Kinect Joy Ride review: Driving in the 'so?' lane

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Kinect Joy Ride review: Driving in the 'so?' lane
If you don't know the story behind Kinect Joy Ride, let me sum it up: It was originally announced as a "freemium" Xbox Live Arcade game, in which players would race together and unlock new content through their combined efforts in an ever-evolving world. What it ended up being is a pseudo kart racer with set tracks, a few race modes and Kinect-only controls that have you pantomiming holding a steering wheel and "turning" it to steer. If that sounds gimmicky, it is.%Gallery-106496%What developer BigPark has created is a fundamentally solid racing experience, with combat, dash and stunt gameplay in addition to straight-up races, a number of unlockable cars and a unique -- I'd even say inviting -- visual style. Performing well in races earns you fans, which in turn accumulate and are counted towards unlocking new vehicles and venues.

If this weren't a Kinect-only experience -- i.e., you played it with a standard controller -- it would rank as a good, but certainly not exceptional, Xbox Live Arcade racer that you probably wouldn't regret paying 15 bucks for. But it's a full retail game, with what can only be described as laborious body-tracking controls, and it can be tough to get past the frustration and find the otherwise fun game hidden beneath a contrived input scheme.

Sure, it was neat the first time I grabbed a pretend steering wheel and was able to make my car turn, or when I performed the motions that initiate boost and various stunts. But the novelty wore thin quickly, leaving me with the realization that not only is the control laggy and imprecise -- it's also not very comfortable to hold your arms out like this for more than a couple of races, and the inability to play while sitting only makes matters worse.

When Kinect was first demoed as Project Natal and the concept of controlling a racing game this way was introduced, the question was "what will that be like?" The answer is "not much fun." And, in the case of Kinect Joy Ride, if there wasn't a decent racer attached to the gimmick, I wouldn't recommend it at all.

This review is based on a final retail version of Kinect Joy Ride provided by Microsoft.
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