Microsoft’s big new motion controller apparatus was officially released last week, showing the world what a non-controller could look like. A handful of games have come out for it (notice that I’ve reviewed none of them) and huge changes occurred to the Xbox as a whole. But what does Kinect really mean for us? What does it mean for the casual market, the hardcore market, and everything in between? I think it’s time that we Think Deep, so let’s do just that.
Those of you somehow not aware, the Kinect is Microsoft’s new “peripheral” for the Xbox 360, an elaborate camera that can track the player’s movements and translate them into on-screen controls. Basically, the goal is for the player to be the controller. In theory, this is fairly harmless. In practice, this is little more than a gimmick, just like the Sony Move and the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls before it.
I’ve already written about motion controls, so I don’t want to repeat a lot of what I said back then, but right now we’ve moved past simple motion controls. Just look at the big Wii titles this year: Donkey Kong Country Returns, a 2D sidescroller, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a 2D sidescroller, and Metroid: Other M, a 2D sidescroller. All use minimal motion controls. Even the biggest title of the year, Super Mario Galaxy 2, my personal pick for Game Of The Year, uses the motion controls only as a means to enhance the game’s solid controls. You still move Mario around with the control stick and jump with the A button, but you can use the Wiimote’s cursor to point at Starbits to suck them up or flick the Wiimote to perform an extra spin jump. Overall, the game isn’t hinged on the controller being capable of motion controls.
The Kinect, however, by nature forces every game to cater to the lack of a controller. Joy Ride, a launch title for the new hardware, is a kart-racing simulator similar to Mario Kart. You steer it by putting your hands out and pretending there’s a steering wheel in front of you. You can throw power-ups when you grab them and push your body forward to perform boosts, but by default there is no way to brake. Therefore, the game keeps a perpetual foot on the pedal and hits the gas for you. The reviews I’ve read say that the game works most of the time, but the controls aren’t nearly tight enough to stay competitive next to other excellent racing games that already exist. If given a normal controller, Joy Ride wouldn’t be worth playing at all. This is the definition of a gimmick. The only purpose to play the game is to control it just your body and after that initial “Wow I’m controlling this with my body!” reaction wears off, then what?
A number of other Kinect launch titles seem to have the “Simpsons Did It” syndrome, though in this case The Simpsons are replaced with Nintendo. Kart racer, sports simulator, random collection of mini games, fitness trainer, animal companion, crappy Sonic title. They’re all here. It feels like only a matter of time before we see Kinect Music. Simply, the Kinect isn’t treading any new ground here other than removing the controller from the equation.
So what does this mean for gamers who don’t care about novelty titles and want more of the same style of games we prefer? Mostly, nothing. We don’t have to purchase a Kinect to keep playing the newest Halo, Mass Effect, Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, or what have you. But Microsoft has made it abundantly clear that we aren’t the primary focus of the system anymore. We need look no further than the recent dashboard update to see just who the primary target is now: The Kinect Audience.
The very first thing that the system now does is boot with the new Kinect logo sequence, doing away with the previous Xbox 360 logo sequence for swirlies and the Kinect branding. Next, despite being a user who has blatantly played numerous titles for the system (as the system can see since I’ve racked up a healthy Gamerscore), I’m forced to sit through a brief tutorial on how to move through the menu. No, it’s not a huge thing, but yes, it is insulting to have my Xbox assume I have no clue what the A and B buttons do. It’s condescending and once more demonstrates the direction Microsoft is taking their system: Away from me. I’m not impressed with a controller-less interface. I don’t get excited at the thought of waving my hand to move a menu screen when I can instantly perform the same action with a button press.
Where does the system go from here? This is a question I’m trying to figure out but I can’t quite answer it just yet. All the basic game types have been covered, save for just more shovelware, so what new games will we see? I’ve read from a few different places that Microsoft plans to make games that utilize the Kinect but also use the standard Xbox 360 controller, a plan that makes zero sense to me since the whole point of Kinect was to eliminate the controller.
