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Kinect – First Impressions

Game Review: Kinect Sensor
Release: November 4th, 2010
Genre: Motion Gaming
Developer: Microsoft
Available Platforms: 360
Players: N/A
MSRP: $149.99
ESRB Rating: E
Website: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect

Motion gaming has become sort of a trendy topic as of late.  The craze seems to have started with the release of the Nintendo Wii.  At first, many people, myself included, felt that motion gaming was going to be a fad or a failed concept like so many others in gaming’s past.  Early on, I recall reading on various gaming websites how Sony and Microsoft also felt that motion gaming was a fad and not something they were going to take seriously.  However, it seems that times have indeed changed perceptions and what was once thought of as a flash in the pan appears to be serious undertaking by all three consoles.

As Kinect has only been out a day in the United States, this review is going to focus on the actual Kinect camera and features and not any of the games available.  Even though the Wii, PlayStation 3, and now the XBox 360 all have motion control capabilities, the Kinect stands apart from its competitors.  While the Wii and the PlayStation 3 require the player to hold on to controllers for the system to track, the XBox 360 requires no controllers to function.  The Kinect camera tracks the player’s movements and translates them to movement on screen within the game.  This functionality is appealing because there is nothing that you need to worry about holding on to while you play the games.  To me, this flexibility makes Microsoft’s motion solution much more attractive.

Included in the Kinect box are the Kinect sensor, power supply, manual, wireless network adapter cable, and Kinect Adventures.  Unfortunately I don’t have a nice un-boxing video to include with this review.  However, I can say that the unit was well packaged and secured in the box to protect it from shifting or damage in transit.  Getting the Kinect sensor connected to my system was a breeze.  Once I set the sensor in place, it was a simple matter of plugging it into my power strip and connecting the USB cable into the back of my 360 unit.  After going through a few driver loading screens and an initial Kinect setup application my 360 dashboard displayed and had a new Kinect hub section available.  The Kinect setup utility walks you through the different settings to make sure that your placement is adequate for gaming.  The first section shows you where to stand and ensures that it is tracking your body.  From there, the system starts to calibrate it to the room.  It first measures background noise to calibrate the microphones built into the sensor.  After that, it tests the speaker ability to tracks sounds from games.  The setup then asks you if you want to use the Kinect sensor for in game and party chat.  This actually works pretty well with the microphones built into the sensor do a good job of picking up your voice and ensuring that the other people can hear and understand you.  Some of the final setup screens calibrate the voice recognition so that you can give verbal commands to do tasks like starting a game or shutting down the system.  What makes the Kinect setup nice is that once the system is on, from any screen you can wave your hand back and forth and it will bring up the Kinect hub allowing you to maneuver through the various menu choices by moving your hands.  The response of my hand movements translated very well on screen and I noticed very little hesitation or lag in tracking my movement.

In a smart move, there is a nice selection of games that make use of the Kinect system that is available at launch.  Actually looking at the list, there is a good range of interests from kid friendly titles like Kinectimals to Dance Central, a Rhythm game from Harmonix to exercise based titles such as EA Sports Active 2 and Biggest Loser.  To me, it seems that Microsoft is hoping to bring in a whole different type of gaming dynamic with Kinect.  Targeting families and looking to make the 360 with Kinect system prominent in a home media solution.

As an additional way to bring Kinect into the home, Microsoft has wisely released a system bundle solution.  Coming in two models, you can pick up a new XBox 360 slim model with Kinect and Kinect Adventures at $299.99 for the 4GB system or $399.99 for the 250 GB system.  Considering that the 250 GB slim 360 system itself retails for $299.99, it would be like getting Kinect for a $50 savings.  Even the games released for the Kinect have a lower price point compared to traditional XBox 360 titles.

Once the Kinect is setup on your system, you’ll be able to go in and adjust the settings in the same area as you would go to change the console settings.  You can either go through the whole guided setup again, or just change one option.  Overall, I’d say that the system works well and brings a whole new level of gaming to the 360.

Final thoughts: I have to say, I think Microsoft might be on its way to the top of the motion control genre.  I really do like that I don’t need a controller to use the Kinect or play games made for it.  The added bonus of having a wide range of game types available at release gives the Kinect quite an appeal to people looking to expand their gaming library or parents looking for a holiday gift for their child.  The responsiveness of the sensor in tracking the body movements and translating them to on-screen controls works well and I did not really notice any considerable hesitation.  The voice chat and ability to use the Kinect sensor instead of a headset and microphone worked pretty well for my usage.  However, I did choose to go back to the traditional headset and microphone because that is what I was used to.  Had the system come out at a $99.99 price point, I would have expected more people to move towards picking up the unit.  At $149.99, people are a little more cautious and reserved.  Still, for what it is and what it can do, I would have to recommend picking up one if you are interested.  I am excited to see what the future brings for the Kinect in the way of games as well as 360 dashboard functionality.

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