Kinect Sports was one of the must-have games on for the Xbox 360 Kinect, and showed us that games didn't have to be all about sitting on your sofa getting fat. But can the follow up, Kinect Sports: Season Two, match and build on the first outings success?
We’ve been getting energetic in front of our TV to find out.
What sports do you get?
There are six sports to master in the game; American football, skiing, baseball, darts, golf, and tennis. Each has single player and multiplayer matches in front of your TV, and Xbox Live matches with others elsewhere around the globe.
Each sport takes on a serious approach, however each also has a fun challenge as well - golf, for example, has Ocean Driver that sees you driving the ball from a cruise liner as far as you can.
Furthermore you get opt for "challenges". These, as the name suggests, allow you to throw down the gauntlet to your friends, and gives a competitive challenge. When you issue a challenge, your friend will see it the next time they log in. As there is no rivalry like the rivalry of mates, it can be a great way to prove that you're better than your friends. Or get your rear-end handed to you, if you're not. this gameplay element only works if you know your mate is hooked on the game too though.
It is all about voice
When Microsoft announced this year’s selection of Kinect games, there was a strong emphasis on talking to your console over waving your hands in front of it like you were trying to hail a cab. Kinect Sports: Season Two takes advantage of that in the menu system, and some elements of the gameplay by letting you talk your way through the options in front of you. Say: “Xbox... Select a sport…Golf…One player… Play” and you are teeing off in no time at all.
Playing on our own and with friends we found the system works well, although understandably it was better when there was no one else in the room. It certainly puts the system on an equal footing again with a combination of quick button presses, but it also means that grandparents could navigate through the menu quickly, without having to work out what or where the “A” button is on the Xbox 360 controller.
You’ll be videoed
Throughout the entire experience you’ll be videoed. Once your humiliation is over, the game will then up the ante and humiliate you all over again by showing you the video. It's a laugh though, as long as you aren't too worried about looking a bit silly. Parents will love this, their kids will not.
The videos can then be uploaded to Kinectshare.com and downloaded to your computer so you can YouTube or Vimeo them or send them instantly, via Facebook.
American Football will be a new one for UK readers and a game they haven’t probably played before. It's also a hard one for a single player, although Kinect Sports: Season Two does its best to make it fun.
Having explained what’s going on, and the basic rules, you play the quarterback in the crouch position ready to catch the ball. You’ve then got to throw it down field and run vigorously on the spot to avoid being “sacked”. We sure you can imagine what this looks like, and it's every bit as ludicrous as you might think.
To speed the whole process up you don’t have to defend, and plays can either be barked at you by the coach, or you can chose your own.
Gameplay-wise, the games can be quite long. You’ve got four quarters to get through and plenty of plays within each quarter. That said it moves along quickly, and once you beat the rookie you get to take on pro and then champion, giving you plenty of challenge, and that’s before you get started on the multiplayer.
We especially like the bit where you get to scream “Ready, Hike” at the TV to start the play (you can wait for the countdown timer if you are embarrassed).
Two innings, three strikes and you're out. Three players out and you change sides. If you’re good, just like a good baseball game, you can go on for ages and the mix between batting and pitches brings plenty of variety. Batting and you’ve got to swing your arms like you mean it, pitching and then catching means you’ve got to follow the commands given - a slow ball, fast down the middle - so-on and so-forth.
Catching is very easy, and probably the dullest part of the game. Really, it's just a matter of sticking your arm out at the target. But it means you get to get through the fielding part quicker, and then it's back to the batting, which is more fun.
This is one of the more arduous of the six games, and one that will require you to actually put in some effort. The Grandparents didn’t like this one especially.
However it was also one of the most fun, engaging, and one that everyone who played it said was like Wii Ski without the faff of the balance board. They're right too, and If you’ve played Wii Ski then you’ll be right at home here.
The premise is downhill slalom, and that means testing your thigh muscles to the maximum. The more your bend your legs the faster you go, and the jumps give you star-jump practice for good measure. Then there's the leaning from side to side to get between the flags.
A couple of runs and you’ll be aching. We certainly were.
The racquet game in the first Kinect Sports was Ping Pong. Here it gets replaced by Tennis, and the tracking engine has been improved significantly. That means top spin, volleys, lobs and plenty of other moves are possible, with the gameplay tracking your wrist movement to pull off all the relevant moves. It's not perfect all the time and sometimes you feel that the game doesn’t follow the shot you wanted, but nine times out of ten we were happy with the results, even if that meant missing the serve.
Think Wii Sports Tennis and you'll get the picture, but the Kinect sensor does allows for a greater experience.
If ever there was an excuse to play Kinect and have a pie and a beer in the other hand its got to be Darts. Here the gameplay pace is completely different to the dashing around that you’ll have been doing on the other games. But that doesn’t mean it is any easier, and like a dart board in the pub, it slowly draws you in, so much so that we audibly let out a yelp when we won - crazy times.
Thanks to the new precision tracking, the Kinect sensor how knows where your hand is and therefore where you are about to throw your dart. The game helps you by first explaining what’s going on, but then highlighting where on the board you're supposed to be aiming for (you can turn it off). Trying to get that double 16 has never been so tense.
One of the more successful sports within the game, you get to play a series of made-up holes that enjoy water more than land, for the most part.
Aside from swinging your way to victory there are some clever tricks you can use. Raise your hand to your forehead for example lets you view the course ahead more closely. The same happens when you crouch on the green, while at any point you can step away from the ball to perform a practice shot.
Add that to the ability to slice and dice your shot and the game mechanics are actually quiet good. Not good enough to improve your real life handicap, but enough to benefit those who have played over those who have not.
Kinect Sports was great fun, and Kinect Sports: Season Two not only matches that fun, but ups the ante, makes it easier to enjoy, and embraces a crisper, cleaner tracking capability too.
There aren’t really any weak sports here in the same way that football was a bit naff in the original and the track and field a bit hit and miss. American football is fun, Skiing is great, darts is a tension-filled drama and golf is just easy gaming.
What we especially like is that this game really does get you exercising in your living room. Once you're finished, you get a calorie count for that game, and also for your session, which helps you understand when it's acceptable to scoff another chocolate bar or reach for another beer. It's that kind of information that really shows you that you aren't just slouched on a sofa when you play Kinect Sports: Season Two.
Bottom line: if you are enjoying your Kinect, and want a new challenge, this will provide loads of fun and even a little exercise as a bonus.