Kinect Sports Season 2 is every bit as entertaining as last year's original, but it's also got similar flaws. As a party game for when you're amongst friends there's nothing more immediate and fun on the Xbox 360, but anyone wanting Kinect to deliver accurate representations of the included sports will feel quite disappointed.
The sports offered this time around are darts, golf, baseball, skiing, American football and tennis. It's a decent mix that should offer something for everyone, but two American sports out of six might be a little off-putting for us Brits. The real problem is that I only really enjoyed four of them.
Darts is my favourite, more than likely due to the fact that it most closely resembles the real sport it's based on. Kinect accurately tracks your throwing hand to move an aiming reticule, with the target zone being locked in when you pull your arm back. Where your dart ends up depends on the speed and direction of your throw, so it's still possible to miss the target.
With a little practice it's quite easy to knock in the treble-20s and wipe the floor with the competition, but I'm still trying to get the Achievement for a nine-dart finish. Despite the fact that the game soon becomes incredibly simple, it remains great fun, with the post-game video snippets recorded by Kinect capturing some excellent celebratory moments as you hit that 180 or the closing double first time.
In runner-up position we have baseball, which despite its lack of popularity in the UK makes for an entertaining and surprisingly energetic Kinect experience. Standing as if batting, you hold your hands behind you, then swing when the ball approaches. Step forward into the swing and you'll add extra power, with the timing of your swing determining the distance the ball travels.
As a pitcher you can throw the ball at varying speeds or swing your arm in a diagonal arc to curve the pitch. If the batter doesn't connect properly with the ball you also get opportunities to make a catch in the field, with your hand needing to be moved over an on-screen target before the ball reaches you.
Golf and skiing hold the middle ground, each providing fun representations of the real sports but being relatively basic in execution. Golf has you pretend to swing a club, with aiming handled by your foot position. It's decent fun if you can accept that you're not getting a nuanced experience. The same is true of skiing, with leaning, crouching and jumping required to steer, build up speed and leap into the air.
While golf and skiing feel basic, they do take the core of each sport as the focus for how you play them using Kinect. If you've ever seen any golf or skiing on TV you'll know what to do straight away, which is essential for a game built around party play. Tutorial videos can be watched, but you know the game has been designed well when anyone can wander in front of Kinect and just start playing.
On the bottom of the pile are tennis and American football. Tennis suffers from a lack of connection between your on-screen racket, your actions and the ball. It's perfectly possible to hit the ball despite it being nowhere near the on-screen racket, and at times the game thought I was serving even when my hand was motionless. You can have some mild fun waving your arm about as a racket, but compared to all the other games included in the package, tennis feels a little ropey.
American football suffers from being far too simple, despite its mechanics working fine. Essentially all you do is throw the ball to one of three receivers once an icon above their heads turns green, then run on the spot to charge up the field until you score a Touchdown or are tackled. Fail to reach the Endzone in the set number of downs, and you're forced to take a field kick at goal, which so far have been so easy I've never missed. Victories don't feel earned and the lack of depth means there's no reason to keep coming back.
Most of the core sports feature extra activities built around the same gameplay mechanics. In darts you have to pop as many balloons as possible on a spinning board, whereas golf has greens appearing in the sea, with you scoring points depending on where you manage to land the ball. Skiing becomes more of an obstacle course; baseball becomes all about clocking up homeruns; and tennis has you attempting to hit mascots on the other side of the court.
All the core sports can be played alone against AI, versus a friend or with numerous other people in a party mode - in which a mascot character replaces the usual avatars. You can also play online via Xbox LIVE or, new to Kinect Sports 2, send challenges to other players. These challenges are based on the bonus games associated with each sport, so for example, you might set a score for pop darts and then ask an Xbox LIVE or same-console friend to beat it.
One of the best attributes of the original Kinect Sports was its presentation, and the same is true of this follow-up. While the visuals are quite basic they capture the essence of each sport with bold colours, and the use of avatars gives the game a personal touch. Better still is the music, with a whole host of licensed tracks playing at various points, giving a real party feel to the experience. Sadly, while the post-game full-motion videos of your antics are great fun when put with Duck Sauce's Barbra Streisand, they're let down by jerky motion and the tiny duration of each clip.
One of the promoted new features of Kinect Sports Season 2 is voice control, but this proved to be more of a hindrance than a help. The idea is that you can use your voice to move through menus and carry out tasks during each game - such as change your golf club or request the ball in American football. In practice I found myself repeatedly trying to issue commands, with the game recognising my command once in every four tries or so. If they worked, the voice commands would definitely streamline the user interface, but sadly that wasn't my experience at all.
Kinect Sports Season 2 isn't a super authentic recreation of sports, but that isn't really what this series is about. No matter who you are you'll likely have fun messing about with what's on offer here, especially if you're in the company of friends. American football and tennis let the side down, but overall this is another fun, albeit slightly flawed, party game for Kinect.