The universal pause gesture. Get used to this one: place your right hand down at your side and raise your left hand, palm out, 45 degrees outward from your side -- then wait a few seconds. This will pull up the Xbox guide in dashboard, and a special pause menu for every Kinect title. We guess this one's a necessary evil -- after all, you need a way to pause that isn't going to produce false positives and accidentally activate when you're playing. That said, if you're in a clutch position and have to step away, take our advice and keep a gamepad handy for quickly jamming on the guide button to pause.
Voice is a different beast altogether, and while it's limited in function from time-to-time, it works very well. From any menu, simply shout "Xbox" -- even when watching a fairly loud program, so long as it's calibrated to ignore that noise -- and you'll see a menu pull up that suggests all the commands you can shout. You can even have your friend join in, saying every other word -- it should work, with some margin of error. We've been impressed with our time using it, even when navigating though video. We just wish there were more options, but that's really a software issue, and Microsoft is pretty adamant about evolving this functionality as time goes on.
As we discussed in our Dashboard Preview
from last month, Microsoft added Kinect functionality to ESPN, Last.fm, and Zune. What's great is that the gesture controls work while sitting -- at least for other people we talked to. Perhaps it was our lighting situation, but the gestures were pretty finicky when seated. Our Joystiq
brethren were able to just fine, so we'll trust their input that it's not a fundamental concern (as many had previously thought), but consider yourself forewarned. The good news is, even if hand waving isn't optimal, ESPN can be navigated entirely in voice commands. A shame we can't say the same for the other two services, as voice search doesn't exist (no, you can't even shout individual letters, the functionality just isn't there).
Along with our Kinect sensor, Microsoft provided us with six titles to play around with. We'll leave it to our good friends at Joystiq
for the more in-depth reviews; here's our brief impressions: Kinect Adventures
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