As I said in our first look at the Nintendo 3DS, there’s a lot to be said for progress, of moving things forward with technology. The unmentioned subtext to that though is that there’s a lot to be said for progress if you can get it right. That’s the bit that Microsoft has trouble with, be it in failing to create a reliable console at launch or in introducing a new form of controller to the market.
Kinect, Microsoft’s new camera-based motion sensor that used to go by the codename ‘Natal’, doesn’t work very well - at least not from what we've seen so far.
Incredibly though, the fact that it doesn’t work very well isn’t even the biggest problem Microsoft is going to face in bringing Kinect to market. It’s too expensive and most of the announced titles look to be dull minigame compilations which are roughly analogous to the type of bargain bin fodder we’re used to seeing on the Wii. Oh dear, oh dear.
It’s worth clarifying before going any further that my own interaction with Kinect was occasionally limited – broken ribs kept me from playing some of the games. Paul served as my stunt-body for anything that required genuine exertion though, suiting both my lazy disposition and allowing me to observe how/if Kinect works at a distance.
Kinect for Xbox 360
Whether watching others play or struggling through the pain to do so myself, Kinect suffers from obvious and easily detectable lag even in some of the simplest games.
Kinect Adventures was one of the first games Paul and I got to have a go with, but don’t let the name fool you into thinking it’s a genuine action adventure title. It’s just minigames, just like many of the launch games for Kinect seem set to be. The first activity involved bouncing balls at stationary targets by swinging our arms and legs. It wasn’t particularly deep or interesting gameplay, but it served to demonstrate the capabilities of the controller in roughly the same way as Wii Sports did for Nintendo’s Wii.
Unfortunately, it also demonstrated the weaknesses. After a minute or two of playing it became obvious that there was a short, but noticeable delay before our actions were picked up and interpreted by the Xbox 360. The latency was probably only around 0.25 seconds, but it was enough and could realistically make playing some games almost impossible. One colleague we spoke to commented on how he had been repeatedly overtaken in Kinect Joyride as a result of the input lag.
We prefer to imagine a world where we don't have to tolerate looking at crap like this
A secondary but just as critical problem were the games themselves. To call Kinect Joyride or Kinect Adventures shallow and dull titles would be an understatement akin to saying that the controller itself is a bit overpriced for what it is. Microsoft’s roster of games seems to have all the depth and charm as a puddle of vomit, frankly offering nothing that we didn’t quickly get weary of on the Wii.
To be clear, there’s nothing particularly wrong with minigame compilations or dancing games, but if you’re going to bring such products to market this late on then you desperately need to better the likes of Wii Sports and Just Dance if you want to win consumers over. Microsoft’s offerings fail triply on that front as not only are the games not that fun to play, but they don’t even look nice or resonate particularly well with the market.
Everyone is just going to compare Kinect Adventures to Wii Sports for fairly obvious reasons and, since the Wii is already dominating the part of the market that’s interested in motion controllers, it’s likely that Nintendo will win out.