Last year, Kinect Sports gave us a glimpse of what controller-free gaming could be like. Unfortunately, as Kinect releases go, Kinect Sports was an exception in this regard rather than the norm. Whilst the Kinect sensor is without a doubt a stunning piece of technology, developers are struggling to get to grips with it, leaving us the gaming public with an abundance of so-so party games.
For Kinect Sports: Season Two, developers Rare have teamed up with Canadian studio Big Park to offer a more adventurous package of controller-free sporting fun. The first Motion Sports featured some fairly mainstream activities such as bowling, boxing, track and field, soccer and beach volleyball. For Kinect Sports: Season Two the ante has been upped somewhat, allowing us to try our hands at the likes of American football, baseball, golf, darts, skiing and tennis. On the surface, this is a pretty odd collection, but at least there’s something for everyone. Any game that has the front to team up American football with darts is worth a look in my book.
As well as the usual hand waving and gesturing to make selections, Kinect Sports: Season Two also supports voice controls. Unfortunately this feature isn’t available yet in New Zealand, but your reviewer has a UK Xbox Live account so I did get to try it out. To be honest, it isn’t overly exiting and it’s actually easier to just wave your hands instead. Personally, I feel a bit uncomfortable taking to the TV, especially if you have to repeat yourself.
Whilst the Xbox avatar-friendly graphics may be a bit off-putting for more seasoned gamers, they are crisp and do a fine job. The basic art style makes it easy for spectators sitting out of the way of the Kinect sensor to see what is going on. It’s also kind of cute and charming in its own little way.
Sporting events can be played solo, locally with a group of friend or online via Xbox Live. There’s also an interesting challenge mode that allows players to throw down the gauntlet to Xbox 360 friends, whether they are online or not.
As someone who only just barely understands the rules of rugby, American football is completely alien to me. All that grunting, huddling and getting knocked over doesn’t sound like the makings of a fun Kinect game to me and I wasn’t too excited by the prospect of giving the US sport a go.
To its credit – and the same is true of all the sports on offer – Kinect Sports: Season Two does a really good job of explaining what you have to do. Live-action videos clearly show what motions players need to do in order to play as well as offer a rudimentary explanation of the rules of the sport as they pertain to the game. The game explained the fundamentals of American football and before I knew it I was throwing balls, running up the field and scoring touchdowns.
American football isn’t the most interesting sport if you are not from the US, but with the clear instructions provided it made for an entertaining enough distraction. It’s worth noting that Kinect Sports: Season Two’s style of American football only offers players the attacking side to play with. There’s no option to play as the defending team, which is simply simulated, so it’s not really offering a "full” American football experience.
At the end of each gaming session, as is tradition with Microsoft’s Kinect titles, you are shown an edited video of what you were doing whilst playing the game, in which you always look like a fool. There’s also an option to upload your embarrassing video so that everybody can see what a sad idiot you are. Depending on performance, after each game the player earns fans. With enough fans the player levels up. The post-game screen also displays the amount of calories burnt during the game session.
Kinect Sports: Season Two’s baseball provides the most complete sporting experienced I’ve played out of all the motion control titles out there. The baseball game offered is pretty much a fully featured motion-controlled version of the actual sport. The game gives players the opportunity to bat, run to first base, pitch and field. I found myself thinking that, with a little more refining, I could play a whole baseball league tournament with the Kinect. Baseball was really enjoyable, with just enough skill required when bating and pitching to keep things interesting.
The golf game was again a lot of fun to play, particularly playing a round of nine holes locally with a friend. Golf is one of those games that is just so easy for someone that doesn’t play a lot of games to pick up. Whilst it’s no Tiger Woods PGA Golf, it provides just the right level of gameplay to cater for a casual bit of lounge golf.
Darts was another surprise. I’ve played a darts game on the PlayStation 3 with Sony’s Move controller and wasn’t impressed. I expected this to be similarly tedious. However, Kinect Sports: Season Two’s Darts is another excellently realised motion-controlled version of the sport. After a few goes, I did start to find it rather easy compared to the difficulty I have sticking darts in a real board, but again, taking turns with a real opponent can be gripping stuff, especially if it goes all the way to both players trying for the double to win.
The two weak links for Kinect Sports: Season Two are its interpretations of skiing and tennis. Skiing should have been a bit more dynamic, but the control of the skier was so loose that anything more exciting that negotiating through a load of flags would probably end in tears. Meanwhile, the tennis game suffered from feeling like controlling a trembling rag-doll, especially in sub-optimal lighting conditions; shots that should have been misses thundering away whilst others went all over the place.
With the exception of skiing and tennis, though, each sport is very well represented, although some are more complete versions of their real world counterparts than others. Kinect Sports: Season Two is the most fun that I’ve have with a Kinect game to date. It was nice to finally play a motion-control game that’s not just a technical achievement, but also a great game in itself. Kinect Sports: Season Two offers great value for money and should be part of every Kinect owner’s games library.
Lasting appeal: 8.5