With Microsoft announcing that they’re stopping production of the Kinect, we reflect and look back at some of the highlights that the motion based peripheral has given us. Sadly, there hasn’t been a wide array of top tier Kinect games that we’ve been blessed with during its life, with the overambitious goals of the games married with the slightly unglamorous nature of the technology, usually birthing a large amount of frustration rather than innovative new experiences. That said, not every game is Fighter Within. There have been some really interesting titles that have used the Kinect in fun and unique ways and it’s those games that we examine today.
6. Kinect Sports: Season Two
No doubt attempting to get in on the popularity of the family orientated fitness and sport titles generated by the Nintendo Wii, Kinect Sports: Season Two is the bread and butter of what the Kinect can do.
Kinect Sports: Season Two features six sports: American football, golf, darts, tennis, skiing and baseball, with three levels of difficulty for each sport. It also features tutorials before every event, just in case any friends or family have never played any of the sports before. To be fair, I’m not exactly clued up on the ins and outs of skiing, so it does help. Along with these new activities, it also incorporates the feature of voice control that, although temperamental, still allows menu navigation to be that much easier and has small in-game roles like saying “READY, HIKE!” when you want to begin a play in football. Even with the older model Kinect, most of the activities are responsive and fun to play with the golf and tennis playing particularly well. Darts (as is the nature of the sport itself) can be finicky at times and the American football, while fun with two players, is slightly limiting in single player.
It might not quite be Wii Sports, but as an actual game, Kinect Sports: Season Two has more finesse and polish than your average party/sports title, especially in its presentation. The menu system is intuitive and easy to get around, the games themselves all play relatively well, and there’s genuine fun to be had with some good friends (try dancing around the home plate in baseball and watch those little avatar feet flail).
5. Puss in Boots
This isn’t actually a joke. It may seem like a shameless movie tie-in, but Puss in Boots features engaging sword battles, wooing female cats with guitar solos, and simplistic platforming that are all evenly spaced out and varied so the gameplay never feels stale or outstays its welcome.
Following the plot of the movie, the fencing feline pursues the criminals Jack and Jill who have the magic beans necessary to reach the Giant’s castle, where Puss aims to rob the Golden Goose eggs and provide wealth for his hometown and restore his honor. The game plays like a contextual rhythm action game, where the player must produce the miming movements of whatever task is at hand, whether that be the standard running and jumping, making your way through the city streets and across the rooftops or tiptoeing past guards to reach specific areas without getting caught. The game utilizes score and rank to add replay value, along with its use of humor and its lighthearted tone, epitomized by the dance fight scene.
Puss in Boots is a simple game that certainly isn’t revolutionary but does all of its jobs well, which probably surprised most gaming fans more than anything. Its silly contextual actions and relatively short story, mixed with its self-competitive scoring aspects make it worthy of being in any Kinect user’s library.
4. Fruit Ninja Kinect
The first Xbox Live Arcade game to utilize the Kinect, this highly successful mobile title translates very well to the Xbox’s movement scanner and is oddly satisfying to play, and can be incredibly addictive.
I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t know the concept, but airing on the side of caution, Fruit Ninja Kinect is a port of the game originally developed for iOS. The gameplay is simple yet effective: the player uses their hands to slice up as much of the random fruit that is thrown on to the screen as possible while avoiding the score reducing or game ending bombs that seek to ruin your citrus streaks and squander your pomegranate potential. Missing three fruits will also end the game and show that you must learn more of the way of the kiwi. It also features boosts and power-ups like freeze bananas, which stops the timer, and double point bananas (bananas are special), which operate exactly in the way you’d think. You have a variety of modes to choose from, what with classic, arcade, zen and party mode all adding small modifiers to the gameplay but making them all diverse in their own way. The dojo even offers “Sensei’s Swag,” which is a shop where you can customize your blade style, silhouette and background image upon completing specific challenges.
