Kinect Sports: Season 2
25th Oct 2011 | 09:20
Kinect Sports was something of a boon for Microsoft last year. Arriving hot on the heels of the release of Kinect, Rare's homage to Wii Sports was geared to be equal parts tech-demo and showcase for the Xbox 360's draw as a family entertainment hub.
Landing smack dab in the creamy centre of family fun and party game, Kinect Sports, most importantly, sold by the truckload and once 3m units had flown off the shelves, a sequel was inevitable.
We only mention all this in order point out that Kinect Sports: Season 2 is a game that is pretty much critic-proof. Like its predecessor, it doesn't really matter what the game's shortcomings are or what its appeal beyond the casual core audience is.
This is a game aimed squarely at children, parents and the party gaming crowd. The game's mechanics have more to do with wish-fulfilment than with taxing the skill of individual players, and the more players that join in, the more the game's appeal rises.
The six mini-games on offer in Kinect Sports: Season 2 have a bit more of an international flavour than those in their predecessor, reportedly due to Big Park and Rare listening to the demands of the franchise's fan-base.
There's American Football and baseball (for North America), Golf and Darts (for the British Isles, complete with commentators with Scottish and Cockney accents respectively) and Tennis and Skiing (presumably at the behest of mainland Europe). All of the sports are presented as brightly coloured cartoon versions of themselves and complimented by a soundtrack of fist-gnawlingly twee elevator music
Like they did in Kinect Sports, players mimic the actions they'd perform if they were playing the sport in real life - tackling other players and running forwards notwithstanding. Tennis and Golf are pretty much the same as they appeared on the Wii, except, obviously, the player doesn't need to hold any controller.
Tennis is reduced to two sets, presumably not to tire out the tots, and players can choose between 3, 6 and 9 holes of golf. They can also preview drives and putts by putting a hand to their brow or crouching down respectively, and they can also select the clubs they want through voice commands. Skiing essentially involves crouching to boost speed, leaning to the right and left to navigate through slalom gates and jumping to... well... jump.
In Baseball, pitchers can use their right or left hand, and bring their throwing arms down across their bodies to put curves on the ball. Success at the plate depends largely on timing; before each pitch, the game will show the batter a gap in the outfield, and then, depending on how late or early they hit the ball after, they'll drive it into the gap or send the it straight into a fielder's mitt.
Occasionally they'll bat the ball out to the in-field, meaning they'll need to jog on the spot to get to first base, extending a leg if they need to slide in to avoid being tagged out. Players also have an option to bring on a pinch hitter or pitcher once per game, which makes scoring a homerun or tossing a no-hitter far easier.
In American Football players are either the quarterback or one of the receivers. Quarterbacks start the play by crouching down, standing up quickly (or yelling 'hike!' if they so choose) and then throwing over-arm. Receivers jog on the spot and hold their hands up to collect a pass.
If there is a lame duck in this flock, it's the Darts game. This is an uneven mishmash where players need a combination of blind luck and an exceptionally steady hand to succeed. Players have to reduce their score from 501 to zero as quickly as possible by hurling imaginary darts into triple-score segments on a dartboard. The player who manages this first by throwing a double with their last dart wins the game.
However, as you would imagine, all of this requires some degree of accuracy and unfortunately the Kinect module's latency just isn't up to it.
Too frequently, players will miss the target, either due to the module misinterpreting their aim, or misjudging the strength of their throw. Ultimately it translates into a largely frustrating experience; players who have become used to pounding the AI on rookie-level may appreciate the difficulty spike, but it's a pity this isn't by design.
Co-op and competitive play is available both off and online. Season 2 also has a couple of new aspects beyond its voice-activated menus, which seem geared towards making solo-play feel a little more involved.
Players now level up, earning XP in the form of fans for everything they do in Season 2; even those who continually lose will pick up 100 fans for joining in (ah, bless!). They can also set challenges for their online friends and indulge in a spot of Quick-Play with the lovable mascots they've unlocked.
The sports in Kinect Sports: Season 2 are mostly well realised and a lot of fun to play. It's by no means flawless, but if all you're after is a knockabout experience in front of the TV, it more than suffices.
The new features are fun, but it's ulikely they'll win over players outside the game's core demographic. This is business as usual for the Kinect Sports franchise and anyone who wasn't won over by the last instalment will have little reason to sign up for this sequel.