I went into Kinect Sports fully prepared to hate it. Even as I was playing, I was making mental notes of technical slip-ups, unnecessary faffing about in menu screens, and peculiar design choices. But during the heat of a ferocious Track and Field competition with VideoGamer.com's Emily Gera, all of this got lost in a cloudy haze of excitement. As I watched the video replay at the end of the event (which I lost, I am loathe to admit), the analytical part of my brain switched back on, and I was left staring at a video of me jumping, laughing, running on the spot, laughing some more, shouting taunts, throwing imaginary javelins, and pumping clenched fists into the air. The proof was right there on the screen, there was no denying it: I had a bloody good time.
It was inevitable that a sports compendium would find its way into the Kinect launch line up. There are two of them, in fact – with Ubisoft also having a pop at the genre with Motion Sports. Despite core gamers looking down their noses at these mini-game compilations, they're the perfect test bed for new motion technologies, as the Wii proved all too well back in 2006. Microsoft and Rare's foray into the genre is a much more sophisticated affair than Nintendo's, however. You don't need a controller, the graphics are all shiny and high def, there's multiplayer play - both local and over Xbox LIVE, and your avatars even have limbs!
Unfortunately this has lead to some animation issues. Often you'll see your avatar's arm bent at an impossible angle, like he's just walked out of a car crash or something. There are remnants of the classic "have you ever wondered what the bottom of an avatar's foot looks like?" embarrassment every now and again, but the game on the whole is technically sound. Bringing an arm across your body after throwing a bowling ball will indeed put spin on it. Throwing a javelin at a 65 degree angle is more effective than throwing it at a 45 degree angle. Sprinting on the spot will get you to the finish line quicker than jogging on the spot. I used to refuse to play Wii Sports at social gatherings with friends; it made my blood boil to lose at a game that required so little skill. I'm happy to report that this isn't a problem concerning Kinect Sports - at least not to the same degree.
There are six sports on the disc: bowling, football, boxing, ping pong, volleyball and track and field (which itself contains five events). As with Wii Sports, some are good, some are bad and some you'll want to avoid at all costs. In Kinect Sport's case, the no-go sport is Football.
The 'beautiful game' is split into two halves; attack and defence. Attacking is a simple case of swinging your foot at an imaginary ball and hoping it evades the goalie's hands. I played on the same team as Emily, the pair of us joining forces to take on the AI opposition. The game refused to acknowledge who was in control of the ball, however, so we'd both kick when the ball arrived at our avatars' feet. There was constant bickering about who scored 'that amazing goal', and the whole thing quickly descended into madness. Defence involves blocking a pass or attack by sidestepping into the path of a trajectory line drawn on the pitch. This turns out to be dull and depressingly easy, with roughly 90 per cent of interceptions being successful.
The whole thing felt incredibly static, lacking the fluid nature of the real sport. Rare has spoken about their difficulties in bringing movement and navigation into the game, but ditching it altogether was not an appropriate solution. The game as a whole would have benefited if Football was swapped out for a sport that actually works with the Kinect technology; Leaving it in there does Kinect Sports no favours.