I went on down to my local Microsoft Store today because I heard about the demo stations being available as of yesterday. The store opened up a few months ago and I never thought I'd actually step foot inside until today. Despite what I read online and what the sign said right in front of the thing, they actually didn't have Forza playable. Instead, I was treated to Killer Instinct!
The MS store where I live is a little odd. It's inside a mall, but down the hall and around the corner is a Microsoft kiosk that sells the exact same products for some reason. I went over to the store first and a couple of guys were lined up there playing the thing. I went over to the kiosk which, for some reason, had two demo stations and seats and one of them was empty. Now, of course, your experience may vary, but I just walked up to the woman there and asked if they had a controller for the available system. She handed it to me and said "Just make sure you don't exit the game" and that was it. Nobody held my hand. Nobody watched over my shoulder. They weren't really paying attention at all. I probably could have walked off with the controller.
^The complete opposite of my experience.
Speaking of which, the controller is quite nice. Instantly recognizable and comfortable, yet different in subtle ways. When I hold an Xbox controller in my hand, I have certain expectations of how it will feel since I've been using the same thing for over seven years. Everything about it is a bit smaller now, which frankly confused my brain for a little bit. The buttons are closer together and protrude less, meaning they take less force to press. The triggers don't push down as far either. I guess KI didn't use those rumble motors because I didn't feel any trigger rumble. I also noticed that the bumpers are significantly stiffer now and rounded so they press in more easily on the outside and are hard to press closer to the center. Not really a fan of that.
Those were all minor things to me compared to the sticks and pad. I won't lie, the sticks look kind of horrible to me in pictures. They're smaller in diameter and sit much higher, meaning they have less resistance now (they're looser and easier to push). I'm one of those guys who thinks the 360 sticks were perfect in terms of resistance and the PS3 sticks are way too loose. These were kind of in between. Surprisingly, I didn't hate them. Maybe it's the improved design that made me forget about resistance. The lip (or ridge) is much thicker now and coated in a textured rubber. It's so much better than the 360 design, it's not even funny. Additionally, the center crater is smaller and covered in smooth rubber. Your fingers will absolutely not slip around. I didn't push the sticks in to see how they clicked, but I at least didn't do it by accident, which happens to me all the time on the 360 pad. They felt weird at first, but I got used to them fast and I think they'll prove to be a big improvement once you get past tightness. Of course, I couldn't get the best feel for them since I was playing a game where you move in two directions, though I rotated them for attacks.
The d-pad. Holy guacamole. This thing is just fantastic. It's a standard plus-shape made from hard, clicky plastic. I personally always liked the softer and squishier Nintendo pads, but I can't deny this thing is great. The plastic (like everything else but the sticks) is fairly flush to the controller surface so it doesn't take a lot of force to press it down, and the whole thing is embedded in this little circle so your finger can slide around it. The closest thing I can think of in terms of feel is the GameBoy Advance SP pad (which is, in my opinion, the best hard plastic pad Nindndo's made). Controlling KI with it was great! Although it does make a fairly audible click when you press it.
So how was the game itself? Pretty fun. I could only play as Jago on Jago's stage, but could fight against four other fighters. I got my ass kicked by the computer, then realized it was on medium difficulty. I changed it to noob and had a better time. I'm pretty bad at fighting games in general, but I like to play them anyway for some reason. It looked and played pretty much how I expected, so no surprises there. It seems fun, but I wouldn't buy and XB1 just to play it. The particle effects are pretty bonkers, though.
Other tidbits: The system is gigantic. It seemed even bigger in person. They had them just kind of sitting out on a counter not behind anything so I could tell it was really huge. I din't notice any Kinects anywhere so I'm not sure if they were hidden away or not attached. Also, I'll be getting a PS4 which I haven't gotten my hands on at all. Even so, I wanted to check out the Xbox One since I've been an Xbox fan since the original. My experience represented a small chunk of what they want the Xbox One experience to be, but if it's representative of gaming on the Xbox One, then I think early adopters will be very happy. Just make sure you have a lot of shelf space!
^Not far off from actual size.