Many gamers have been cynical of Rare ever since the company was acquired by Microsoft back in 2002, and it’s an understandable stance given the types of content churned out by the developer ever since. With classic franchises from the firm being shelled out to third-party developers — a la Double Helix’s Killer Instinct — Rare’s focus has largely shifted to working on Kinect titles in recent years – not exactly the legacy fans would hope for.
But after we got the chance to spend some quality time with Rare’s forthcoming Kinect title, Kinect Sports Rivals, it seems that this game may be something to get excited about.
The new Kinect-focused adventure on Xbox One brings the controller-less philosophy that surrounded past iterations solidly into the next generation of console gaming. At the forefront of this evolution is the effective utilization of the dramatically enhanced Kinect 2.0, which is able to detect even the most minute body movements. Wrist flicks, clenched fists, angled kicks and more can all be picked up on the camera, but there’s been a zany aesthetic given to the sports title in order for each gesture made to appear a little over-the-top and, as a result, exhilarating.
Drew Quakenbush, the director behind Kinect Sports Rivals at Rare was kind enough to walk us through a brief gameplay demo while answering a handful of questions. To kick off the demonstration, Quakenbush asked for a volunteer to be scanned into the game – a chance I jumped at for several reasons. The Kinect scans the entirety of the players body, suggesting a shape based on a myriad of different calculations and readings. Players are then instructed to sit in front of the Kinect camera to have their face brought to life with cartoonish gusto.
After a few head pivots and a brief load time, the character was summoned into the realm of virtual existence with a unique and engaging art style that separates the Rare-developed software from its competitors.
Admittedly, a few things needed to be touched up after the character model had been created in my image. Hats don’t transfer into Kinect Sports Rivals, and — despite the removal of such headgear — the game was unable to accurately nail down the long, gorgeous, brunette locks that protrude from my scalp. It’s for this reason that the game allows those who feel as if they haven’t been accurately brought into the game to edit their character post-scan. Hair, beards, body size, whatever the issue, can be rectified with ease.
Quakenbush had enough time to showcase four of the six games set to ship with Rivals later this April: Tennis, Bowling, Soccer, and Rock Climbing (the remaining two being Wake Racing and Target Shooting, featured in recent trailers). Each sport utilizes similar gestures that would be required to play its real-world equivalent, with the sole exceptions being events that require running distances.
Understandably, users won’t usually have the space required to play a soccer or tennis match to scale, so Rivals automatically shifts emphasis on action over to the user’s kicks in soccer, and the player’s hands in tennis. The focus on executing appropriate gestures rather than movement in 3D space makes for a very fluid and far more intuitive experience than players have come to expect.
Want to add spin to your bowling ball? Turn your wrist during release. Hoping to catch your opponent off guard with a game-winning underhand shot? Simply bring your hand up under the ball as it approaches. The equation is equal parts physicality and strategy in Rare’s latest compilation, and every movement felt more natural and akin to playing the actual sport than previous attempts.
While the gameplay is solid, Kinect Sports Rivals also takes necessary steps to live up to its name. As with any sport there are rivalries to be had, and Rare has played into the thrill of friendly competition by allowing friends to challenge one another — even when the other isn’t online. The main menu will inform gamers when a friend has beaten their high-score, allowing them to instantly respond to the challenge. According to Quakenbush, the infamous Xbox One cloud will also come into play, as users can download and go head-to-head in competitions from players all over the world.
As I was informed, these cloud-based challenges resemble the Drivatars featured in Forza Motorsport 5 – an intriguing idea in theory, but the developer was unable to demo the feature at that point in time.
Kinect Sports Rivals won’t do much to gain the attention of those who aren’t already fond of the Kinect peripheral, but Rare’s execution appears to be spot on. What lies in store in the future for the iconic developer remains to be seen, but what I played and learned during my session was enough to have me optimistic (and even a little excited) for the final product. Besides, the narrator for the game is David Tennant (also know as the tenth doctor from Doctor Who), so there’s always that aspect for Whovians to get excited about.
Kinect Sports Rivals launches exclusively on Xbox One this April 8, 2014.
Follow Riley on Twitter @TheRileyLittle.