Kinect Sports Rivals review: could've been a contender

By Robert Workman, Apr 09, 2014 8:00am PDT

Kinect Sports Rivals is the first big Xbox One game that showcases the capabilities of the second-generation Kinect sensor. Like the original Kinect Sports (and Wii Sports), the goal of Rivals is to showcase new gameplay experiences made possible through new technology.

Unfortunately, while Rivals has its moments, it fails to showcase the new Kinect in a positive light. Lackluster activities and inconsistent tracking by Kinect hinder the overall experience.

When you first get started, you'll build your digital character by having Kinect scan your face. That doesn't mean you're going to be perfectly replicated, warts and all, but it's a good enough representation. From there, you'll go into a mandatory training mode, which introduces Rivals' best mode: jet skiing.

The controls work just about perfectly in this event, as you'll pass through lit-up hoops, avoid mines and perform stunts off of jumps, all with a few waves of your arms. Steering is as simple as holding your arms out and leaning your body. Kinect had no problem reading these motions, even with tighter turns, although activating turbo with a foot stomp can be wonky at times.

Unfortunately, the other events can't reach the bar set by racing. For example, target shooting ends up being too simplistic for its own good. All you do is hold up your hand to target specific discs to shoot them out of the sky, while avoiding ones that are marked with skulls. It's interesting for a few minutes, but it soon becomes dull, mainly because the shooting is done for you. You don't even cock your arm back to pull off your shots; it's a light gun shooter without the trigger.

Other events are hampered by clumsy detection. Bowling, a returning favorite, is a bit clunkier in this iteration. For example, you'll need to hold your arm out steadily for a few seconds to grab a ball. Oftentimes, it didn't feel like the game could register my motions. Even when all I wanted to do was throw a ball down the middle at the pins, I still occasionally scored a gutter ball.

Rock climbing also falls victim to faulty Kinect interaction. While it's novel to hold out your arms and legs and wiggle them like you're climbing up a wall, it becomes stale after a while. Multiplayer lets you grab and yank opponents off the wall--if Kinect detects the motion. Tennis also falls victim to Kinect, with smash shots sometimes ending up as lobs. It's an exercise in frustration, and only worth trying a couple of times--even if you're an avid fan of the sport.

Rivals' adaptation of soccer is probably the most frustrating event, mainly because it just doesn't read your legs correctly. I found myself wanting to kick left, and for some reason, the ball went right. Huh?

All of these activities can be played through Quick Play, but only after you get through the unskippable story sequences that start the game. Starring largely unlikeable characters, from a military coach who wants to whip you into shape to a pompous jet ski captain, these sequences only get in the way of letting players jump into their game of choice.

With problematic detection issues, questionable design choices, and an overwrought presentation, Kinect Sports Rivals fails to be the showcase for Kinect it should be. Xbox One's new camera may be next-generation, but you'll be hard-pressed to see that in Rivals. [4]


This review is based on a retail code provided by the publisher. Kinect Sports Rivals is available now for Xbox One, as a digital download or retail release. The game is rated E10.

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