Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) Review

Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) Review

Imagine that it’s a mild summer’s afternoon, and you’re about to take off for a vacation. You board your flight, Oceanic Airlines Flight 816, and take off for the wild blue yonder. Like the poor souls of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, who crash on the Lost Island, you also find yourself stranded on a strange tropical island. The main difference is that the people of the Lost Island were worried about time travel and smoke monsters; however, you find yourself on a strange island full of people who are constantly competing against each other in six different sports.

I’ll admit that this introduction to Kinect Sports Rivals is completely fictional, but it’s better than what the game offers. Especially since Kinect Sports Rivals never offers you any reason for why you’ve arrived on this strange island that is home to three extremely competitive “tribes” of athletes. When the game starts, you are literally thrown to the wolves of Wolf Clan, Viper Network and the Eagle Legion.

Once the minimal introductions are over and you finally start participating in the beautiful game, some ten pin, or whatever the world will come to call virtual shooting ranges, the true calibre of Kinect Sports Rivals is shown. Kinect Sports Rivals is basically a mini-game collection made up of six sports themed games, and they are all of a high quality level.

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When it comes to Kinect Sports Rivals, the quality is so high that it doesn’t need to be part of your decision making process. Instead the choice depends on what you consider a sport to be. For example, the soccer mini-game isn’t actually soccer. It plays more like the foosball table at your local sports bar. The Target Shooting mini-game basically comes down to pointing your finger at the screen and using it to scroll a crosshair shaped cursor over the target icons in specific patterns.

On the bright side, the other four games feel more like actual sports to me. Bowling, Rock Climbing, and Tennis are all extremely interactive experiences. I would not call them exact copies of the real thing, but it’s easy to compare them to the mini-games that made up the critically acclaimed Wii Sports pack-in for the Nintendo Wii.

The final mini-game, Wake Racing, actually reminds me of another sports game altogether. I was getting a serious Wave Race 64 vibe off of my time with the Wake Racing mini-game in Kinect Sports Rivals, and that is truly the highest praise I could ever give any videogame or mini-game that involves jet skis.

Although I should point out that none of the mini-games in Kinect Sports Rivals are clones of the various games that I’ve compared them to. The biggest difference is that each Kinect Sports Rivals mini-game has short term modifiers (or power-ups in the game’s parlance) that come in three classifications: red offensive powers, blue shield powers, and purple speed/endurance enhancements. They’re there if you wish to use them but, as a family friendly mini-game collection, you won’t be shocked to know that Kinect Sports Rivals isn’t that challenging.

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Now all of that said, the mini-games are not the impressive part of Kinect Sports Rivals. They’re all solid experiences to be sure, but they’ve all been done before in Wii Sports, Wave Race 64, or other titles. On top of that, they’ve all been done at this high level of quality, so I find it hard to write home to my mother about them. To my surprise, the Kinect camera ended up being the true all-star athlete of this product.

The Kinect will impress you early and often, but it will start with its facial scanning software. Before the fun in the sun happens, you have the option to use the Kinect’s cameras to make your own Kinect Sports avatar. I’ve seen it scan three different people, and every time the results were impressive. Each avatar is built by having the Kinect scan your face for its specific 3D shape, your skin colour, hair colour, hair style, if you wear glasses, if you have facial hair, and your physique. The results are usually fudged in order to give everyone an athlete’s physique and the chin of an alpha-male, but these Kinect Sports clones usually do look like their original donors. The greatest deviation I found was actually with my own avatar. It did not look like me when all the scanning was over, but it looked exactly like my father.

On top of that,The Kinect is supposed to be able to track you while standing or sitting when you play Kinect Sports Rivals, and every time I tried the Kinect in a sitting position it continued to track my body movements. My avatar would even appear to be sitting if I played the soccer mini-game while sitting. To push the Kinect to its limits, I tried playing it while lounging Cleopatra style on my couch and it worked most of the time. Most of the time may not sound impressive, but imagine me using the Kinect while my legs were up on my couch and my feet were point at the camera. That fact that it would work at all makes the Kinect the Kinect Sports Rivals all-star.

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To my surprise, the only time the Kinect stopped working completely is when my dog would run around the room. Since the Kinect is supposed to be able to track multiple people, I was surprised that a knee high puppy could distract the camera so easily. Perhaps it is unfair to hold that against the Kinect, but it is something you may want to consider if you have cats or dogs.

Actually, the only issue that I feel the Kinect camera earns is the issue I experienced trying to navigate the game’s menu system. The standard for selecting menu options with the camera is to hover your hand over that option for a long period of time. In Kinect Sports Rivals, you hover your hand over an option, but then you pull back your hand and press it forward. I always felt like I was pumping a shotgun when I was doing this, and the issue is that my hand would always slip off the menu option I was trying to select. I could never keep my hand still while doing this pumping action, and only after at least 5 attempts would my choice be selected. Luckily, the controller works for most menu options, but there are a few times were the pumping hand gesture will be required.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Kinect Sports Rivals. The mini-games in this collection have all been parts of other games, but they’re done very well here. I was a little disappointed by how Soccer and Target Shooting was designed, but the Kinect camera’s impressive functionality picks up the slack and means that the game can be fun for both young and old.

