As near as I can figure, the first game that used the human body as a controller was charades. Considering cavemen were probably waving their arms around to depict a lion attacking, the Kinect isn’t that big of a deal.
The Kinect is a black plastic bar that plugs into the Xbox 360 and sits atop a TV, peering into players’ living room via a microphone and a trio of cameras. With these devices, the Kinect is able to monitor players’ bodies and voices, allowing them to control the Xbox 360 using only words and gestures.
Frankly, I’m skeptical about a game system that requires me to stand up and use my whole body — but maybe I’m just lazy. I was intrigued when I saw an onscreen character shake his leg and wiggle his butt just like me, albeit a split second later. And I was delighted when I was able to log onto the Kinect by talking to it and waving my hand — and then annoyed when I was unable to turn the system off without physically pressing the power button.
Like most innovative technologies, the Kinect is only partially successful. It usually recognizes what I am doing. It occasionally understands what I am saying. And it does most of the things I want it to do. This puts it on par with my great uncle, who is starting to go senile. At this point, the Kinect also probably knows as many good games as my uncle — which is to say, not too many.
The Kinect comes with Kinect Adventures!, which is a tech demo that feels like some of the earliest videogames. Weaving my way down a rudimentary obstacle course reminded me of the early Nintendo game Mach Rider. “Rally Ball” found me waving my arms and legs randomly the way I mashed buttons in the first fighting games, when it was easier to hit my targets with luck. And popping bubbles and plugging leaks reminded me of Chase, the very first videogame, back when the ability to move an onscreen avatar was technologically dazzling.
But there’s a big difference between moving a character around onscreen (which the Kinect is great at) and moving the screen itself around (which the Kinect doesn’t do at all). That’s why almost every modern videogame controller has two separate directional controllers — one for the player’s avatar, the other for perspective. It probably won’t be long before a wireless thumbstick is released for players to hold while they jump around. Until then, every Kinect game is likely to feel a little primitive.
I had to play Kinect Sports (a separate game) before admitting that the Kinect might be more than just a living-room novelty. “Discus throw” demonstrated the Kinect’s accurate depth perception. Its ability to measure velocity impressed me during “table tennis.” Sure, these are basic games. But they’re the same types of games that led to Super Mario Bros., Halo and Call of Duty. If the Kinect is a hit — and it will be — then it’s only a matter of time before the Kinect moves out of the Stone Age and into tomorrow.
THE GOOD: The future.
THE BAD: The (present) games.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Kinect connects.