Thanks to the Wii, I’ve played enough fluffy sports compilations over the last six years to last a lifetime. However, Kinect Sports, which accompanied the launch of Microsoft’s motion-sensing Kinect peripheral last fall, delivered a refreshing change. The sports were tired and the graphics bland, but it demanded that we play using our entire bodies, which made it feel more like we were really taking part in the sports being simulated (and provided an authentic little workout, to boot).
Its sequel, Kinect Sports: Season Two, is a little less invigorating, mostly because it follows much the same formula, only with a sextet of new sports, including football, baseball, skiing, darts, golf, and tennis. Developer Rare has added a few new twists – including a calorie counter and support for voice commands (instead of standing up to start a play in football you can say “ready, hike!”) – but for the most part it just feels like new activities added to the same game.
At least most of these activities are well designed.
Swinging for the fences while at bat in baseball and then running in place to beat out the throw to first base is both satisfying and exhausting. Pitching is fun, too, especially if you try read and obey the catcher’s signals for fastballs and curves.
Games that require subtler movements can be a little more frustrating. The targeting reticule in darts jumps around on occasion, and it’s too easy to put too much power into a swing in golf. However, patience and a willingness to experiment with your stance and physical movements usually pays off.
Football is a mixed bag. Passing the ball before taking on receiver duties and running for the endzone can be entertaing, but when the computer takes over for the opposition the player just stands there and watches a diagram on screen show clock and play progression. It doesn't exactly duplicate the thrill of the real game.
Tennis is better suited for the Kinect experience, and swinging your arms to serve and smash feels great, especially with two people playing. Sadly, this version of the racquet sport does little to distinguish itself from every other motion-based tennis title on the market.
Skiing, meanwhile, is a surprising highlight. The sense of speed I experienced while crouching and leaning left and right to fly through slalom gates was intense, and races are so quick that they never grow tedious.
Rare has also provided plenty of mini-games – batting challenges, throwing darts at balloons surrounding a padded person on a spinning wheel – that players can play alone or in a group of up to four players in teams taking turns. If your friends can't make it over you can just record a score in a game and then challenge an online buddy to best it. The former brand of multiplayer makes for a great local social gaming experience, while the latter is something you'll likely try a couple of times (assuming you have a friend with the game) before forgetting about it.
But the thing I’ll remember most about Kinect Sports probably won't be multiplayer game nights or even the awesome streak of seven home runs I had in the first inning of a game of baseball. Rather, I'll look back on how it gave me my first rickroll. After avoiding falling victim to the notorious Internet meme for nearly half a decade, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” came blasting through my home theatre after I missed an easy par putt while playing golf. An achievement titled “Rickrolled” appeared a moment later at the bottom of the screen. Damn you, Rare.
Even if the original knocked your socks off with its clever controller-less control, Kinect Sports: Season Two probably won’t. Still, those who’ve yet to drink their fill of movement-based sports compilations should find it both competent and fun. It is, at the very least, a suitable way for families to keep active while indoors on bitter winter days.
Kinect Sports: Season Two
Platform: Xbox 360