Kinect Sports Rivals video review – Kinect flaws tarnish the experience

Today we take a look at Microsoft’s first party developed Kinect Sports Rivals which is the showcase game for Kinect 2.0 on Xbox One. Offering a slick interface and comical characters, how well does the game stack up against its predecessors and is it worth the investment.  Take a look at our Kinect Sports Rivals video review for the full picture.

Kinect Sports Rivals review:

Today we’re taking a look at Microsoft’s Kinect Sports Rivals which has been developed by UK developer Rare, who are well versed in Kinect games considering their history on Xbox 360. With an all new improved Kinect sensor to work with, and a more powerful system, this should be the pinnacle of hands free entertaining gaming… except it’s not!

From the offset, players are steered into the customization feature which take a few minutes to calibrate. This maps your face and body to produce an in game avatar based on your likeness. It’s quite a neat feature, although our character looked nothing like the source material, sharing facial hair and skin tone only. A secondary character fared much better and if you want to fine tune your look you can do so via the options.  Once done, players are then thrust into the story mode of sorts which introduces  the coach and three very different teams of comical characters you’ll either like or detest with a passion. They aren’t stereotypical per se, just an odd bunch of characters that steer you through the events offering their own story to the point where you eventually select which team to join.

To begin, players jump into the wake racing event which works very well and in all honesty could have been its own game given a few more options. The controls are easy to master and the sensation of riding the waves is accomplished with ease. It’s a very pick up and play event, aside from the fact that some players might struggle with holding the invisible handlebars.  There are a few moments of oddities such as when hitting objects which leave the player stranded for a few moments whilst the game waits to reset your rider, but overall the basic race is full on and thrilling to participate in. There are extra moves to work with such as performing stunts on ramps and big waves, and what’s more the other riders can offer quite a challenge once you progress to racing other Xbox Live gamers AI.

The second event offers rock climbing which proves to be a decent work out for the arms and requires a bit more precise movement. Sadly this event lets the whole game down entirely simply because it does not function properly for those who don’t live in an open plan office or warehouse. After many attempts at getting Kinect calibrated correctly, the event still failed to pick up our movements properly and interrupted play by dimming the screen with a warning message – but still allowing the event to continue. This in itself is utter madness and a cause for serious frustration – whoever at Rare decided not to auto pause the game whilst the player corrects the problem needs to be shot as this simply ends up being a complete dud for the entire game. Sadly, the story progression relies on this event where the AI moves with quite a pace, which means some players are not going to be able to progress unless they have patience of a saint, or get lucky.

Next up is shooting, an age old barrier for hands free gaming, but accomplished fairly well here as players pick up a gun and simply point their finger at the screen. The shooting itself is automatic, so it’s simply a pointing game which to be honest has very limited appeal. Kinect does pick up the movement fairly well, but the crosshair does feel a little light and floaty. The event itself is fairly solid as players go against a single opponent and try to outscore them by shooting various themed targets and even shooting the opposition’s targets as well. There’s an interruption cannon move as well which has to be built up, and can be unleashed onto the opponent, who then has to not only shoot the targets but dodge the incoming fire. Sadly due to the simplicity of the event it’s not something that will see a lot of play time compared to some of the more engaging offerings.

Moving on and players step up onto the pitch with a football game, which requires players to kick the ball in passing motions to other players whilst avoiding moving defenders, then shooting at goal. If the a goal is saved or scored, the AI then takes over as players sit in goal and try to save the ball. There’s a neat counter attack option should the player punch the ball out, but this option isn’t always available. Much like the shooting event, this is a very simple event that requires little skill and has limited appeal for long term play. It’s fun for a few rounds and feels good when heading a ball into the back of the net, but the enjoyment factor is short lived given how few options there are.

