A lack of lasting appeal, depth and feeling cannot be compensated by the fresh appeal of playing with your body.
That's what one of Gamereactor's talented writers had to say one year ago, and the quote still echos in my mind as season two of Rare's party game Kinect Sports arrives. Twelve months after the launch of Kinect you can no longer focus on the hardware, we know pretty much what the camera can do by now, and even if sales have been amazing, the games have been mediocre with a few notable exceptions.
But I need to keep on open mind, and I put on a brave game face and get excited about Kinect Sports Season 2. After having gotten out Kinect from its hiding place in my wardrobe, connect the power and USB chords, removed the coffee table, moved the couch, spent a few minutes calibrating, spent a few more minutes fixing the insufficient light, and slowly waved my hands at the menus - it's finally time for the first event of the season - football (the American kind). And for some reason I'm already winded.
Football turns out to be the most complicated event out of the six available and the tutorials are rather long. You've got four downs to score a touchdown and after crouching down you rise and make a throwing motion in order to pass the pigskin. Before each down you can either ask the coach for an automatic choice of tactics, or pick one from a list. There are several moves to pick from and once you've selected the move it's time to throw the ball again. If you've got skills you will score, otherwise your opponent takes over.
It's not really entertaining. The main reason is the arbitrary controls once again - the sense of just waving to get an animation started on screen, rather than feeling like your in the game, doesn't really pull me into the experience. I've got nothing against simplifying sports in games of this kind, but it worked much better with proper football in the first Kinect Sports. And no one is playing defence, even if you're two players here.
Just a few moves later that make me wish I had buttons to press and I arrive at the next event - skiing. You start in a crouched down position at the starting gate, catapult your way down a nicely designed slope. Visually it's very appealing, the snow glistens and the colourful crowd cheers you on. As far as gameplay goes it's kept very simple. The objective is to go through gates, and you turn by leaning left or right. Every once in a while there is a jump, where you... jump. On your own it's useless, and two players will grow weary after a race or two.
Darts has the simplest concept of all and entertains the most - I suspect there is some connection here. Everyone knows how to throw a dart and everyone I've played with has gotten it immediately. Sure, the aim shakes as if you've drunk one too many Red Bulls, but Kinect tracks my hand movements rather accurately. The sport itself also has a lot of excitement built in to the point collecting. With that said I still prefer the darts in Wario Ware: Smooth Moves to this. Not to mention the actual sport itself.
In Baseball you turn sideways and pretend to grip your bat. A ball flies towards you and you need to time your swing. Much like in many of the other events I quickly realise which moves works best when it comes to firing off proper rockets, and the short run to your next base, basically just requires high knees. I experience the same kind of automatic feeling in tennis, and even on higher difficulties, and little details like the fact that the ball never appears to touch the racquet ruins the experience even more.
Finally we have golf, that is a less exhaustive version of baseball. You take the same position make a swinging motion and watch as things generally go rather well. The concept of motion controls is to creative better immersion, but once again the result is the opposite. To turn the camera and aim in a new direction is achieve by stepping forward or backward - and doesn't really feel intuitive at all.
What else is there to say? Well, in this region (Sweden) there is no voice control to try. You can get a "Rickrolled" achievement to the tune of Never Gonna Give You Up, which is rather entertaining. Only the easiest difficulty is unlocked from the start, which is plain stupid. There a quick play versions of the sports, which amuses for a few minutes. Excuse my lack lacklustre rambling, but this is how I feel about Kinect Sports Season 2 - uninvolved. The graphics are cute, with two players it entertains at times, but six mediocre events with a price tag like this barely gets a passing grade in my book.