Microsoft's answer to motion control has finally arrived, bringing with it a bunch of launch titles and a pretty hefty price tag. There's no question that it's a fascinating little piece of technology, but it's probably not one you have to rush out and grab. Not yet, at least.
Kinect is extremely easy to set up and calibrate. If you can plug it in, stand up, and keep quiet long enough for Kinect's microphones to measure the sound levels of your play space, you can have Kinect ready to use in under five minutes. The biggest obstacle for most players is going to be having the requisite room for Kinect to work properly. You need to be at least six feet away from the controller in order for it to see you correctly, and preferably more like seven. Imagine an invisible box sketched out on your floor; to get the most responsiveness from Kinect, the front of the box should be six feet from the controller, the back about eight feet, and you should be smack in the middle. If you want to play one of the many multiplayer games that launched with Kinect, you'll need plenty of room to the sides, too. Even if you're fortunate enough to have enough square footage to accommodate those specifications, odds are pretty good you're going to have to shove some furniture around.
At the moment, the effort isn't really worth it. Kinect's potential is easy to see, but the games that are currently available are, for the most part, the same kinds of minigame collections we've come to expect for motion controllers. They're enjoyable enough if you have a Kinect, but they're not enough to justify the expense of one all by themselves. Kinectimals and Dance Central are standouts, offering well-crafted and thoroughly entertaining experiences, but their appeal is far from universal. Here's a quick overview of some of the games currently available for Kinect:
Kinect Adventures, which actually comes bundled with the Kinect controller, is a collection of minigames that helps you learn the kinds of ways you can use Kinect as a game controller. It may just be another motion controller, but it takes a little while for you to really realize that you can use your entire body, not just your hands in order to play the games. I couldn't figure out how to pop bubbles in one game until it finally dawned on me that I simply had to take step forward. The games themselves are pretty hit and miss, but it does do a really good job of teaching you how to use Kinect in 3d space, so it's the perfect pack-in.
Kinect Joy Ride is a stunt racing game and of the games we played, probably the one that takes the least advantage of Kinect's control scheme. Your car's acceleration and braking are controlled for you, so you just need to steer, which you do by sticking out your hands like you're holding a steering wheel. Pull your arms back to build up boost, then push forward to set it off to get some extra lift on jumps, then lean to the side to pull off tricks for extra points. Compared to other Kinect games, it feels a bit sparse, but you can at least play it sitting down - something not true of other launch titles.
Kinect Sports is another minigame collection, but it scores extra points for being just a little bit weird. It's a multiplayer game that recognizes Kinect's space issues by breaking players into teams and having take turns at minigames like bowling, kicking soccer balls into targets or similarly sports-themed shenanigans. Occasionally you'll have to get together for a two-player events like a sprint or ping pong, but the movements are small enough that you should be able to avoid clocking your pal in the face. It's actually a lot of fun, and the games are just random enough to level the playing field for everyone.
Kinectimals will appeal to those who are a bit younger, or who just like really, really cute things. The object of the game is actually to explore the island of Lemuria, but areas will only open up once you complete enough activities with one of the island's many adorable baby cats. Playing fetch, digging up treasure, and even dressing your kitty up in a nice new collar all earn you money and experience towards discovering new locations. A selection of minigames like RC car races and hitting targets with cat toys gets you up and moving. Kids will probably get more out of this than anyone else, but the baby lions, tigers, and cloud leopards are awfully adorable.
Dance Central, Harmonix's latest method for getting you to act like a fool in public, is the gem of Kinect's launch lineup. Dance Central does for dance routines what Rock Band does for musicians, breaking slick routines down into easily learnable chunks until you can string them all together into a performance. There are plenty of songs, and the routines range from the super easy to the incredibly intricate. Once you learn the basics, you can have a dance-off in battle mode, or buff your sexy stat with workout mode, but how much you enjoy Dance Central is mostly going to depend on how much you enjoy the music that's featured in it. The best presentation in the world won't help if you can't stand Lady Gaga and Rhianna.
Kinect's launch games are, so far, primarily focused on multiplayer, party-style experiences, which leaves the solo Kinect player a bit out in the cold. While you can play any of these games by yourself, they're obviously intended to be played with friends and while standing up. Kinect is an intriguing piece of technology with loads of potential, but at the moment, it's just not a must-have for the average 360 owner. Once a few more games have been released, then perhaps, but for now it's a bit too pricey for what you'll get in return.