The next event is a classic from the very first Kinect Sports and is once again well realized here in the bowling alley. Players go up against two opponents with the aim of scoring the most points as you would expect. This is one of the better events on offer and allows players to add a bit of after-touch to their killer moves which is neat and adds a bit of skill mastery to proceedings. It’s always a joyous moment when getting a strike or even a spare, although lacking in the fanfare music of the original which kind of made the game. Sadly, players are forced to look at the opponents themselves when it’s their turn  rather than their actual attempt which seems a bit odd and is another poor design choice by Rare, although admittedly saves a bit of time waiting. Having the choice to not watch them at all or watch their run entirely would have been more sensible. As it stands, bowling is one event that beckons to be replayed, simply because it seems like a match made in heaven for Kinect.

The last event offers tennis which is similar to the fast paced table tennis of the original. Once again, this is a well realized event which has players serve and then return serve with up to three games to win. Players can add top and back spin to shots, and there’s even coming close to the net, smashes and lobs thrown in as expected. The gameplay is very good here with decent responsiveness from Kinect and highlights that the device can work under the right conditions.  Like the bowling, this is an event that begs to be replayed and totally fun to boot which is what counts.

In terms of looks, Kinect Sports Rivals offers colourful , fairly detailed characters and environments, making it a far cry from the original Xbox 360 game. It’s a solid looking game that works well across all the events with nothing really to fault here aside from the slightly fiddly interface which requires open hand presses and grips to move across the horizontal plane to change pages. Whilst ultra slick in terms of looks, it’s not the most accessible menu interface, with some things buried away. Luckily players can use voice commands which work well enough, and in some cases is much quicker than using hand gestures.

Audio is top quality what with its friendly sounding Scottish narrator who guides you through the basics, the stern and stereotypical drill sergeant like coach and the wacky and sometimes “out there” cast of characters. Special mention has to go to the oddball Max on team viper, who simply makes the story mode extremely entertaining with his weird movements and goofy remarks. The music is also top quality with some excellent pumping tracks which are well suited to the game. It’s obvious a lot of care and attention was placed in this department and is all the more better for it.

In terms of longevity there are only six events on offer at the core of the game, with some taking up more time than others, and a few you’ll probably play very little over the longer term. However, there’s a wealth of options to compare to and indulge in such as upgrades for your character for each events which include unlockable outfits and gear and taking things to the wider field, events versus other Xbox Live players via matchmaking when they are offline. You can also challenge rival players in specific events for bragging rights, and there are leaderboards to check to see how you compare globally. So although the events are few, there’s enough challenge and a decent sense of progression on offer which should keep dedicated players coming back for more. Some events also offer local splitscreen play for up to four profiles as players take turns to out perform each other which is great for gatherings.

To conclude, Kinect Sports Rivals is a cool little game that offers some genuine fun filled moments across its varied events. As mentioned the big white elephant in the room is the Climbing which is the only event that highlights that Kinect 2 doesn’t work well in all scenarios and for all people – how this passed through testing is unclear. Due to the fact that the climbing is tied to the story and cannot be bypassed leaves the story mode in a bit of a mess considering the main event requires players to come in first place which is almost impossible due to the technical hang ups here. Aside from this though, all the other events work well with some even being good enough to warrant multiple plays. Luckily there’s a quick option to ignore all the Xp gains, fans and extras and just jump into the events, although sadly, for those starting out here, there are no tutorials tied to this mode which leaves first time players at odds with the game. There are perhaps one two many inconsistent and poor design choices here to make the game stand out as a must have game, and in reality is not really the showcase kinect game to win over the cynical. If you have younger players, then the forced story aspects are likely to annoy those with short attention spans, especially for those wanting to just play, but given some perseverance, the story is actually quite fun to play through. If you’re looking for a family game to play using kinect, then this has to be it, but the reality is, you’re likely to spend most time kicking off in the excellent wake racing, bowling and tennis. So three out of six events are pretty much obsolete. Kinect Sports Rivals is a solid game that can be recommended, but one that simply falls short of greatness due to poor implementation and oversimplified gameplay in some areas.

Score 7/10 – Review by Robert Cram

Review code supplied by Xbox.




Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.

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