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Microsoft Kinect: We tried out the games, and they're fun (for the most part)

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Kinect

Image Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP ImagesMicrosoft announced Monday that Kinect, its new motion-detection add-on for the Xbox 360 gaming system, would hit stores Nov. 4 with a slate of 15 games. This announcement followed an elaborate presentation on Sunday that portrayed Kinect as nothing less than a significant step forward in human evolution. Okay, but is it any fun? I got to try my hand at several of Kinect’s launch titles, including Kinect Adventures!, Kinect Joy Ride, Kinect Sports, and Your Shape, and yes, Kinect is certainly fun. But at the moment, the device comes off as merely a slightly upgraded version of the Nintendo Wii. There’s huge potential here, but Kinect still needs some tinkering. After the jump, a detailed report of each game:

Kinect Adventures!: Three mini-games from this title were on display: river rafting, an obstacle course set in a mine cart, and a ball-whacking game. All of these mini-games can be played solo or with a friend, and one thing that’s particularly neat is that your friend can jump into the game at any time. The most thrilling of the three demos was the river-rafting course. I played with a Microsoft rep, and we had to synchronize our moves. If we wanted our raft to move to the left, we’d both sidestep to the left. If we wanted to grab some extra air off of a ramp, we’d literally jump in the air. Throughout the game, Kinect took photos of us jumping around like buffoons, and it then displayed all those photos at the end of the game. (The rep told me that the photos could be e-mailed to friends or posted on Facebook.) The mine-cart obstacle course lacked the sheer speed of the rafting game, and I had no desire to play it a second time. As for the ball-whacking game, I ran into one of the issues of playing a motion-controlled game with a friend: Someone might get hurt. My co-player, another journalist, accidentally kicked me in the leg twice. I will never forgive him.

Kinect Joy Ride: This is a simple Kart-racing game. You steer your car by holding and turning an imaginary wheel. This works surprisingly well, and while the game will never be able to reproduce the precise maneuvering you’d get with a controller joystick, I had no problem handling all of the turns thrown at me. If you want to activate a turbo boost, you clench your fists, pull them in toward your chest, and then push them back out toward the screen. The coolest feature of the game was the ability to do tricks. While your car is in the air, you can lean your body forward or backward to send your car spinning. It’s rather difficult to watch the TV screen while your back is fully arched forward, but when you straighten your body to safely land your car, it feels pretty darn good.

Kinect Sports: The two mini-games featured were 200-meter hurdles and bowling. For hurdles, you definitely have to give 100 percent. The faster your run in the place, the faster your avatar sprints around the track. And then there’s the matter of timing your jumps, which I got the hang of about 10 seconds into the game. As someone who ran track in high school, I can attest that I was nearly as exhausted from playing this hurdles game as I was after an actual race. Bowling, on the other hand, was a frustratingly glitchy experience. My avatar frequently released the bowling ball before I intended, resulting in my ball traveling at the speed of a drunken turtle. My attempt to spin the ball resulted in it flying into the lane two lanes over from mine, likely killing a few people in the process. Ultimately, I found myself wishing I had a Wii Remote to hold instead, which is naturally the last thing Microsoft wants to hear.

Your Shape: Fitness Evolved: Now here’s a game that really makes use of Kinect’s camera and motion sensors. (Note: I originally stated that Your Shape was a game the Wii couldn’t pull off, but a reader correctly pointed out that the game debuted on the Wii last year with a bundled camera). First, Your Shape scans your entire body. The game tells you which body parts it’s scanning, including your, ahem, pelvis. Then the game takes measurements such as your height, arm length, leg length, and waistline. I was shocked to see that the game accurately determined my height to the inch. (For a second it said I was 6’1″, but then it corrected itself and dropped me down to 6’0″, much to my dismay). Your Shape‘s most engaging mini-game was a Zen yoga tutorial that had me positioning my body in a series of gentle stretches. The game shows a filmed version of yourself on the screen, so you can see what your body is doing and then try to match the given example. After a stressful day, I could actually see myself booting up Your Shape and unwinding with a few guided sessions of yoga or cardio.

PopWatchers, which Kinect games are you most excited for? And do you think Kinect is doing enough to separate itself from the Nintendo Wii?