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Hands-free: Camera-controlled Racquet Sports

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Hands-free: Camera-controlled Racquet Sports
Call to mind Wii Sports' tennis, and you don't have to stretch your imagination too much further to arrive at Ubisoft's Racquet Sports. If you own a Wii, you already own this experience, to which Ubisoft has added some variety, including ping-pong, badminton, squash, and beach tennis, and a more fleshed-out art direction than Nintendo's pack-in or even its sequel, Wii Sports Resort. There's no Mii support, but Racquet Sports offers its own dollish avatars, customized with unlockable trinkets. There's a derivative multicultural vibe, too, as the characters and playing courts span the globe in classic and fantastic scenarios. Grandma vs. dashiki-clad boy in an aquarium squash court? Yes.

Of course, the experience you don't own is "tennis" played with a motion-tracking camera. No, not Natal -- not at all. Ubisoft's USB camera, first bundled with scarcely-reviewed Your Shape (featuring Jenny McCarthy), might be on the cutting edge of a revived and revamped gaming tech trend, but its implementation in Racquet Sports is painfully dull.
%Gallery-79917%Enabling the camera, which will be bundled with a premium edition of the game, reduces the number of Wiimote- or Wiimote-plus-MotionPlus-waving players crowding the living room to one hands-free competitor. (Everyone else, kindly sit down, stay put and keep out of the camera's range.) Of course, you could clutch a racket of your choice or anything, for that matter -- and we don't doubt some unscrupulous manufacturer is already molding peripherals for peripheral-less experiences. But, assuming you put everything down and step before a wholly new control interface (for Wii), you'll find yourself slapping buffoonishly at the open space before you, triggering haphazard interactions between your on-screen personality and the ball in play.

Unfortunately, the engagement level seems about suited for a toddler. There was little correlation between my movements off screen and what was happening in game, and the activities themselves are sluggish, simplified and mostly-automated versions of the real-world sports they're based on. Something's amiss when the most compelling interactive motion is the ability to "wave off" replays. There are short bursts of entertainment to be elicited from the mock competition carried out between two or more Wiimote-swinging friends or family members, but when you reduce the involvement to yourself, your shape bumbling about the space before your television, there's just too little to distract you from the question: Why am I doing this?

Racquet Sports played in the traditional sense, as a group, with wands in hands, is an imitation. Its innovation, camera control, is just a poor representation of the possibilities sparked by the announcement of Microsoft's Project Natal last summer. But then, March 2010 is so much sooner than the unknown.
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