When Microsoft first announced Kinect in 2009, they promised a device that would do nothing short of showering players with miracles. Want to play a racing game? Hold your hands out in front of you, pretend you’re holding a steering wheel, and voilà! You’re playing a racing game. Not only would Kinect recognize faces and voices and allow gamers to hold invisible steering wheels, it would also do the Wii one better by exorcising the game controller from the experience altogether.
Setting up Kinect is relatively simple—plug it in, calibrate, watch the demo. The journey from unboxing to playing spans around 20 minutes. But be prepared to rearrange some furniture. Solo gamers need at least six full feet of space to allow the Kinect to work properly. Add a second person, and that figure increases to eight feet. That might not sound like much until you’re actually trying to create eight clear feet in your TV room.
The first moments with the device are easily Kinect’s brightest. Seeing an onscreen avatar mimicking personal movements—you wave, and your avatar, with only the slightest delay, waves back onscreen—is genuinely empowering. Unfortunately, once these early moments pass, Kinect’s appeal begins a slow, painful decline.
In its worst moments, Kinect doesn’t feel like a better way to play—it’s more like a barrier between you and the game. Instead of drawing gamers deeper into the experience and making things more immersive, actions like navigating gameplay menus or pausing a game—simple actions that gamers take for granted—suddenly feel complex and needlessly obtuse. At these moments, veteran gamers will pine for the poetic certainty of an old-fashioned button press.
Kinect’s appeal wanes further when surveying the current crop of Kinect-enabled launch titles. Aside from the terrific Dance Central, there are exactly zero must-have experiences for the peripheral. And shipping the device with a gratis copy of Kinect Adventures also does Kinect no favors. One “adventure” puts gamers in a virtual raft and sends them up a virtual creek without a virtual paddle, an irony that clearly never dawned on Microsoft’s marketing department. The bottom line: Kinect will remain a mere tech oddity until more sophisticated games come along. In other words, don’t recycle your steering-wheel controllers just yet.