Last night, I was privy to a special demonstration of Microsoft's new Kinect, a controllerless controller, set to debut to the world on November 4. Actually, "controllerless" isn't exactly the right word (it's not even a word really); with Kinect, you are the controller. Yes, literally -- you. Think of it as a Wii without the Wiimote -- where you're just flailing around your living room while your onscreen avatar mimics your motions with a slight lag.
The first thing I should probably get out of the way is that Kinect is an additional attachment you'll purchase for your Xbox 360. Retailing at $150, it has a chance to explode onto the market just like the Wii or fail miserably like the 32X, but only time will tell. The event was showcasing a number of Microsoft-specific launch titles, every one of which I tried for myself, regardless of how ridiculous I felt doing it. It's a little hard to imagine what Kinect would be like in the privacy of your own home when it's in an art gallery with 60 or so people, so while I was dancing around -- and I say dancing in the loosest sense of the term -- I had an audience, which felt weird. But let's just get down to the real question you're all posing: how did it feel?
Kinect Adventures: This is the game that comes bundled with the system, and it feels like something that should be free. It definitely has its moments, but for the most part, I never really felt like I was totally in control -- or having fun, for that matter. There are a 20 different mini-games included: a dodge ball-esque thing where you punch back balls, a rafting adventure where you jump and lean (yes, literally) into scoring areas and several other games. It's fun and it gets you used to the idea of using your body as a controller, but ultimately, it's going to waste space on shelves.
Dance Central: If I was in charge of the marketing of Kinect, this would be my bundled offer, my pitch to the public -- Dance Central is the game you've always assumed already existed. It's also exactly what is sounds like: It's a dance game -- and yes, you actually have to dance. Granted, I took on Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" on the easiest difficulty (my dancing skills are on par with an oak tree), but the experience was still rewarding. After I shed the little bit of masculinity I had left, I had a blast.
Kinectimals: This one is geared towards the little ones -- but I played it anyway. It features an adorable little cheetah, and you play with it. Yep, you pet it, you teach it tricks and then you run a course with it. All in all, if I was six I'd probably eat it up -- but the biggest fault I could find was that it took forever for anything to happen. Kids want things fast, quick, easy -- no load times, no tutorial screens -- and Kinectimals had all those things and more. It's promising, albeit a little creepy when you're petting the cat, rubbing it's chin and whatever else.
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Kinect Joy Ride: This one is a racing game -- think Mario Kart without the weapons. You control it by holding your hands out into the air and, ahem, steering. It's a little awkward, and maybe with a little time that goes away, but as far as I was concerned, I'd rather just have an actual steering wheel in my hands.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved: This is Kinect's answer to Wii Fit and it's a pretty great response. It's a workout game where you take on a number of different workouts for a variety of body sections. It's fun, it works and most importantly, it makes sense. You don't have to pretend at all -- it just is -- you punch the blocks, you do the yoga, you do the stretching. It's a glorified workout tape, but it's one that offers the interaction that a tape never can.
Kinect Sports: This is Wii Sports repackaged as a Kinect game. Actually -- I don't really have anything to add here. Basically picture yourself bowling without a controller or a ball and you're on the right track.
It's not much of a launch lineup, but other publishers will have software ready to go by the official launch. I'm not entirely sold on Kinect yet, but after actually using it, I can see the potential. I'll be curious to see what else comes down the line, whether that be more or less Wii rip-offs, or if something incredibly mind-blowing emerges out of the shadows. It's not perfect, it's not really needed and it won't work in small apartments -- but that's what people said about the Wii.