I think Microsoft has a major, long-term, hit on its hands with the Kinect sensor, which was released Thursday.
Kinect retails for $149.99 and is essentially a camera that detects players’ movements and some voice commands.
Sony’s new PlayStation Move controller and the popular Nintendo Wii-Mote both allow users to hold wand-like devices in their hands to play games. This allows for a unique playing experience, involving the player in more true-to-life movements. If you want to swing a golf club or a light sabre, you wave your Move or Wii-Mote controller like a golf or Star Wars weapon in real time.
Kinect allows you to do this without holding anything.
I think, potentially, Kinect will be as big a game changer as the Nintendo Wii became.
It’s easy to set up. If you have a newer “slim” Xbox, you plug in one cable in the rear of the machine. If you have the older version, you plug in the Kinect to a USB port and to a power source. The Kinect detects body movements in a virtual “field,” so you will need a little space. I had to move a table and a chair, and you need to be standing six to eight feet away from the sensor.
Using Kinect in the Menu screens reminded me a lot of watching Tom Cruise in “Minority Report.” You are swiping things left and right with your hands in the air while watching the TV screen respond to your movements. The revamped Xbox Live experience is stellar, too.
With Netflix, ESPN and the upcoming Hulu Plus, Xbox is a solid alternative to Google TV or Apple TV and is something many people already have in their living rooms. The ESPN intergration is especially cool, allowing you to see “SportsCenter” on demand and view live and saved sporting events, including some out of market.
Moving around the menus is seamless -- and sometimes hands free -- and you can even tell Kinect to do things with your voice, such as turn on, play a disc, go up a screen or back one. But it’s not perfect.
Kinect had issues detecting me while I was seated, and playing “Kinect Joy Ride,” a simple driving game, required you to stand up and hold your hands in front of you like you’re gripping an imaginary steering wheel. The driving game, though, is quite fun, and Nintendo simple, except its got HD graphics. I just would expect to sit down while I played a driving game.
In some sports games, Kinect can’t detect how hard you throw a ball or necessarily which direction. It just knows you made a throwing motion. Still, “Kinect Sports” should be every bit the hit here that “Wii Sports” was before it. Bowling while making real bowling motions -- with arms and legs -- is incredibly realistic. Track and Field got me sweaty and I just flat enjoyed kicking the balls around in soccer.
“Kinect Adventures” was another standout among the games I tried. You played in space, in water and on mountains. The graphics were amazing and truly using your whole body to play, while not perfectly implemented, is a new thing in videogames. There’s a “Space Invaders” like segment on Adventures where you are smashing balls with hands and feet that is just amazing.
“Dance Central” featured music from Salt N Pepa (“Push It”) and Craig Mack (“Flava In Your Ear”) and asks you to repeat the dance moves you see. Simple. Fast. Fun. But my favorite was “Your Shape Fitness Evolved.”
It features workouts created by the guys at Men’s Health and Women’s Health and you basically create a character that looks a lot like you (with a digital picture of you) and follow the on-screen assistant in a variety of workouts from step aerobics to boxing. The game gives you feedback as you go to make sure you’re doing moves correctly and I think you could really get in shape using this.
I think this is something families will really enjoy. You can video-conference from your living room, connecting your family all at once to loved ones who have a Kinect or a Windows Live Messenger account on their PC. And as Microsoft works out the kinks via firmware upgrades, I think Kinect could end up as the best of all the new controller gizmos.
It’s definitely on my Christmas list.