Fruit Ninja Kinect seems like a novel idea at face value, but it’s actually an incredibly precise skill game with a true arcade spirit. Those who dismiss it shall never find harmony with their inner mango.
3. The Gunstringer
Brimming with all the self-referential elements and random humor that populates all games with the Twisted Pixel brand, The Gunstringer was originally planned as an XBLA title that eventually found its way to becoming a fully-fledged Kinect game released in 2011.
Actually set in The Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, The Gunstringer plays out the story of the titular hero who is a marionette puppet who seeks revenge on his posse for their betrayal. The gameplay is primarily an on-the-rails shooter, with the player controlling movement with their left hand and shooting with their right. You paint the targets you want to hit by waving your hand over them and then motion like you’re firing a six-shooter to blast away (definitely the coolest thing about the game), with some sections giving you control of both pistols in more cinematic moments. There’s also shooting gallery parts of the game that require you to lean out of cover and dispatch your enemies while avoiding their incoming fire. All of this is set to the gravelly voice of the narrator, who provides quips, exposition and responses to events like killstreaks or taking damage. The game puts a focus on score and certainly has an arcade vibe to it, something most Kinect games have in common, mainly due to their limitations and usually having to forcibly using the Kinect rather than integrating it naturally. The Gunstringer, however, really uses the device well.
The Gunstringer is a goofy and enjoyable shooter, especially seeing as it didn’t start out as being designed to use the motion sensor as a means of interface. Shooters that use motion controls are always on dangerous ground as differentiating the controls between the aiming and actual character movement is a tough challenge, but The Gunstringer sets itself up well and is a good game in its own right.
2. Dance Central 3
A fun party dancing game with a great soundtrack, Dance Central 3 is actually an incredibly hard game that requires precise movement and almost professional level choreography skill to be able to get some of the best scores.
Developed by music and rhythm game veterans Harmonix, Dance Central 3 tasks the player with matching the dance moves on screen with their own body movements. Songs all have their own level of challenge, plus three difficulties for each song. The reason the third iteration of the game is chosen over the other two previous versions is the quality of the soundtrack with songs from artists like Daft Punk, Usher, Vanilla Ice, and even Gloria Gaynor, plus DLC from Lady Gaga, PSY, and Rihanna, all make for a well-versed musical compendium. You even have the ability to import older game soundtracks in to DC3 and put all your hits in to one game library if you played Dance Central 2 (something that Harmonix originally did with the Rock Band series). DC3 also features 2v2 dance battles, plus a story and beginner mode, the latter allowing completely novice players to learn the fundamentals in a non-pressured environment.
Dance Central 3 is an accessible party game that literally everybody can get involved in. A game that showcases what fun can be had with the Kinect while having a genuinely steep difficult curve, making it as hard as it iski tiring.
Without a doubt the most innovative and creative use of the Kinect, FRU is a charming puzzle title that if released sooner in the device’s life cycle, could have set a trend or at least shown developers the type of experiences they could have fashioned had they had the right idea.
Similar to the design and feel of other puzzle platformers like LIMBO and Braid but with an added twist, FRU tasks the player with guiding a young, fox mask wearing girl through various dangerous environments by using their silhouette to create platforms, prevent hazards, and remove walls and blockades. A simple premise of just getting from one side of the screen to the other, FRU challenges players to bend their minds in tandem with their bodies. As the game progresses, you solve gradually escalating conundrums as you coordinate the movement of the protagonist using your controller with the movement of your body positioning. The difficulty curve has a natural gradient of introducing new elements and mechanics and then implementing those in to future puzzles. Starting with merely standing in the right place to reveal platforms, it gradually evolves in to striking yoga poses to block lava or provide routes for the heroine to swim through.
A beautiful and graceful use of perspective, this humbly quaint adventure is a prime example of what can be achieved with the Kinect with a simple idea, tight execution, and the right team of developers.
What Kinect games did you enjoy the most? Let us know in the comments.