Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One)
It’s getting harder and harder for Microsoft to justify the Kinect on the Xbox One. Sure, it has some pretty cool optional features, but outside of the voice controls at the Xbox One dashboard, the motion control peripheral’s prospects are pretty bleak. The Xbox 360’s Kinect wasn’t anywhere near as successful as Microsoft had hoped, but it at least had some prety enjoyable titles in Dance Central, Kinect Sports and Kinect Disneyland Adventures.
Just Dance 2014 released last December and while is a great game, dancing isn’t for everyone, so a game with a broader appeal is needed. Enter ‘Kinect Sports Rivals’ from Rare, which could have been a simple sequel to the Xbox 360 games, but is instead a “complete reimagining” of the motion-controlled sports franchise. While it is a fun game, some activities are more fun than others, and the amount of fun had with it can range from a room full of friends laughing and cheering, to an individual swearing and threatening their Kinect sensor.
When you first start Kinect Sports Rivals, you are tasked with creating your in-game avatar. This is a pretty slick process, as the Kinect sensor scans every inch and detail of your face. It can pick up your facial features, overall face shape and even what type of haircut or beard you’re sporting (should you have hair of a beard, that is). While I think I look nothing like my in-game avatar, I can definitely say that my friends who have also played Kinect Sports Rivals absolutely look like their in-game avatars.
When you’re done tinkering with your cartoon double, you’re introduced to Coach, who will in turn introduce you to every activity in Kinect Sports Rivals, whether you want him to or not. I’m not saying he’s annoying (I actually find him quite charming), but I did at several points want to jump straight into the game, or repeat a certain activity instead of proceeding through the frustratingly long tutorial, which simply wasn’t possible. Instead, you will be meeting each and every character in the game, as well as being forced to try out every sport, a follow-up mission, as well as other features like the Rivals hub and the in-game shop. As I mentioned before this can be quite lengthy, and when my friends came over for a multiplayer session they were also forced to complete each of these tasks individually. It took a few hours of creating our characters and learning before we had free reign over the island.
Now onto the sports themselves. Instead of offering the same sports as last generation’s Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season 2, Kinect Sports Rivals completely reinterprets some sports (such as Soccer) while offering sports compeltely new to the franchise, such as Target Shooting. Here is a list of all the sports available:
- Jet Ski Racing
- Rock Climbing
- Target Shooting
Now while I may seem a tad harsh on the lengthy tutorial, my gripe with it was that I had no option at any point to do what I wanted. The tutorial itself is absolutely necessary, as some of these mini-games are pretty different from their actual real-life counterparts. For one thing, some of the games have futuristic elements to them, and there is also the addition of various power ups you can unlock and equip.
Bowling is probably the most intuitive mini-game in the mix, as players will have a rough idea of how to play before they play it. Holding an open-hand to your left or right will choose which hand you wish to bowl with, and closing that hand will grab the ball. From there, it is as simple as mimicking the action of bowling as best you can, by taking a few steps forward and hurling that imaginary ball in your hand at your TV. You can add a little spin on it, which is easy to mess up, but difficult to master. Bowling actually proves to be quite fun, though it feels as though Rivals wants you to win, as getting a strike can be as simple as chucking the ball as fast as you can.
Jet Ski Racing can prove to be awkward at first, but persevere and you will discover a fun game that requires small and precise movements to ensure success in every race. You can also perform various tricks off of waves and ramps in a race, though these are pretty limited. Most people will open their hands and lean back to perform a no-handed backflip, which awards the most boost. Filling up your boost gauge means that you can unleash a turbo, either by shouting “power-up” at your Kinect (with varied success) or by stomping your foot, the latter of which I would recommend.
Rock Climbing is my personal favourite of all the mini-games on offer, but it also happens to be the most difficult and frustrating. Why is my enjoyment so inconsistent? Well, frankly, the Kinect controls and recognition themselves are inconsistent, which can make the game an absolute blast or downright infuriating. Reaching towards the different holds on the rock wall with an open hand highlights that hold, and closing your hand will then grab onto that hold. From there you must lower your hand to your chest or hips to simulate the act of climbing. On the easier walls, this works particularly well, but the trickier walls require climbing from left to right along a particular route, and this is one action that rarely works out well for the player.
