REVIEW: Kinect Sports: Season 2 (Xbox 360)

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Name: Kinect Sports: Season 2

Genre: Motion controlled Kinect party game

Platform: Xbox 360

Price: £32 from Amazon

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Almost a year since its launch, the Xbox 360’s controller-free Kinect motion sensor is still waiting for its killer, must-have game. Rare Studios staked a decent claim at the title with Kinect Sports at launch, and this year they’ve implemented a raft of new features and a host of new sports for the sequel, Kinect Sports: Season 2. Is it enough to convert the Kinect sceptics? Read on to find out.

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As a Kinect title, it goes without saying that unless you’ve got Microsoft’s motion-tracking accessory, you’re not going to be able to play Kinect Sports: Season 2. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence as to whether or not you should buy one, have Rare done enough here to coax you into grabbing the add-on?

We’d say yes. Make no mistakes, we’ve been motion-control sceptics ourselves, but Rare have a good handle on how to get the most out of the motion sensor. Movements still aren’t 1:1 responsive when it comes to the actions on screen mirroring your flailing limbs, but it’s a damn sight closer than last year’s efforts, and control of the 6 events on offer here are, for the most part, satisfyingly tighter as a result.

And, also for the most part, those events are a good laugh too. With an eye on international markets as opposed to the very American-centric original, it’s a more diverse range of sports this time around, taking in Golf, Tennis, Baseball, Skiing, Darts and American Football. As any good party game should be, all the sports are simple enough to play with little or no prior gaming experience; so long as you’ve got a rough idea of how to play the sports on show in real life, that’ll translate fairly well to playing in Kinect Sports: Season 2.

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So with Golf for instance, standing side-on to the sensor and swinging both arms like you’re holding a club will see you strike the ball towards the pin, with the sensor picking up a searching hand to the brow as a cue to scan the course, and a crouched position once the ball is on the green making the game check out lumps and bumps ahead of the hole. The newly-implemented voice activated commands work best in this event, letting you quickly select a club by shouting its name rather than scrolling through lengthy lists. 3, 6 or 9 hole games can be played, and while it’s a more forgiving game of golf than say EA’s Tiger Woods, it’s deep enough and controlled accurately enough to be the sport we spent most time with.

Tennis is far more energetic, and far more fun, here than with its Wii Sports rival. You’ll roughly control the positioning of your player too, meaning you’ll need a fair bit of space to play this one, but lining up forehands and cross-court shots was a real delight, and ended up with us having a very real bout of Tennis elbow. The slight lag of the Kinect’s response time meant you have to pre-empt shots ever so slightly more than you would in real life, but I rarely, if ever, felt cheated by lacklustre system performance.

Baseball plays like a mixture of Golf and Tennis, requiring the swing-style movements of the former and the speed and timing of the latter as the baseball approaches the batter. Stepping into a swing gives added power, while a later or earlier swing decides where the ball ends up on the field. As a pitcher, the speed of your thrusting arm decides the speed of the throw, with arching throws adding curve and spin to throws. Once the ball is hit, so long as it hasn’t gone out for a home run, batters run on the spot to reach bases, while pitchers get the chance to catch the flying ball. You’re also able to call in a star pitcher or batter to ramp up the tension and increase your chances of winning once per inning.
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Skiing is a simple, if effectively presented, downhill sprint. Crouching and leaning forward picks up speed, with a gentle lean left and right governing turns as you aim for gates. You can also jump to pick up air and speed at specific points. In a nice touch, living room spectators can wave their arms about to make the sound of cow bells ring. It’s another sport where you feel totally in control of the action, and is one of the most satisfying as a result.

Darts is a peculiar addition (is it even really a sport?) and tended to divide the opinions of those we played the game alongside. If you’re not familiar with the sport, you’re tasked with whittling down your score from either a starting point of 301 or 501 by hitting numbered segments on a circular board, with some areas worth double or triple points. To win a round, you have to “check out” by lining up a double that exactly clears your remaining points. The Kinect Sports: Season 2 approximation of the event sees you moving an aiming reticule across the board and then sharply pulling your arm back and then through the point you locked in to throw the dart. It takes some getting used to, but a little practice quickly sees most players racking up top three-dart scores of 180 in no time. It’s a revelation that the Kinect sensor can pick up such precise movements as a flicking wrist at all, and a testament to the work Rare have put in here.

American Football is the weak link though. While the other sports have quirks and boons that will see them individually picked up as one person or another’s favourite, American Football is over-simplified to the point of being redundant and unlikely to find favour with many gamers. After picking a play, all that’s required of you as the quarterback is to wave your arm to throw the ball once an icon appears on screen. If another player on the field then catches the ball successfully, it’s just a matter of running on the spot and hoping that you make it to the Endzone for a touch down. There are no dodge or juking moves to dupe defenders with, just blind luck. Fail to reach the Endzone for a touchdown before your set number of Downs expires and you’ll get to kick a field goal, which are so easy to score as to render all the elements that came before in the event entirely pointless.
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As you’d expect, all the sports here can be played either in split-screen modes or alternately with friends in a local session, or online via Xbox Live. AI opponents put up a decent challenge, and ramp up the difficulty appropriately, but it’s just nowhere near as fun as jumping about with real-world friends.

Each of the sports also has a Party Mode to play too, making the already wacky takes on the sport even wilder. Darts becomes a magician’s spinning wheel of death, Skiing a downhill assault course, for instance. These modes can also be played online in the new Challenge Modes, seeing you set a high score before sending a message to your pals to get them to attempt to best it.

It’s all wrapped up with delightfully charming production. Though the Xbox Avatar graphical approach certainly apes the Wii’s style, they’re lovingly animated, with plenty of jokes and atmosphere surrounding each event. From the X-Factor’s very own Peter Dickson on voice over duties to the licensed soundtrack that includes such guilty-pleasure stars as Vanilla Ice and Rick Astley, Rare have nailed the goofy party vibe to a tee.

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Verdict:

Go into Kinect Sports: Season 2 expecting a photo-real simulation of your favourite sports and you’ll come away sorely disappointed. It’s very much a simple title to play with the kids, or with a gang of big kids after a big night out. In that scenario Kinect Sports: Season 2 really shines, with Rare proving a dab hand at not only wielding the Kinect sensor, but painting smiles across faces too. It’s not without its faults, and American Football in particular is a real disappointment. But let your guard down long enough and you’ll soon find you’ve lost hours flailing away to the game’s genuine charms.

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4/5

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Kinect Sports: Season 2 – GALLERY

Gerald Lynch

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