When I reviewed Kinect Sports back in November, I claimed that it was a better sports compendium than Wii Sports, and then gave it 7/10. For this, I've received a steady stream of abuse from my colleagues, but I stand firmly by these comments. Wii Sports might have had a huge impact on the motion gaming landscape - it single-handedly kick-started it, in fact - but it's technically limited and ultimately devoid of skill. Kinect Sports was certainly the better game, but even that had much room for improvement. And that's exactly what we're getting with Season 2.
The second season kicks off with six new sports: skiing, American football, baseball, golf, darts and tennis. Of these, it was the latter two I got to play with Rare's Scott Henderson at gamescom.
Each activity falls under three difficulty settings: rookie, pro and champion. The harder your opponent, the more fans you'll earn from beating him. While I got to see very little of it, the social side of the game seems to have been greatly expanded, with longer videos and more options for sharing.
The first game I got to try my hand at was darts, a sport (game?) us British find easy to appreciate. With American football and baseball also in the lineup, it's nice to have a traditional pub game recognised in a mainstream sports compilation. I've actually played a fair bit of darts out in the real world recently, which makes it even easier to enjoy. I'm crap, I should add, but I now understand the maths behind the game, and have a rudimentary understanding of the tactics involved in winning - that being the ability to hit a tiny rectangle from nearly 8 feet away.
Being a game so reliant on accuracy, you'd be forgiven for thinking darts is a poor choice for Season 2. Conversely, it's a fantastic example of just how comfortable Rare is with the Kinect tech a year down the line.
Grabbing hold of an imaginary dart with two fingers and a thumb, you can move your hand about the space in front of you and marvel as the reticule on the screen faithfully mimics your actions. Kinect can pick up even acute movements of the wrist here - which is important given darts is about a steady hand and how accurate you can be 7.9 feet from a board. The sensitivity was genuinely impressive, though, and Henderson was dishing out dart-throwing tips in the same way he might to players with real darts.
As darts players will know, the idea is to get from 501 points to 0 using as few darts as possible. For the most part, this involves lobbing one of the little pointy things at triple 20. Once you're happy your aim is on target, you can pull your hand back to lock the reticule in place, then extend your arm, throwing the imaginary dart at the board. If your aim is on - BAM, that's 60 points in the bag. Repeat a further two times, and you'll reach that magic number that commentators like to scream at Lakeside: wuuuun-huuuuundrid-an-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyteeeee! All it needs now is motion-controlled beer drinking, and Rare is on to a winner.
Where the first Kinect Sports had table tennis, the sequel takes things outside with regular tennis. This should need little explaining. I stood one side of the room, another journo stood on the other, and we took it in turns to hit imaginary balls at each other with imaginary rackets. I don't think tennis lends itself to the game quite as well as darts or table tennis, mainly because court movement - which is an undeniably huge part of the sport - is non-existent. You can step into each shot for more power, but that's about the extent of the movement that's involved.
Tennis was entertaining enough, but it's been done so many times before that I found it hard to muster up any excitement. I was hoping to get to see some golf - which is a hobby of mine outside of games - but time wasn't on my side. Still, it can't be hard to offer something better than the terrible depiction of the game in Wii Sports.
Baseball and skiing are both yet to be revealed, too, but with the game out October 28, it won't be long until they're shown off. All things considered, Season 2 is shaping up rather nicely. Rare is clearly more confident with the tech than it was a year ago, and outside of the core body flailing (or in this case, precise wrist positioning) there are some impressive additions to the social side of the game.
Kinect Sports Season 2 is due for release on Xbox 360 on October 28.