Despite having an adequate Kinect space in my living room, Kinect would often lose track of my hands as I crossed them in front of my chest, meaning that I would stop moving completely (my avatar tweaking and glitching about) or I would begin to climb backwards from where I came. You can also jump gaps on the wall by actually jumping in front of the Kinect, but once again, this has very limited success rate.
Soccer would have to be the most detached from its real-life counterpart, as you don’t run at all, nor do you fight over possession of the ball. Instead, players take it in turns at passing the ball amongst players on their team and shooting at the goal, like an overly-protective grade school where “everybody wins” and kids get medals just for playing. I can’t say Soccer is much fun, as it feels like you can’t even control what type of shot you take at goal. You basically just move your leg as it happens to glide towards your team mates. Combine that with an almost total lack of competition and Soccer feels pretty stale. The ball also moves pretty slow, thus making it pretty difficult for myself (and a few real-life Soccer players I know) to feel in control of the ball and decent at the game. With a game that offers sports-themed fantasy gameplay, it should have at least have the basics down, as well as make the player feel like Pele.
Target Shooting is the weirdest entry in the game. Not so much because of its semi-futuristic take on the sport, but because you literally just stand in front of the Kinect pointing at the screen. I will say that I was impressed by how well Kinect tracked my fingers as they pointed to on-screen targets, but when I thought about it, how impressive is that really? I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play a full game based on pointing, let alone Target Shooting in Kinect Sports Rivals. Needless to say, the appeal of Target Shooting won’t last long for new players.
Tennis is the last sport on our list, and I’m sorry if anyone was expecting a comeback of sorts here, but it’s also pretty lackluster. Similar to the tutorial, tennis also has a distinct lack of choice that will irk the player. The game itself will determine whether you are going to attempt a backhand or front hand shot, and lobbies and smashes are pre-determined. Surely a simple change in footing could have allowed the player to decide these shots for themselves, but alas, it isn’t so.
In addition to the local and online multiplayer options available, there is also a single player story, and if you thought Rock Climbing already sounded frustrating, try getting yelled at throughout the whole ordeal by a middle-aged white guy who insists on being the leader of a tribe because he wears face paint and has dreadlocks. In all fairness, I understand that these characters are meant to be family-friendly, but they really do come across as amateur and unlikable. Everyone is meant to come across as confident, but they all strike me as narcissistic jerks. There are three teams, and eventually you have to decide between joining the white armour-clad sports stars, the geek stereotypes (ugh) and the primitive white tribals, who I’m assuming are Caucasian because they would be offensive otherwise.
There is also the Rivals system and its hub, where players will be presented with opportunities to beat their friends’ ghosts, or challenge their friends online. I’m assuming it’s based on the average of your performances, because I’ve played a lot of Rock Climbing and can prove to be quite a challenge to my friends online, though I’ve played significantly less Jet Ski Racing and in that sport I’m a pushover.
- Rock Climbing, Jet Ski Racing and Bowling are fun
- The Rivals system can prove fun if you are the competitive type
- Nothing like it on the Xbox One
- Rock Climbing frequently won’t work
- Target Shooting, Tennis and Soccer aren’t fun, or get old quick
- Annoying characters and tutorial.
Like so many recent titles, Kinect sports Rivals would be an instant classic if it didn’t feel rushed. On one hand, some of the sports can be fun when they work and on the other hand, other sports feel like they were developed in a single lunch break at Rare’s offices. KSR feels like a tech demo that if was meant to be a full game, should have gotten a hell of a lot more development. Seeing as Rare is owned by Microsoft, there isn’t an excuse for a game of such poor quality to have been released as the first Kinect party/sports game. With future installments however, I can foresee a vast improvement, if given the proper development time and quality needed.
Score – 5/10