Let's be honest for a moment. The Wii didn't become successful because of its motion controls--it became successful because of its controls and Wii Sports.
If games make the platform, then the launch titles for Microsoft's Kinect are even more important than the technology itself. Will they be worth the Kinect's likely $150 investment? At its E3 press conference, Microsoft announced that 15 titles would be available at launch and proceeded to briefly demonstrate a handful. Here's the rundown, and our knee-jerk response to each.
Kinectimals: Hereafter to also be remembered as "Skittles: the game" by those who saw the keynote, the demo consisted largely of a little girl playing with a tiger named Skittles. This is Microsoft's virtual pet game: 40 animals, 30 "unique activities," and a lush landscape that looked a little bit like Viva Pinata, but more realistic. Virtual hand motions can pet the animal and interact. This seems to make more sense as a download than as a more expensive disc-based game.
Kinect Sports: A shameless mimic of Wii Sports, Microsoft's will feature soccer, bowling, track and field, ping-pong, boxing and volleyball. The 200-meter hurdle event seemed impressive, but only required running in place. How will other sports work without a controller?
Kinect Joyride:: Last year's free racing game became this year's Kinect kart racer. Virtual car controls seem like a challenge to do well, but the rest feels like Microsoft's version of Mod Nation Racers.
Kinect Adventures:The demo featured two players cooperatively steering a raft down arcade-like rapids, standing, leaning and jumping to collect coins. That seemed amusing, but who knows what the rest of the game consists of?
Your Shape: Ubisoft's slick-looking Kinect exercise program had a Minority Report feel and a flashy trailer that didn't explain how workouts would function. The body-sensing technology does seem surprisingly robust.
Kinect Star Wars: Lucasarts' showcase title seemed dangerously close to being a swordplay arcade game, with stormtroopers and even Darth Vader approaching you and your virtual lightsaber. This might be more of a lightsaber "shooting gallery" than a full-flown action game. Despite the pitch, it wasn't as impressive as it sounds.
Dance Central: Harmonix announced a new dance game compatible with Rock Band music tracks and using the Kinect. Could this be the next Dance Dance Revolution? Hard to say right now, but Harmonix has a heck of a track record.
Forza: Microsoft offered a glimpse at future Forza connectivity with the Kinect, showing yet another virtual steering-wheel driving game. Our concerns about accuracy in split-second situations remain unassuaged.
Other announced games include EA Sports Active 2 and Sega's Sonic Riders. So far, the Kinect looks like it's falling into the same minigame territory the Wii fell prey to. That will be a significant challenge: finding new and compelling games that make using a Kinect valuable. Otherwise, this could just be a more advanced EyeToy.