I’ll give the Kinect credit: It’s improving. Microsoft’s motion-sensitive, hands-free videogame controller for the Xbox 360 arrived last year to the usual gimmicky fanfare. Yes it was amazing to be able to control games simply by moving my body.
But at the same time, the Kinect was sloppy. A thumbstick was something I could touch, so I was never in any doubt about how I was steering through a game. But the Kinect forced me to slowly wave my hand in the air in front of me, trying to find out how far I had to reach before the system realized that I was moving. And it was almost useless at detecting whether I was moving fast or slow.
Fortunately, after a year, that broad-range motion sensitivity has been fine-tuned, and Kinect Sports: Season Two provides a number of games such as darts and baseball that demonstrate the system’s improved programming. Now, the act of aiming feels intuitive. Once the Kinect starts to track my moving hand, every subtle shift I make translates onto the screen as I try to keep my aim steady while I pull back my arm and throw the dart or pitch the baseball.
And the system has gotten much better at detecting the speed at which I’m moving. If I throw a dart with a direct, rapid flick, it flies with a solid thunk towards the target. But if I’m lazier, and don’t throw with as much direction and force, the dart might sail onto the screen in a sloppy arc.
Season Two’s version of tennis may be the most accurate and enjoyable motion-sensitive racquet sport simulation that’s available in a videogame. I can’t quite send the ball to every corner of the court, but the system does an admirable job of detecting my general aim. And the game’s golf simulation translated the stance and speed of my swings in an entirely fair manner. Eventually I forgot I was trying to control the Kinect, and started trying to play golf.
THE GOOD: The Kinect is a much more sophisticated motion-detecting device than the Wii and PS3’s pointer-like controllers. The Kinect won’t give me credit for simply waving my arm through the air when trying to throw a ball. My passes in football kept being intercepted until I really started to pretend to be throwing a ball with some force. Instead of finding out how lazy I could be when moving my body, the Kinect encouraged me to find out how clearly the game could capture my real-world focus.
THE BAD: Season Two uses the Kinect’s microphone to allow me to simply say what I want the system to do. In theory this makes it easier to navigate the game’s menus. But for some reason I’m perpetually required to say the word “Xbox” before issuing my orders, as though the machine has such a short attention span that it stops listening after a single statement. Or maybe it’s just become a hard-nosed militaristic machine, asking for brand name respect before it will even listen.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kinect Sports: Season Two delivers yet another season of mini game sports, but brings along more accuracy, too.