Here are the types of genres I can think of that the Kinect can’t currently work with: First Person Shooters, Third Person Shooters, Sports titles such as Madden (unless it’s just a series of mini games), Racing games (Joy Ride and Sonic Riders demonstrated the massive limitations of the hardware), Tight Platformers, Adventure Titles (or any title that requires copious amounts of free-roaming and backtracking). RPG’s, and God of War-style Hack-n-Slash titles. Everything I’ve mentioned requires the player to have precise controls or at the very least the ability to freely move their character. The Kinect hasn’t shown that it will allow that, meaning that every Kinect experience requires the player be firmly rooted in one spot or put their movement on rails.
Still, there are a few genres that could really benefit from this: Real Time Strategy titles (assuming you can ever be torn away from the winning combo of the Mouse/Keyboard), Fighting Games (if the tech can keep up with the players properly), Boxing Titles (once more, if the tech can keep up), and any title that makes the on-rails aspect enjoyable. I could conceivably see an on-rails title where the player has to perform specific quicktime actions to advance in the game being something really fun, but thus far that doesn’t exist.
It’s important that we look back in time a few decades, back to the 90’s, when Sega used to make video game consoles. While they had huge success with the Genesis and some decent success with the Game Gear, their entire structure began collapsing when they introduced the Sega CD, then the Sega 32x, two add-ons that required you to already own a Genesis in order to play them. To buy a Sega CD meant buying two systems, and then only a handful of games were made for use with the CD technology. The stats were even worse for the 32x, and worse still for games that used both the Sega CD and the 32x. In just a few short years, Sega found itself stretched far too thin and ultimately imploded, resulting in one last chance with the Dreamcast.
From where I’m sitting, the Kinect is just a re-imagining of the 32x, an addition to an already great system. The Xbox 360 is perfectly fine, but now that the Kinect is being pushed as the Xbox’s primary function, everything will be retooled to work best with Kinect. Resources that once were spent making the games for gamers that made the Xbox a success in the first place will be gutted to shift focus to Kinect support. It just makes me sad since it feels like Microsoft is coming out and saying, “Look, thanks for buying our products and all, but we found another group of people to suck money from, so GTFO.”
What this also means to me is that instead of innovating, the video game industry has clearly shown that it wants to go in the direction of “Making Toys.” The Wii came out and while Sony and Microsoft laughed at it, Nintendo just said something to the effect of, “Hey, we’re just doing our own thing, so buy our thing and then worry about the other two systems later.” Fast-forward and the Wii easily outsold the other two combined. Now that we’re at the point where the next systems should be revealed, and I for one am glad they’ve decided not to start the console cycle over again, we’re instead told, “Hey, remember that whole motion control fad? Us too!” Even Nintendo has seemed to figure out that it was just a fad, as I mentioned with their shift in direction toward reviving classic titles, plus the 3DS, a system that’s building itself on classic games over anything else.
Basically, the Kinect does not and will not lend itself to precise controls. At this point in my gaming career I’ve developed fairly good skills and excellent reflexes, so I need my titles to respond instantly and correctly to whatever I input. Any title that doesn’t allow for this precision is only wasting my time, hence why I hated the DS Zelda games. Microsoft needs to answer this question for me: “Why would I want to play a game that has sloppy controls when a controller works perfectly fine?” Right now the answer is a resounding, “Because we told you to.” It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, and a gimmick doesn’t have a lasting appeal.
The Wii’s market is already established, so if Microsoft can poach some of the casual market before they grow tired of gimmicks, so be it. Nintendo’s success with the Wii gets overshadowed with the “They tapped into the casual market!” excuse. Yes, the Wii hit a market that didn’t previously exist, but you’re forgetting another portion of the Wii market that doesn’t exist for the Kinect: Nintendo loyalists. I bought a Wii not because it was the wave of the future but because it would provide me with Mario, Zelda, and Metroid games. The Kinect will not give me any titles I care about, so why should I purchase it? I already own a 360, so I have no need for the gimmicky addition. The Wii’s market and the Kinect’s market are not identical, no matter what anyone would have you believe.
But this is all just me talking. Clearly I’m not the target for the Kinect, but are you? I want to know what you think on the matter. Are you excited for the new hardware? Can you think of great uses for the technology? Leave a comment and let me know. In the meantime, I have more Super Meat Boy to play, and that requires absolute precision with controls, so no Kinect for me.
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