Kinect for Xbox 360 review
- Powerful technology
- Voice commands really work
- Yoga, dance games show real potential
- Requires lots of room space
- Launch lineup could be better
- Hand gesture UI can be very slow
All the pieces started falling into place in June 2010, when Microsoft ceremoniously unveiled the final name (that's "Kinect," if you weren't paying attention) and its November 4th release date. The requisite Engadget Show appearance came later that month, and less than 30 days after that, we were told the final price ($149 standalone, $299 with 4G Xbox 360). So, here we are.
E3 2010: Kinect in the flesh!
Out of the box
The Kinect sensor itself is very glossy, on par with the new Xbox 360 look -- which means dust and fingerprints will settle in on the surface just nicely. The motorized stand tilts the sensor vertically for calibration, and to us felt mighty sturdy. Looking at the front, you'll see a green LED light when powered on, and three cameras. The one in the middle is the "RGB camera," as Microsoft prefers to call it -- as earlier listings have indicated, it's likely 640 x 480, 32-bit color at 30fps. The outer pair are the depth sensors, which according to Microsoft "combine an infrared projector to allow Kinect to see the room in 3D under many lighting conditions." (We were told that darker rooms would work better, and in near pitch-black testings, tracking did improve, at the cost of the RGB camera seeing virtually nothing. There's a common ground.) A quartet of microphones are used to detect what's being said and approximately from where in the room.
Kinect for Xbox 360 unboxing
Then there's the "special sauce," as Microsoft calls it -- the software that takes all this information and parses through it for skeletal mapping and facial / voice recognition. That's software-driven and requires a bit of processing power reserved for the Kinect, but as we heard, it's pretty minimal. The only portion of significance, as we were told, was a 60MB (of 512MB total for the Xbox 360) memory footprint reserved specifically for the motion sensor. That's a fixed amount that can't be lowered, so do us a favor, developers, and make the most of it.
Setup / calibration
As you'll be reminded at least once every game, Kinect recommends (and at times requires) that you be six to eight feet away from the sensor while in play, with no coffee table or ottoman in your way. This isn't exactly the easiest setup to obtain, especially in apartments and dormitories. We set up the Kinect in multiple locations, and none of them were quite right -- we moved couches, twisted the TV diagonally, even pushed back the sensor a few inches to maximize as much space as possible. Point is, the six feet isn't just a recommendation, it's pretty much a requirement.
Whenever you turn on the Xbox 360, Kinect will do what it can to detect human life, and in doing so will use its motorized vertical tilt to get said individuals into the frame as much as possible. If it's the first time using the device, you'll be prompted to calibrate the audio. It takes several minutes, but you'll definitely want to endure -- in essence, it's learning what audio will be ambient / coming from the television (and therefore can be ignored) versus your own vocal cord vibrations. It's how you'd be able to, theoretically, watch a video of someone sternly screaming "Xbox" and the Kinect sensor never mistaking it for a voice command.
Kinect for Xbox 360 dashboard and navigation
Let's start with the bundled title, seeing as this will likely be the first (and in some instance the only) Kinect experience for gamers. For all intents and purposes, Adventures is your requisite pack of minigames meant to give a taste of the "body as controller" experience, under the guise of a jungle theme. And for that, it does a pretty good job. There's five games in all, each with some multiplayer component, including River Rush and the aforementioned Rallyball. It's a party game at its core, so don't expect a lot of replay value beyond showing your friends for the occasional round. (Joystiq review)
A crowd favorite. The Rock Band gurus at Harmonix have made a rhythm game that's, well, Rock Band for choreographed dance. It's the kind of thing that really highlights what Kinect can do -- track your movement, actually teach you dance, and provide all the embarrassment you ever asked for. We had a lot of fun with this one, despite it continually punishing us for misaligned arm movements and the occasional confusion as to which foot we step out with first. Additionally, its menu navigation -- using horizontal swipes to select from a vertical list of options -- is super fast and worked with only a few mistaken selections on our part. (Joystiq review)
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved
Ubisoft's exercise game is the other great example of Kinect's potential. The menu system feels fast (despite using the hovering technique), your on-screen avatar is eerily accurate (some amalgamation of your infrared position and your monochrome visage -- if you're wearing a collard shirt, it'll show the buttons), and the skeletal mapping is added to the equation as another check to how accurately you're maintaining proper Tai Chi positions -- yes, it'll deduct points for not bending your knees as low as the virtual instructor demands. There's also a handful of games, full lesson plans, and yes, it keeps track of your progress. (Joystiq review)
Something of a pet simulator with a much heavier focus on minigames, its utterly cute art style and character design can't mask the aggravation of trying to throw a virtual toy pig into totem polls and having the game non-intuitively launch the projectile out of your hands too early or too late. It's one of those times where we wish it either detected finger movements or let us push a button instead. We suspect we're not exactly the target audience, but even so, the pacing is mighty slow and the on-screen narrator (some flying half-raccoon creature) will grate on more than a few people's nerves. Still, kudos for implementing a smart horizontal swipe mechanic for sifting through lists, and for tracking your body position and moving the camera accordingly (e.g. for scratching your little tiger friend on his back and side and... okay, it really is adorable). (Joystiq review)
If Kinect Adventures is the equivalent of Wii Sports Resort, Kinect Sports is just plain Wii Sports -- and we don't say that in a good way. Games like bowling felt inaccurate in the same way Kinectimals had an "underhanded throw" issue, and table tennis has a huge amount of leeway in how you swing -- on numerous occasions, a forehand in real life would turn into a backhand in order to make the on-screen shot. Additionally, for whatever reason, the sensor had a hard time keeping track of our hand, violently shaking the cursor despite our relatively-still position in lighting conditions that were fine for other titles. If there is such a thing as an inherent yearning for motion-controlled party gaming, the already-bundled Kinect Adventure should more than fill that void. (Joystiq review)
Kinect Joy Ride
It's a racing game that requires you to stand up, which is sure to frustrate a number of people to begin with. The menu system also seems to suffer from the same detection glitches as Kinect Sports (see above). There's just not a lot of depth when you consider this is a $50 title, and the steering mechanic at times seemed a little off with what our bodies were doing. (Joystiq review)
Kinect for Xbox 360 launch titles
The comparison everyone wants to make -- including Microsoft and Sony themselves -- is how Kinect stacks up against the Move. By the numbers, picking up Move starter bundle and an extra controller is the same price, and in that setup you also get a two-player experience. Move's Sports Champions is arguably a stronger bundled title compared to Kinect Adventures. But really, we feel like both systems -- along with Nintendo and the Wii -- are just taking a different approach to the same issue. Where does interaction go next? How do you bring it to the living room? Back to the Kinect, though: we think there's some fighting spirit inside that glossy shell, but it's definitely got a lot of growing up to do first.