Sports games have become the go-to genre for any sort of motion controls. It all started with Nintendo and Wii Sports, continued with the launch of Kinect with Kinect Sports, and it continues into this new generation of games with Kinect Sports Rivals (KSR). It makes perfect sense honestly, few other genres would truly put the motion-detection technology to the test like athletic events. While this is the perfect sort of game to show off what something like Kinect 2.0 can do, it also serves as a blinding spotlight of everything the technology can’t; just like every other game we have seen in this series, Kinect Sports Rivals proves to be a ton of fun in the long run but it certainly isn’t without some glaring faults.
You know the drill with these sorts of games: you create a digital likeness of yourself and head off into one of a few, in this case six, different sporting events to prove your supremacy on the field or proverbial track. It is commonplace for these experiences to feel more like glorified technical demos than actual gaming experiences but Rare has gone the extra mile to fend off that problem this time around. Almost from the start, it is apparent that KSR is more robust in terms of its “total package” than the competition of this niche genre.
No longer do you feel like you are simply jumping into one of the six events as a “quick play” sort of experience; there is substance here, reason to keep coming back. You still earn experience as a competitor and in the individual events, but you also earn currency that you can spend to customize your character with outfits and equipment. Speaking of your character(s), the character creation system used in the game is an excellent show of strength for Kinect and the new generation of gaming.
In just a few short minutes, the game walks you through a quick scanning process and generates a virtual likeness of yourself, with some pretty impressive accuracy. We tried it with a couple of members of my household and each one resulted in the most accurate-avatar likenesses I have seen on any platform. Honestly, Microsoft should ditch their avatar creation system in favor of the champion generator used in this game as it’s absolutely amazing.
This time around gamers have six different sports to select from and 4/6 work like a charm. Wake racing, bowling, climbing, and target shooting are nearly flawless in the experiences that they offer. Climbing in particular impressed me with the accuracy and overall fun offered in the experience; I never thought that this event stood a chance of being good, but it may actually be my favorite of the batch. The improved detection of things such as opening and closing your hand(s) have taken each of these events to nearly perfect representations of the real things. It would have been nice to see shooting incorporate some sort of trigger mechanism, but that is a small gripe.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the two remaining events, tennis and soccer. Both of these sports seem to struggle to make the most of the technology and that is extremely sad given that this isn’t the first time that they have appeared in the series. We have played both of these events before and honestly, the older versions felt a lot better in my experience. They aren’t unplayable, but definitely lack the feel of the other, better options.
While there are a lot of returning, fan favorite events on the roster this time around, they all feel a bit different thanks to the inclusion of powerups that put a nice twist on the experience. Triggering the meteor ball in bowling or jamming up your opponent’s gun on the shooting range really adds a twist on the flow of the game. They all result in a more competitive feel of multiplayer games which will have you and your friends coming back for “just one more round” time and time again. Yes, this does detract from the realism of the game, but it ramps up the fun factor, which is far more important in creating replay value.
The problems with the experience are found predominantly with the soccer and tennis events and excessive load times. The load time issue speaks for itself; it gets very old to wait between events considering how quickly you fly through them in the story mode of the game. It really screws up the pacing of the experience and slows things to a crawl. From a gameplay perspective, the technology really has a habit of tripping over itself in both of the events I mentioned. Tennis in particular became my least favorite sport to play as I could never get into a good groove or streak in terms of consistent performance. The game seemed to have a very hard time detecting my swing direction at a variety of distances. It also felt a lot less responsive than any of the other events and even less responsive than in the previous Kinect Sports title. Soccer had similar issues, but was nowhere near as bad in my time with the game.
In addition to each of these events losing their luster from the previous game(s), so has the charm of celebration after your victory. It may be an incredibly small detail, but I really miss being able to dance around and pose after and event. Instead, the in-game avatars use canned animations and dances. There was just something fun about rubbing your victories into your opponent’s face in digital form that is completely lost in this experience. Given that a majority of your multiplayer experience is likely to be held online with the upcoming KSR Hub; this keeps you in close competition with the online world playing the game, and there will likely be a lot of players once the game launches.
KSR is a great example of everything that can be done with the new generation of Kinect games. From both its detection of the fine details such as your fingers and grasping to accurately reading you and your environment, it really impresses when it is running at its best. However, like I have said, the faults are spotlighted when the game stumbles in things like tennis. Despite those flaws, the Kinect Sports franchise will once again hold a position as one of the most played games in my household this generation. It is great fun with your friends and family, particularly when played in local multiplayer versus playing online, and gives the series a huge breath of fresh air in terms of the revamped single player mode(s). You will want to have this one in your library if you own a Xbox One, however there is plenty of room for improvement in the future.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.