First let me get this out of the way to perhaps add some credibility to this review: I am a hardcore gamer and have nearly 30 titles in my Xbox 360 library. I also have a PS3 (although my primary gaming console is the 360). Ive been gaming since I can remember (got a NES for Christmas, had an Atari 2600 etc). With that being said, let me also mention that I have a 4 year old son who is absolutely addicted to Angry Birds on my iPhone, although he’s not really a fan of using a controller – just yet. On top of that my wife couldn’t care less about video games in any way shape or form.
When I announced the idea of the Kinect to my wife I could tell that I immediately piqued her interest. She had very loosely in the past mentioned the idea of a Wii as that might be fun as a family. I knew the Kinect was around the corner and would be a much better fit for our family – but I had no idea how successful it would actually wind up for us!
When we first got the Kinect, set it up, and booted up the first game (Kinect Adventures) I was immediately taken aback about the space requirements. We have a pretty large living room and enough space in front of the TV, but the requirements (specifically for Kinect Adventures) were a bit steep. That being said I pushed the main chair out of the way and moved a small end table and we got to work. Immediately the Kinect had issues detecting my son (due to his small size I guess, even though we’ve been constantly told he’s tall for his age). This was concerning, as my sons avatar always appeared to be kneeling in the raft or other games. Since we just started playing I thought maybe it was just a setup thing and we would have to figure it all out. Alas after some trial and error I can safely say that the Kinect just doesn’t do that good of a job detecting younger players – which is very unfortunate as this thing is clearly designed with younger gamers in mind. However please don’t let this deter you as you read on.
After playing Kinect Adventures for a few minutes (and clearly seeing some frustration in my son) I decided to try giving Kinect Sports a try, which was clearly in my opinion the better looking of the 2 games and the only real star of the initial Kinect lineup of games. I couldn’t have been more right with my assumption. Kinect Sports is an incredibly amazing game, from presentation down to how it handles all of the different sports types and tracking the players movements. Right off the bat we tried bowling and all 3 of us gave it a try. Again, initially, the game seemed to be having some issues tracking my sons movements and his arms would flail wildly when he would try to throw the bowling ball. More times than not the ball would go flying into the “Crowd” – however their shrieks of terror would crack my son up (and occasionally you would even hear a cat screech – it was pretty funny!). That being said I could again see frustration on his face and he would look to me as if he was doing something wrong. I assured him that it wasn’t him, but that the game was just messed up or something.
However, after a few play sessions either my son grew significantly, or we all just figured out how the Kinect works (or more amazingly perhaps the Kinect figured us out?). Either way, suddenly my son is throwing Strikes like its no ones business! Not only that, he’s playing all of the Kinect Sports game modes and doing an amazing job. His other favorite mode is the Track & Field, where he runs like a crazy person, does hurdles and the long jump. Again the Kinect shows its oddities with smaller children in some of these game modes. Specifically Javelin – which no matter how hard my son tries or practices the Kinect simply wont register him properly and the javelin stick will fly widely and get him an invalid score. (I believe this has to do with the fact that the sensor bar points up more at the beginning of this game mode and might have more issues tracking his short body.) That being said, javelin is the only game mode that really seems to have trouble working with him, he excels at every other game mode in the game (including the many different mini-games which he loves). One of his personal favorite mini-game modes is the flying fruit mode in the Volleyball sport. Think Fruit Ninja from the iPhone, except instead of slicing the fruit you are hitting it with your body (and avoiding random bombs at the same time).
Currently my avatar is level 42 in Kinect Sports and my son is 49 and ready to get to 50 (the last level). He has more achievement points than me in the game and even some personal bests that are better than mine. My wife even has a higher personal best in bowling than my (which keeps me up at night, trust me). My sons personal best in bowling is 198 (which is pretty damned good) and he has a mean curve when he nails a strike. My wife has a personal best in bowling of 277 ( she got 11 strikes in a friggin row!) and mine is 271 (again, kills me!).
I cant stress enough how much fun we have had as a family playing the Kinect and it really has brought us together in a fun competitive way (while stressing to our son that its not always about winning but about having fun). He is also learning how to read and getting some good practice with numbers by counting the pins in bowling and seeing all the measurements in the Track & Field events (and he even learned about meters)!