You can check out some game footage from the CGM crew here, it’s always more fun in Multiplayer!

Sports Champions (PS3) Review

Sports Champions (PS3) Review

Wii Sports Has Competition

With the invasion of motion control systems to consoles other than the Wii, it was inevitable that both Sony and Microsoft were going to have similar offerings in order to provide something familiar to an audience already firmly embedded in the Nintendo Wii camp. Sony’s answer to Wii Sports is their own Sports Champions, and although the same basic concept is being executed, the results are surprisingly different.

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A Sports Upgrade

In many ways, Sports Champions is really about refinement. Wii Sports introduced a massive, casual audience to the concept of motion control, but the limitations of the Wii-mote and sensor array kept the new control scheme from achieving its full potential. Wii Sports also debuted on a standard definition console as consumers were transitioning over the greater fidelity of high definition displays and media devices. Now we have Sports Champions on the PS3 using the new Move system and there’s a noticeable difference on all fronts.

The most obvious change to the concept of a motion control sports/party game is that unlike its competitors, Sports Champions isn’t afraid to be an HD game. Where Wii Sports and upcoming contender Kinect Sports both make obvious attempts to reassure families with cartoonish Miis and Avatars, Sports Champions takes a stylized but decidedly more realistic approach to its graphics with lean, athletic men and women that would be natural habitués of an upscale gym or spring break frat party. Part of this more realistic rendering is likely a technical requirement to more closely mimic human moves with more natural human proportions. The result however is a clean, polished look that is a bit on the minimalist side, lacking the huge auditoriums with screaming fans of Kinect Sports but filled with a greater sense of detail in the rec rooms and archery ranges players will use. Sound is blandly functional, with some expected victory and failure music, grunts of effort from the Olympian male and female athletes, and audio cues for interacting with menus. It does little to distinguish itself in the audio department.

You Will Sweat, But That’s The Point

As with other motion control games, the primary goal of Sports Champions is to get you off the couch and exert yourself a little. In that respect, the game succeeds admirably. What Sports Champions offers that other sports titles don’t is the much fabled “precision” that Sony touts as a selling point of the Move system, but this is one of those cases when market-ese translates into tangible gameplay experiences. The accuracy of the motion controller allows true 1:1 movement, though it’s not recommended to try this straight away at the “Gold” level of difficulty.

Sports Champions is six mini-games, consisting of Ping Pong, Bocce Ball, Volleyball, Disc Golf, Archery and a Gladiator duel mode. All of them can be played with only one motion controller, but Archery, Volleyball and Gladiator have the option to work with two controllers instead, which can noticeably improve the experience for these respective games. The games are divided into three difficulty settings, Bronze, Silver and Gold, with various levels of automation or AI opponent handicaps. Gold is where all the training wheels come off and the 1:1 motion really shows what it can do, while AI opponents show no mercy in terms of speed or accuracy.

In actual play, Sports Champions truly shows off its hybrid approach. While Wii Sports was really just about the novelty of waggling a Wii-mote in front of a sensor and getting any kind of reaction, Sports Champions is about making you forget about your real-world body and connecting you to the action on screen with its uncanny accuracy. Games like Ping Pong, Disc Golf and Bocce Ball exemplify this with perfect mimicry of your movements for back spin, curved throws and controlled arcs that show off how well the technology reads movement. At Bronze levels, the automation makes the games reminiscent of Wii Sports with little more than some timing required to succeed at the events, but traditional, hardcore gaming commitment and practice is required to excel at these games at the Gold level, extending the lifespan of the game beyond mere novelty at parties and presenting more hardcore players with a level of complexity they’re accustomed to.

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It should also be noted that while not absolutely necessary, those games that have the option to use two controllers substantially benefit from the addition. Archery, for example, is much easier to play with two controllers, as, when using only one, the game reads all movement directly from the one controller held near your head as you “nock” an arrow into your virtual bow. The awkwardness of the motion, combined with Move’s accuracy, work against you as the sensitivity picks up the slightest tremor or shake, a situation greatly alleviated with a second controller acting as a bow and stabilizing your aim by averaging your steadiness between the two points. The Gladiator and Vollyeball games similarly benefit by requiring fewer buttons presses to accomplish special moves as these duties are now assigned to motions between the two controllers, making these activities more intuitive.

Where Sports Champions falls a little short is in the limitation to only six mini-games, and a functional, but not highly comprehensive competitive structure. It manages to represent both casual and hardcore interests with the varying difficulty levels, but leans heavily towards the party game area with no online component or different modes outside of the Freeplay and tournament modes offered.

While Sports Champions is a little on the lean side of content, what it offers is a surprisingly accessible, yet deep level of gameplay that accommodates both families looking to spend time together, and frat house competitions where skill becomes a matter of pride. The events represented are substantial thanks to the “works as advertised” accuracy of the motion controllers. Sports Champions is an ideal ambassador for Sony to use for their Move debut, but could stand to have more content and more comprehensive gameplay modes. The lack of online multi-player is a glaring, missed opportunity that could have really set it apart from its competitors and will hopefully be addressed in a sequel.