The Pros And Cons: Games
You'll be happy to know that my favorite of the Kinect launch games is actually "Kinect Adventures," the one you get for free when you buy Kinect. It's a polished, fun game designed for all ages that demonstrates just about all the features of Kinect through a series of mini-games. While not as ground-breaking as "Wii Sports" was a few years back, this is likely to be the game you pop in whenever you want to show Kinect off to friends.
For those non-gamers looking to buy Kinect as an exercise-encourager, you've got two decent options in the form of "Your Shape Fitness" and "Dance Central." If you're looking for a yoga-style workout, "Your Shape" offers a slow-paced regimen of workouts for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. Worth noting that because you'll be doing some of the exercises lower to the ground, you'll need even more space in front of your TV, so plan for 8-9 feet here.
As for "Dance Central," this is more of the high-impact option. The game uses the Kienct camera to track your movements as you match the choreography on-screen. All of the songs in the game (which include hits like "Poker Face," "Just Bust A Move" and my Bell Biv Davoe's "Poison") are fast and require a lot of movement, so you're likely to be feeling the burn after just a few minutes. There's even a counter that shows how many calories you've burned in the game.
(In the interest of full disclosure, "Dance Central" is published by MTV Games, which is part of our parent company. But the game's still good.)
Lastly, if you're looking for a game for the young one in your family, "Kinectimals" allows kids to raise and train a variety of jungle cats. The game is presented as a "Dora the Explorer"-style experience, so if the kid is older than 8, they're likely to roll their eyes. Younger kids, however, will eat this game right up. Also, if you're able to ignore the condescending narrator, it's not half-bad for adults, either.
While the above games are solid choices, it's worth noting that none of them are what I'd call "system sellers." They're fun games, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to quality, there's simply nothing on the level of a "Wii Sports" or a "Gears of War" in that line-up...the sort of launch game that will convince you that your $150 was well-spent. Perhaps in aggregate you'll come away with that impression, but none of them manage to stand on their own.
In addition, there's a whole mess of really dreadful games for Kinect which you should avoid like the plague. Games that either don't work or are the total opposite of fun.
The first of these disaster games is "Kinect Sports," which clearly attempted to cash-in on the "Wii Sports" phenomenon, but ended up being a mix of sub-par minigames with poor controls. And, by the way, running in place wasn't fun when we did it in "Track & Field" on the NES...and it's certainly not fun now.
"Joy Ride" is another one to avoid. The "Mario Kart"-style racer has you driving a car by sticking your arms out in front of you...something that will get old and exhausting after the first race (let alone after a dozen). Insensitive controls don't help, and you're likely to be slamming into walls more often than not.
The Pros And Cons: Non-Game Usefulness
Kinect does unlock some features for your 360 beyond just being able to play new games. Video Kinect is a new way to video chat which uses the camera, and it works rather well, allowing you to chat with someone else with Kinect or someone on Windows Messenger. Since the camera knows where you are, it can actually follow you around the room or zoom in to whoever is talking. It's extremely neat and is a cool way to stay in touch with friends across the country.
Also handy is the built-in microphone, as it allows you to play games with friends without needing a headset. The game's audio will actually automatically lower itself as friends are talking, so you can sit on your couch and chat with friends in-game without looking like an extra from "Top Gun."
In terms of out-of-game functionality, the above is really it for the useful features that Kinect adds. There's a new Kinect Hub which allows you to browse certain Kinect apps using just your hand, but right now the Hub is basically a ghost town. Almost everything in there doesn't actually require Kinect, including the recently-added ESPN 3 app. Netflix on 360 also has no Kinect support whatsoever, which is a big omission, considering how popular it is.
You can also browse friends and send invites through Kinect, but this process is way more cumbersome than it would be with a controller. Accepting a friend's game invite, for example, requires that you pass through no fewer than three menus, each of which taking between 5 and 10 seconds to get through. It's clumsy and worthless for setting up friend interactions beyond Video Kinect.
So we've come to the real question: Should you buy Kinect? Well, that depends on what sort of person you are. If you're the sort of person fascinated by new technology, who needs to be on the cutting edge of gaming, Kinect is worth your time. Some of the games are genuinely fun and you may get some use out of video chat. It's also extremely cool tech and the experience of playing it is unlike anything I've seen before.
On the flip-side, if you're a non-gamer who bought the Wii a few years ago to play "Wii Sports" and "Wii Fit," but you haven't touched the console in months, you should skip out on Kinect, as it's likely to gather even more dust in your apartment.
As for the hardcore gamers, you should wait it out. Despite the cool tech, none of the launch games are going to be anything you'll be playing a month from now, and there's no top-tier, first-party title like a "Gears of War" or a "Legend of Zelda" to entice you. Those games may be coming in the future, but for right now you should feel safe in knowing that you're not missing out.
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