the goalkeeper and has to wait whilst the opponent moves down the field before lining up their own shot. At that moment, the player is expected to move to block the ball and make the save. All in all, the defensive part of the game seems pretty static, but still strangely competitive, as the game's better strikers become increasingly difficult to defend against.
Interestingly it seems to be the new sports that stand out. Climbing uses the original mechanism of the player climbing a sports route and having to stretch out with open hands to reach the handholds, and then close their hand to actually grab hold of the grip. Pushing down then propels the player up the climbing route. Having done a lot of real-life sports climbing, it was quite intuitive, although as any climber knows, it's the legs that do the work and here, the legs were totally redundant in the game play. However, very unlike the real sport, the player is encouraged to pull the opponents off the wall, and has various power-ups that can be used to sabotage the opposition's climbing attempts. It's devilishly fun to do, but in a sort karmic balance, it's horribly frustrating when it happens to you. It makes climbing in close proximity to other players a rather more tense affair than it should be.
The other two new sports, Shooting and Wake Rider, are very hit and miss affairs. Shooting theoretically should be fun, but the way that it is implemented makes it feel a little mundane. The player has to move their pistol (hand) over the targets on a shooting range, and the pistol then auto-fires, there is no trigger action from the player needed, and in that respect it feels a little cheap. You end up feeling like you are just waving your hand in front of targets, which is exactly what you are actually doing. In an effort to encourage the player to use a little more skill, the player can "steal" their opponent's targets by shooting them first and prioritize the high value targets, all the while trying to avoid the negative targets that deduct points from the score. It just doesn't feel all that challenging.
However, the new Wake Rider event is the star of the show. The player sits on a virtual Jet Ski, and holding their arms out in front of them, as if they were holding onto the handlebars. Pulling back on one side or the other enables the player to steer, whilst opening and closing the hands represents squeezing and releasing the throttle. There's even a stamping motion with the foot which is used to trigger whichever power-up the player is using. It all works surprisingly well and is really good fun. Racing through the gates on the courses whilst avoiding various obstacles with a real sense of speed becomes quite thrilling. There are even jumps on the courses which the player can use to trigger forward and backward flips simply by leaning in the appropriate direction, and it all adds to the sense of fun within the event.
Progression throughout the game unlocks new avatar items, costumes, and power-ups that can be used in the various events to give you that little extra advantage when needed. Items like a super powered tennis racket, explosive traps for opponents in climbing, or speed boosts during racing are all unlockable and are gradually made available as you go through the game. Likewise, progression also opens new and increasingly difficult events which start to really challenge the player.
All of the games play quite well during the early stages of the story mode, and during the simpler levels of each event the Kinect 2.0 is able to deliver on its promise. It's only when you start hitting the pro and expert levels that things start to get a little more shaky. As the game starts to demand more of the player, and subsequently the player more of the title, little niggles and familiar issues creep back in. Tennis shots are not always recognized, Soccer passes go astray, and climbing handholds are not registered. It seems that just as the title raises the bar to challenge the player, it simultaneously and surreptitiously bends down and ties the player's shoelaces together, leaving them to fall flat on their face at any given moment. It's hard to say whether this is due to the hardware, the game, or the lack of coordination and nuances in my own body movement, but having spent a good proportion of my life playing football, it was frustrating to see that the passes were not going where I expected them to go.
There is also the issue of space, and there are times when you need a lot more of it than you would expect. One of the advantages of the new Kinect was the reduction of playing space required, and yet there were times when it seemed that more space was needed. Having cleared the play area, all was going well until trying to make one particular goalkeeping attempt in which I found myself diving into the couch which stopped me from making the save. Similarly, during some of the tennis games, I found myself being pushed wider and wider when making some of the shots.
However, the most frustrating part of the title has to be the load times. The game takes time to load to the menu screen. It takes time to load the next event. In fact, all of the game's screen transitions seem to take an inordinately long time given that the game was actually installed on the hard drive. When an individual event only lasts three to four minutes, and then you are left waiting over a minute (I timed it) at a loading screen, it does take a good deal of the fun out of it. Even when replaying a previous event, the game still has to reload the sport, there is no quick way just to replay anything, and that's a shame.
Multiplayer is also available in the title, and your champion can take on opponents and rivals from across the globe. You can compete against rivals in all of the different sports, and generally, real-life players provide much more of a challenge than the computer controlled competitors in the single player portion of the game. There is even a separate hub application where you are able to check your progress in the different events and different courses. Why this is handled by a separate application, I'm not sure, but it's available and provides easy access to the all of the leaderboards and ranking.
For the achievement hunters in our midst, there are the standard mix of achievements that depend on level progression, completing sporting events, and attaining fans. There are also a few dedicated sports-related challenges in the achievement list. In total there are 54 achievements, none of which should be too tough for dedicated players who are prepared to spend a few hours in each of the different events. Kinect Sports Rivals
is clearly a refined and updated version of its predecessor from the Xbox 360 and all the better for it. If you're a fan of motion controlled games, or a fan of the previous Kinect Sports
titles, then you will probably enjoy this new version with all the refinements that it brings. If you're not amongst that group, then the title has very little with which to win you over. It remains a colorful, well-presented title, with quirky characters and a novel gimmick in having your own caricature playing the sports, but still suffers the same little niggles as previous incarnations. Overwhelmingly though, it remains a fun title for those feeling active enough to play it.
The reviewer spent a marathon session jumping up and down in front of the Kinect, completing the story mode and unlocking a good many of the events and unlockables. All without dislocating a single joint, straining a single muscle, or damaging any of the furniture. The review copy was provided by the publisher.