Kinect Sports Rivals wants you to become a champion. It wants you to pit your skills against the world in six great sports. It wants you to do all this only on Xbox One and with the power of Kinect, they should be pretty straight forward tasks to accomplish.
Rivals comes to us from the guys at Rare, who previously brought us Kinect Sports Season 1 and 2 for the Xbox 360 when the motion tracker was nothing but an up and coming amateur. Nowadays though Kinect has grown up and promises to deliver so much more than what we saw back in 2010, with heart rate tracking, full voice control and a better, more intricate movement tracker all packaged nicely into the more powerful Xbox One system.
And with all this in mind Rivals really should be right at the top of it’s game. But is it?
Well, no. It isn’t.
That’s not to say things don’t start well though. Before you get to play KSR you need to undergo an initiation that is unlike any other. Not only does Doctor Who (David Tennant) take you through your paces, but you first need to spend a good five minutes or so letting Kinect take full body and face scans in order to bring your ‘Champion’ into the game. The software does it’s business extremely well and the end ‘result’ nine out of ten times looks exactly like the person being scanned. It is in fact scarily realistic and shows off exactly how good Kinect can be.
Unfortunately from that moment on, the whole game goes downhill faster than your avatar in the skiing event on Kinect Sports Season Two.
The menu system you are presented with is supposed to work much like that in the Minority Report, with the grabbing, pushing and swiping of your hands seeing you fly round the many different options just as quick as Mr Cruise in the science fiction film. It just doesn’t happen though and after spending a few minutes struggling to get the option you want, it’s usually a case of picking up the nearest controller and navigating that way instead. There is also the voice command option and a quick shout of ‘listen’ occasionally wakes Kinect up from it’s slumber but if there’s an ounce of sound anywhere else in the room then you find yourself needing multiple attempts to get to where you wish to be. It’s frustrating, it’s slow and it isn’t a great welcome to the world of virtual sports.
Those places you may wish to be could be any of six different events; soccer, target shooting, rock climbing, tennis, bowling or everyones favourite pre-season watersport, wake racing. You’ll aim to become champion of each but with that you’ll need to learn a whole different set of actions to pull off and for that reason I think it’s probably best to run through each one separately.
So we’ll start with the worst first shall we? Tennis is the ultimate sports game for any console that has ideas of breaking into the family friendly living room and bringing the world together, but tennis on Rivals hasn’t improved in any way since that found back in Sports Season Two on Xbox 360. In fact, I’d go as far as say that the tennis section found all those years ago in Wii Sports is a better representation of the proper game. Yes back then anyone suckered into buying a Wii had to wave some small white wand around but at least it was accurate (ish). What we have here with this tennis competition is not only inaccurate but as boring as it comes. My god what a mess it is. If you can get it to work correctly you’ll notice there are a number of tennis shots available to play but whether you choose the lob, a forehand smash or a delicately placed net shot is a bit of a random affair and it doesn’t take long before you’re too exasperated to continue.
Things don’t get much better when you try to participate in a bit of rock climbing. Essentially this is a race, from the bottom of a wall, right to the very top but with very little skill needed it just turns into a bit of an arm waving mashup. Unless you’re under 5 foot tall, you’ll be needing high ceilings in order to compete in rock climbing as all it involves is raising and lowering your arms as fast as possible, with a quick jump needed to use the super boost. Rare have attempted to inject some humour into proceedings with the chance to pull your fellow challengers from the wall but this really doesn’t bring anything else to the game.
I’m a big football fan and most people will be pleased to see Soccer once again included in a virtual sports game, but FIFA 14 it is not. Think more of it along the lines of your basic table football crossed with Subbuteo and you’ll be much closer to the truth. It’s all a bit mind numbing as you pass your way up the pitch past some static defenders and only gets exciting once the chance to shoot at goal is on. For a brief second, you’ll need to put all your power into your shot or header in an attempt to beat the keeper between the sticks. It’s rather easy to score and unless you’re playing against another person controlling the keeper you’ll find that nine out of ten times the glory goes to the attacker.
Target Shooting at first seems like a great addition to the sports series. You pick your gun, you aim your hand at the screen with a pistol type manner and all thoughts of your childhood come rushing back. But then you start trying to aim at the stationary or moving targets and notice that things are twitchy, inconsistent and wildly inaccurate. It’s the easiest game to play with a second person as very little lateral movement is required, but unless the technology starts picking up the more intricate movements a little better then this is destined for mid table mediocrity.
If you’ve owned your Xbox One since release then you’ll most definitely know all about Kinect Sports Rivals Pre-Season and it’s superb wake racing competitions. Hitting the waves on a jet ski works extremely well and it comes as no surprise to see that Rare used one of the best game types to show off with in Pre-Season. The game can be playing just as well either sitting down or standing up and the controls are simple to use and work brilliantly. It’s pretty fast paced and is the one spot that brings a bit of the old adrenaline factor to Rivals with it’s close quick racing, numerous track shortcuts and fun stunts. Even the super boost power works well!
And then we get on to my favourite of the six sports…..Bowling. We all know how it works. You ping a ball down a narrow alley with the sole intention of striking all 10 pins in one go. It’s a staple for motion tracking sports games and the version found in KSR is of the very highest quality. Completely opposite to some of the other sports found above, bowling has a very high level of interaction and seems to see any bowling ball go pretty near where you place it. It’s great and whilst it in no way replaces the enjoyment found in visiting the local bowling alley, it’s of such a high quality that this is the one sport you’ll find yourself playing over and over again.
Rivals prides itself on it’s ‘fun’ factor and even though the single player game doesn’t quite bring the entertainment if should to your life, the multiplayer options are slightly better. There’s obviously the chance to play against others around the world and this brings a little more enjoyment to proceedings but even that can’t mask the motion or voice issues you are consistently faced with.
It’s also a game that aims to bring the whole family together (you know, just like Wii Sports did), and whilst the kids will have plenty of fun with the game, anyone looking for something to show off to the grandparents will be disappointed. Space is always an issue for these type of games and never has it been more apparent than in Kinect Sports Rivals, with the rock climbing game being an absolute nightmare in any average sized 3 bed semi. Things could obviously be better for those living in stately homes but lets be honest, there aren’t many of us who will go moving home just to play a bit of Xbox One.
So things aren’t great for Kinect Sports Rivals. There are the odd games that you’ll go back to a couple of times (most notably wake racing and bowling which actually work well), and there’s definitely something there to keep the kids happy but for the most part the whole experience is a massive let down. Throw in some good looking but ultimately unneeded story scenes (with pretty lengthy load times) and the frustration levels just keep increasing.
I’m a massive fan of the new Kinect toys but when the motion control and voice tracking is used to such poor effect as it is in Rivals then I have no option other than to slate it…..and the game.