For all the media attention and fanfare, you might think Microsoft was launching a new console today. And given what the company is spending on marketing its latest peripheral, you wouldn’t be that far off.
Kinect, a motion sensor device that allows users to play games simply by using gestures and voice commands, hit shelves today – and is predicted by many to become one of this year’s “must have” holiday gifts. Microsoft is so confident in the device that is has raised its internal sales predictions for calendar 2010 from 3 million to 5 million.
But is it any good?
The answer isn’t as easy as a simple yes or no. Kinect is a wildly imaginative, truly unique device that will charm the mass-market audience and truly does take gaming to an area it hasn’t explored before. It’s not perfect, though, and the more time you spend with the device, the more those flaws show.
Let’s start with the good. On a technological level, Kinect is a wonder. The device’s sensors track your movements in 3D and let you play games without anything in your hand. When it’s done right, it’s a hell of a lot of fun – and is vastly different from the Wii and Sony’s PlayStation Move.
Kinect also lets you communicate with your Xbox 360 vocally – pausing and playing movies, music and other programming. Unnecessary? Sure! But it’s still fun. What’s frustrating, though, is that only some of the Xbox’s popular applications are included. Netflix, arguably the console’s most used function for the device after video games, is not among them – and that’s a curious omission by Microsoft.
The biggest problem is the system’s lag. In the ideal world, your gestures would be instantly reflected on screen by your avatar. In reality, there’s a short delay – upwards to half a second – that affects your performance in game. It’s an instant turn-off for core gamers, who like lightning fast responses. And while casual players are less likely to notice it initially, it’s ultimately something you can’t miss.
The system also is not well suited for close quarters. Kinect needs six to eight square feet of clear space between you and the device to function properly. Suburban households can probably accommodate this by moving some furniture, but apartment dwellers – especially in big cities- might be left out.
And by slapping a $150 price tag on the device, Microsoft is blatantly putting a premium on new technology. Publishing partners were openly calling for Kinect’s price to be no higher than $100 as recently as June.
This is an annoyance, but not something that’s likely to hurt Kinect, though. Between the heavy marketing Microsoft plans for the device and the on-air endorsements of both Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey, it will almost certainly be hard to find at retail as Christmas draws near.
How are the games?
As far as the games, it’s another mixed bag. “Kinect Adventures,” which comes included with the peripheral is a fun, forgettable title for all ages that basically serves as an introduction to what Kinect can do.
Ubisoft’s “Your Shape Fitness” is a smart take on exercise games, along the same lines as “Wii Fit” – without the need for additional peripherals. And “Dance Central” seems poised as the breakout hit, a game that uses Kinect to track your movements as you match on-screen choreography. It’s a new way to exercise and shake your groove thing at the same time.
As for the others – including “Kinect Sports” and “Joy Ride”? They’re better left on store shelves.
Ultimately, Kinect is a device that shows plenty of potential. Unfortunately, a lot of that potential has not yet been met. If you’re someone who needs to try out the newest technology, you won’t regret the purchase – nor will you if you’re looking for a “gee whiz” gift this holiday. But if you’re unable to get your hands on one or afford the steep price at this point, you’re not missing out terribly by waiting a few more months.