Regular readers will notice that the following article is a slight departure from our usual preview style. For gamescom 2010 we've adopted a streamlined structure, allowing us to cover as many games as possible while giving you the important juice and info. In many cases we'll be running longer, more detailed previews upon our return to the UK.
What is it?
It's only the game Rare, creator of Conker's Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark, Viva Pinata and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts has been working on for the launch of Microsoft Kinect on November 10. Though not bundled with the new controller, it's very much Microsoft's answer to Wii Sports and features a range of activities, including Football, Athletics and Bowling.
What was shown?
Sports on show included Javelin, Football and Ten-Pin Bowling. Javelin saw players holding out their arm to take hold of the flying pole then arch their throwing arm back and begin running on the spot - high knees seemed to help gain top speed. Once at the end of the runway, the pole is released by thrusting the throwing arm forward, being careful to stop at the correct position to ensure good height and distance.
Football was playable one-on-one or cooperative against the AI. In the Co-op mode two players stand side by side, taking it in turns to control the next player who receives the ball. It's simple stuff with on-screen arrows giving you a choice of directions to send the ball, all until a player comes within sight of the goal - then it's all about hammering the leather into the goal. This can be done by using your feet or by going for a flying header. In defence you can kick your feet to tackle, but timing and positioning is key so not to concede a free-kick. If the opponent manages to get a shot away, it's then down to the player in control of the keeper to make the save using their hands, feet or whatever part of their body can get in front of the ball.
Bowling works much in the same way as Wii Sports Bowling, with the player required to approach the throw-line and release the ball just as you would in a real lane. A fast smooth motion will get good power and a twist of the throwing hand will add spin to the ball as it makes its way down the track.
Of the three games played Bowling seemed the most natural fit for Kinect. Just as with Wii Sports it felt like you were actually influencing the direction, power and spin on the ball. It just feels right, with the only thing missing being the actual bowling ball grasped by your thumb and two fingers. Lag wasn't an issue and it's made for party play with Kinect able to switch between bowlers of all heights and sizes without any awkward calibration.
Praise for Rare's other two demoed sports isn't so free flowing, however. Javelin proved rather difficult - perhaps a good sign for those hoping for some depth to the gameplay - but a best distance of 45 metres was supported with a series of sub 20m distances; the result of Kinect being unable to determine when I released the Javelin. Perhaps it was user error and a little more practice would result in record-breaking throws, but as a casual-friendly party game, Javelin seems too difficult to provide instant gratification.
Football is an odd one. Unlike the FIFAs and Pro Evos of this world, Kinect Football has been simplified into a series of passes which culminate in a shot on goal. It's very easy - simply kick your foot/leg in the direction you wish the ball to go and the ball should follow those orders. There's no skill and no football knowledge required, which while opening up the game to a casual audience, does leave real football fans wondering why they should bother. The co-op play also fell completely flat for me, especially given that the usual tactical bonus of playing with a friend can't be utilised in such a basic recreation of the beautiful game.
A real mixed bag then. Should the final game be comprised of more Bowling-level successes then it should be great fun for the whole family, but for that to happen experiences like Football will need to be few and far between.
Kinect Sports is scheduled for release on November 10, 2010, alongside the launch of Kinect.