Microsoft is banking on the new Kinect sensor to swing the next-gen console battle this Christmas. The £80 price disparity between the Xbox One and PS4 could essentially be put down to the inclusion of the Kinect so it is really important that it gets the message across that it is far more than a optional accessory.

Some of its true virtues were demonstrated in a behind-closed-doors session Pocket-lint had at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, when we had a chance to see the new user interface in action and the vastly improved vocal recognition and voice command features. However, it has taken a game to give us a real taste of why those disappointed with the abilities of the original Kinect sensor could be far more impressed this time around.

Kinect Sports Rivals will be the first outing for the franchise on Xbox One and even from a brief play at Gamescom we can safely say that it is a huge leap forward for developer Rare. Sometimes literally.

Where the former Kinect Sports titles were basically a collection of interesting sports-themed mini-games, Rivals will be much more of a rounded gaming experience. The "rivals" part means that you will build up relationships and rivalries with other players and their virtual equivalents in the cloud that will prompt you to constantly want to beat their scores, times and whatnot. And there is much more of a sense that you will have massive gaming sessions that encompass the whole gamut of events rather than just dip in and out of your favourites.

There will be head-to-head rivalries, even when your sworn enemies aren't even logged in, and online tournaments will give a more community gaming feel to the proceedings.

But the biggest new feature, in our opinion, is that you will effectively be playing yourself in the game, not an Xbox Avatar or developer-forced character. You will start out by making your own "Champion".


The first part of the demo at Gamescom had us being scanned by the new Kinect sensor to build our Champion. It's a bit like the Mii-building tools on 3DS or Wii U, where the camera is used to recognise some of your features to form a virtual persona, but it is far more intricate in Kinect Sports Rivals.

The new sensor is very precise and can detect facial movements and many more points than before. Therefore, the game can not only judge body shape, but the contours in your face, your hair style, and even your expressions.

And, once it had scanned our features, it actually did a very good job of assessing a likeness for in-game play. Naturally, the end result is flattering to say the least - it is a sports game after all - but there's definitely a resemblance.

After our Champion was created, it was time to play one of the two sports Rare was able to show at this stage. Wake Race could very much be called a homage to N64 classic Wave Race, but naturally uses motion to control your jetski rider.

It was here that we realised how more sensitive the new Kinect is. By holding our hands as if we were grasped around the jetski's handle bars and throttle control, we only need minute turns to get the same from the on-screen character. Plus, if we just opened our right hand instead of keeping it clenched, the craft instantly slowed.

Leaning back a touch allowed the jetski to flip in the air over jumps, while stamping a foot provided boost. It only took a very short while before all of these movements felt natural and we started to forget we were doing them in order to concentrate on the game itself. Which, it must be said, is stunning looking and extremely varied.

It was up to somebody from Rare to then show us Rock Climb, a mountain climbing mini-game. By moving hands into the right positions, he scaled the wall pretty quickly. But the best part is that any rivals trying to beat him to the summit were dispatched by grabbing their ankle and sending them plummeting to the water below. Looked fun.

What was perhaps most impressive from at tech point of view was that much of the action could not have been more than four foot from the sensor. And we were shown that it even worked when stood about two foot closer. That has always been our biggest bugbear about the original Kinect. Looks like we won't have to move the sofa every time we want to play any more.

We were told that two players can play Kinect Sports Rivals at the same time in the same room, and against another two people online. Other sports will include football, tennis and target shooting and it is an Xbox One launch title, so will be out at the same time as the console. Most likely in November.