Among the available apps, we were most impressed with Video Kinect, the system's video chat client. Not only can users communicate with other Xbox 360 Kinect users, but also any Windows Live Messenger user as well. Here, the sensor's head-tracking feature really comes into to play, allowing the subject to move freely in a general area without necessarily leaving the frame.
Kinect on Xbox 360 can also do body scans and associate the information with specific Xbox Live log-ins. Though it does seem a bit tedious to log in to Xbox Live this way, it may be less confusing for the less savvy Xbox user. Of course, it's certainly not quicker than simply taking the controller and manually doing so.
To that point, though we're impressed with how well Kinect navigation performs with apps and video controls, we don't think it's the most efficient way to interact with the console. Kinect's response was finicky, which caused us to continually wave at the screen until we were sensed. At the end of the day, we found ourselves just reaching for the controller instead.
The acoustics of your play area will also dictate the success rate with Kinect's microphone. We had no major issues in our smaller living room, but we experienced problems at some of the live demos in loftier environments.
Microsoft supplied us with six launch games, which will be available November 4. In addition to these titles, a total of 17 games will be available for Kinect by year's end. A variety of new franchises are being created specifically for Kinect, while some pre-existing franchises such as Sonic are also getting the Kinect treatment. Kinect games come in a purple box (as opposed to the traditional neon green Xbox 360 case), with most games retailing for $50.
We played with Kinect Adventures (included with the hardware), Kinect Sports, Kinectimals, Kinect Joy Ride, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, and Dance Party (read our hands-on impressions here). Some games felt like they were priced a bit steep, others had control issues, but most fell in the category of either minigame compilations (Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports) or fitness-oriented titles (Dance Central and Your Shape).
Every game we played required the user to stand.
To that point, Kinect had us sweating and working harder than any other motion-control system out there. This is great news for potential Kinect users who want to use the system as a workout aid, but might be problematic for the gamer who's just looking to zone out rather than work up a sweat.
We also recommend playing these Kinect games with at least one other person. Though the titles support single-player modes, they're much more fun in tandem, and most Kinect games we tried support side-by-side multiplayer well. However, the amount of space needed for multiplayer increases substantially; not all living rooms might have enough depth to allow for two-player games, and that's a problem.
There's also a timing learning curve that varies from game to game. It's not lag so much as an understanding of how the game interprets movement that may take a few days of playing to get used to. Some games use literal one-to-one motion, whereas others use gestural approximations.
Comparisons with other motion gaming
It's tough to directly compare PlayStation Move or the Nintendo Wii with Kinect simply because Kinect will not afford the hard-core gamer the luxuries of push-button accuracy like what we've seen is available for Move, nor will it replace the satisfaction of precision-dependent tilt-based physics on the Wii.
Controller-free gaming has its pros and cons. It makes first-person shooters and other precision titles near-impossible. However, those concerned with the seemingly endless laundry list of pricey plastic accessories will be grateful for the lack of clutter and the fact that with Kinect, there's nothing else to buy.
That said, we can't stress enough that Kinect is its own beast. Whatever limitations Kinect comes with, the same can be said for the endless number of applications developers could potentially find for it.
While we're not fully sold on the navigation properties Kinect showcases at this moment, there's a chance the technology will result in more innovative gameplay later on. Whether it will, of course, remains to be seen, and requires a leap of faith on the part of the consumer.
We also think that though there's certainly nothing wrong with getting gamers off the couch, Kinect needs to have games that can be played sitting down. The launch library doesn't seem to provide much for the gamer who's tired after a long day at work.
Kinect doesn't sell itself as something it's not, and we appreciate the honesty. Perhaps its navigation control is more of a novelty than a replacement. Nevertheless, the launch games showcase a solid variety, all in beautiful HD graphics that outshine what you'd find on the comparatively underpowered Wii.
Kinect is great for parties and homes with large living-room areas, but not the cramped dorm room. If your idea of escaping to play games involves a lot of standing and dynamic, full-body movement, Kinect will probably work well for you. If you're the type of gamer who isn't quite ready for the move off the couch, we'd recommend waiting to see what the future holds.
At $150, we think Kinect is expensive--$50 more gets you a full Wii system, after all. But when you consider it's all you'll ever need to buy (there are no extra controllers needed for additional players, for example), the price becomes more reasonable. A better buy for those who don't own an Xbox 360 is to purchase a Kinect bundle--either the Kinect 4GB Slim bundle for $300 or the 250GB bundle for $400, each of which will save you $50 over purchasing separately. Just be sure that you have enough room in the house to properly use it, and that you're ready for a stand-up workout while playing.