Along with the recent release of Dance Central 2, Kinect Sports: Season Two arguably stands up as one of the most important releases for the Xbox 360’s Kinect in the forthcoming busy retail season. The sequel to one of the most popular titles available for Microsoft Studios’ full-body motion-control peripheral, it’s the job of Kinect Sports: Season Two to prove to the masses that which Rise of Nightmares has already done for the core demographic: that things have progressed, and Kinect is now just as viable a living room proposition as the controller-based family entertainment videogame systems.
Of course, Kinect Sports: Season Two does this in a fantastic fashion. Playable under low level lighting and rarely confusing the player’s intentions (though it does still seem to struggle with tall people’s legs every now-and-then), Kinect Sports: Season Two is a showpiece for the ability to progress videogame development through software rather than hardware, and yet another reason why a new generation of consoles shouldn’t yet be the biggest talking point of the industry. Technical capabilities aside however, Kinect Sports: Season Two is just as accessible a motion-controlled sports videogame as you’d hope.
The simplistic design of the main menu is just as accurate a caricature of Kinect Sports: Season Two as any publisher blurb or retailer incentive: offering four panels, Kinect Sports: Season Two’s top level is a simple decision of play the videogame, play your favourite aspect, challenge an absent friend or jump straight into a randomly selected series of games. The latter most option is the simplest and is clearly designed as a party mode for interchangeable players. A short game of one of the six sports is played, a winner emerges victorious, a wheel is spun and another game is selected. It’s immediate, no-brainer fun.
The core game does of course set the player challenges that run throughout all six of the included sports. Running a level system that marks progression through the main gameplay mode, the player earns experience (entitled ‘fans’) for every attempt at every sport they play in. A new addition in Kinect Sports: Season Two is that of the Calorie Counter, which can also be used as a mark of progression if you so wish. Though it may not be as organised or thorough as a piece of software designed with the intention of helping you keep fit, Kinect Sports: Season Two is of course a very active videogame, and so while it may not be best suited to help you shift extra weight it’s most certainly capable of helping you get out-of-breath and keeping your circulatory system on it’s toes.
Of the six sports included, darts is most certainly the least active, but no less well devised than the American football, which is considerably far along the other end of the scale: a quick flick of the wrist compared to running 1000 yards on the spot. The Skiing game is well presented, and golf functions surprisingly well without a device to measure swing speed or pressure accurately. The decision to offer a tennis game may have been a forced hand on behalf of the successful efforts available through the use of a Wii Remote or PlayStation Move controller, but on the evidence presented here in Kinect Sports: Season Two, it probably should have been avoided without some sort of implement available to dictate force and motion. Kinect Sports: Season Two’s virtual interpretation of tennis is incredibly lack lustre, demanding only that the player have their hand in the correct place at the correct time to return the ball, and often when attempting to use some skill and plan your return the decision to call foul can feel incredibly unfair. Given that one of Kinect Sports: Season Two’s new features is voice-control, and here in tennis that control is given by way of being able to object to an umpire’s call, it’s almost as if the game has been built to be unfair at times: a questionable design decision by any means.
Outperforming tennis in every regard is the baseball, arguably Kinect Sports: Season Two’s strongest sport. The pitching allows for a degree of personal interpretation – though matching the catcher’s instructions will always offer the best results – and the batting is responsive in it’s launching of the ball, if not so much it’s presentation of the bat. The game also requires you to run for bases occasionally, aiding to get you out of breath in a manner that tennis casually avoids.
As the successor to one of the Kinect’s most popular titles, Kinect Sports: Season Two is well placed to convince the public that there have been many improvements in Microsoft Studios’ motion control based gaming, but more than importantly it proves to be an enjoyable gaming experience in it’s own right. Each of the six sports can be played in a mini-game of challenge mode, extending the longevity of the software considerably, and for the most part each gameplay mode is well presented. Kinect Sports: Season Two isn’t about to set the house on fire, but as far as motion-controlled family videogaming goes in this upcoming busy season, you could do far worse than another dip into Rare’s virtual sporting showcase.