Kinect Sports Rivals preview: getting a grip

Kinect Sports Rivals is nowhere as immediately gratifying and fun as Wii Sports. There could be a lot of depth hidden in each of the game modes, but unfortunately, my preview session didn't afford a much time with each sport. Instead, rapidly playing individual rounds of each of the sports didn't feel immediately intuitive. Jet ski racing is easily the highlight of the six sports represented. It's no surprise why Microsoft and Rare decided to showcase it in the Pre-Season demo. It's fast, pretty, and incredibly intuitive; leaning your body to turn just feels right.

Rock climbing tracks if your hand is open or closed

However, the other sports simply don't have the same kind of grab-and-go feel. Rock climbing is probably my second-favorite sport, but it does have a slight learning curve that makes it somewhat difficult to understand at first. The fidelity of Kinect's updated sensor is on display here, as the new generation camera can detect when your hands are open and closed. However, it's not immediately clear how you're supposed to move up the wall--and how you're supposed to grab other players (and dodge player attacks). Once you get into the rhythm, it's definitely one of the more fun sports in the game.

Soccer has been turned into full-body foosball

Soccer is definitely the most interesting adaptation, as it essentially transforms the sport into foosball. The attacker simply kicks from line to line, trying to avoid defenders that automatically go from left to right. Some of the players on the field are glowing, which will allow your ball to build up speed as it heads towards the goal. The goalie can then attempt to block any shot attempts. While the compressed game is clever, it's not particularly satisfying. Kicking without a physical ball in front of you makes it difficult to feel where your shots are going to go, making the end result feel much more random than it likely is.

Bowling without something to hold onto is strange

The lack of physical feedback is especially problematic for games that have already been represented in Wii Sports. For example, tennis and bowling. While bowling on Wii never captured the weight of a real life bowling ball, having something to grip onto still made it much easier to go through the motions. Not being able to do the three-step approach with Kinect is also an odd decision. Tennis also loses something by not being able to have something to grip onto with your hand. I found that I would have to swing much earlier than I would in the real world equivalent. It's admittedly difficult to judge a game with so little time with each game. One or two play sessions isn't necessarily representative. But, it didn't take much more than that to immediately "get" Wii Sports either. Kinect Sports Rivals still shows a lot of potential. What it lacks in approachable fun, it makes up for with impressive technology. Never did it feel like Kinect was unable to understand what I was doing. I was also impressed by the game's introductory face-scanning procedure (even though I wasn't particularly happy with the end result). Clearly, we'll need much more hands-on time before passing judgment on the final game, releasing April 8.