Kinect’s launch has come and gone and we’re here to deliver our impressions of Microsoft’s new device. We already gave you an overview of the system, but now its time to go into more detail after spending some time with it.
After taking Kinect out of its box, I was impressed by the solid construction of the device. It is housed in a hard plastic and features a weighted base to keep itself in place. The one fragile point is the pivot which allows the camera to move up and down or side to side. It shouldn’t be a big problem as long as you don’t apply unnecessary force; for normal use it is solid enough.
Setting up Kinect was a fairly simple process. After plugging in the device and starting up the Xbox, I was prompted to download an update for Kinect. After doing so, the Kinect software took over the reigns. There wasn’t much to it, for the most part you just need to sit back and let the Kinect sensor run a few tests in regards to its surroundings. You will be prompted to participate here and there and when it comes to setting up Kinect ID (so Kinect can recognize you on sight) you will need to go through a process where you stand in various positions, but even this doesn’t take too long. Within five to ten minutes you should be up and running.
The first thing I noticed after getting Kinect all set up is just how smooth and responsive the system is. In short – Kinect works. The camera does a good job of tracking your motions in real time, and while there is a slight delay, it is nearly imperceptible most of the time. It was a little tricky to get the hang of the motion control at first, but it soon became second nature.
So far, I’ve tried three games with Kinect: Dance Central, Kinectimals and Kinect Adventures. The worst of that lot is Kinect Adventures. Kinect Adventures is essentially a mini-game collection aimed at a casual audience. The mini-games can be fun, but of the three, Kinect Adventures is the only one where the input delay became readily apparent.
Dance Central, widely considered to be the best of the Kinect launch titles, is indeed a riot. It’s the game I’ve spent the most time with and I’m having a lot of fun with it. If you don’t mind looking like a bit of an idiot, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy it too. The game allows you to check out the individual dance moves that go into a song routine and practice them one at a time before it challenges you to do them in succession. Once you feel you’ve got the moves down you can choose to perform the song and dance through it in its entirety.
Kinectimals is perhaps the most surprising of the bunch. I thought the game looked pretty humorous, but I expected it to be more of a gimmick than a real game. Fortunately, I was quite wrong. Kinectimals is more than a virtual pet simulator and is proving to be more of a gamer’s game than I think most were expecting.
The other big feature with Kinect is the ability to navigate and control your Xbox 360 by using gestures and voice commands instead of a controller. This functionality works extremely well and several dashboard apps have been updated to utilize it. ESPN, Zune and Last.fm can all be controlled using Kinect. Check out the video below for a brief demonstration of this functionality.
This is all sounding pretty good, right? Well, for the most part it is, but Kinect isn’t without its faults. For instance, I was very disappointed to see that you can’t use Kinect with the normal 360 dashboard; you have to use the special Kinect Hub, which is essentially a stripped down version of the dash. This is probably my biggest complaint with the system so far. Also, while many of the apps on the 360 work with Kinect, one key app doesn’t: NetFlix. It is possible that MS will release an update for the NetFlix app to address this issue, but until that happens, this will continue to be an obvious oversight.
Other problems with Kinect are the somewhat limited voice commands. What’s there is great, but there are some rather confusing omissions. For instance, you can only open the disc tray by voice if it is empty; it would be nice to have that command available at all times with the possible exception of during gameplay. Another sore spot is the lack of shutdown and activation commands. Sure it could be problematic if your roommate is a jerk and shouts “Xbox, shutdown” while you’re playing a game, but having to reach for a controller to turn the system off after playing hands-free all night is just awkward.
The one other thing to note about Kinect is that if you hold your hand in front of your body, but not out far enough, the sensor can lose track of it. I haven’t found this to be a problem during gameplay, but it has happened once or twice while navigating the menu system. Granted, this point is a little lame as it mostly boils down to me being too lazy to hold my hand out, but it may be something you come across as well.
In spite of the problems mentioned above, I have actually been very impressed with Kinect. The system works and doesn’t seem to suffer from any of the problems the press had mentioned leading up to launch. Changes in lighting don’t cause problems, background sound doesn’t trip it up and even other people or pets moving around you during play don’t pose much of a problem unless someone is deliberately trying to mess it up by jumping around in front of you.
With Kinect, Microsoft has delivered. It’s now up to game developers to create quality experiences, not gimmicks, based on Kinect’s abilities. We’ve seen some of both with the launch titles, but games like Kinectimals and Dance Central have proven the technology and that, if used in the right way, Kinect can deliver gaming experiences that aren’t possible with a standard controller.