Kinect burst into the video gaming discussion around the same time I started my career writing about it. It’s over, and that is now for the record. It had been clear since 2014 that Microsoft was moving away from the motion-detecting device, which looked for all the world like a game-changer when it was paraded at E3 2009 as Project Natal.
It never lived up to users’ expectations or marketers’ hype. There were some daring sorties into this subgenre: The Gunstringer, for example, was one of the few wholehearted attempts to apply Kinect’s motion-sensing technology to a plausible story. It did alright critically, but even with a huge push from Microsoft’s marketing and publicity machine it couldn’t make Kinect much more than a novelty. When Kinect 2.0 launched with Xbox One in 2013, its utility was mainly in social networking and television viewing, features quickly forgotten as Microsoft pivoted the console back to a games-first device.
Nonetheless, I have nostalgia for Kinect. This weekend I set up a new television and I made sure to install and calibrate both sensors. I have the devices and they work, after all, so why not? So here are five Kinect games whose names still bring a smile to my face, remembering that is still the fundamental goal of a piece of entertainment, and the best legacy a video game can leave.
KINECT STAR WARS
Teased at E3 2010 to rabid applause, this was gonna be the centerpiece of the Kinect experience. Microsoft whipped up an R2-D2 and C-3PO Xbox 360 bundle for it, even. But over three years, this game just could not get its act together. The thing I played at Microsoft’s booth at E3 2011 came nowhere close to the expectations it set 2010. And the game that launched a year later was even more different.
Rather than quibble over its gameplay shortcomings, I’d like to celebrate Kinect Star Wars for its romping, stomping Rancor Rampage mode. That was bananas. Kinect’s biggest problem was always matching up the user’s motion with the intended effect — which wasn’t great if you were a virtual Jedi wielding an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. But if you were a Rancor whose job was to just smash shit, eat Jawas and cause mayhem, it worked perfectly.
A few years later I met a developer who worked at Microsoft when this was being built. He said another, original game concept was sacrificed to give Kinect Star Wars the Rancor Rampage mode. I wouldn’t characterize it as a desperation move, but it’s why they also added in a dancing minigame which got even more attention. They knew that the main Jedi experience they had promised was going to fall well south of the fun border. But that Rancor, chowing down on Sandpeople and plowing through Mos Espa — something I didn’t see at E3 2011 — made it all worthwhile for me.
FRUIT NINJA KINECT
I played this at San Diego Comic-Con in 2011 and fell in love. Fruit Ninja Kinect is the rare video game that began as a mobile title and was made better on a console. The degree of difficulty is much steeper when played on Kinect. If nothing else, this game can say it sold a Kinect because when I got home I went out and bought one just so I’d have it when Fruit Ninja Kinect launched. Microsoft bundled it with The Gunstringer. They gave it their best shot but even those two games together couldn’t make Kinect a gaming necessity.
KINECT FUN LABS
This suite of toys was announced at E3 2011 with four modules, one of which was “Build a Buddy,” which allowed users to bring real world objects into the game environment and fool around with them. Considering that with each new medium, from cave walls to the Internet, humans have first drawn penises upon them, I asked a booth representative what would happen if someone tried to bring a dick into the game.
I stand by my original reporting. I was told Kinect Fun Labs had advanced penis recognition heuristics that could filter out phalluses. Apparently they did not, because my good friend Mike Fahey promptly rezzed a purple dildo into the game like it was Tron or something. Microsoft, in what was probably the most urgent email thread I have ever been a part of as a games writer, quickly clarified that such shapes would be subject to human moderation after the fact. That meant someone had to look at Fahey’s sex toy and throw it out.
This physics puzzle game is sort of like Angry Birds for Kinect, played in a first-person view as the user steers the shots and deploys all kinds of power-ups on them. I was reviewing Wreckateer in 2012 when I felt a dull throbbing develop in my lower back. Two levels later, I was on my bed in a fetal position. That afternoon I was in the emergency room with kidney stones.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been present for a catheterization, but the procedure makes a very loud noise that sounds like a 39-year-old male screaming “SHIT MOTHERFUCKER!” After that, peeing out something that looked like the Covenant’s bomb from Halo 2 was no problem. Whimpering, weak and constipated by painkillers, I came home the next day and finished the review. Wreckateer was an OK take on a popular genre of the day. My problem was how long it took to set up each shot. Still the aiming system was deadly accurate, even through knee-buckling kidney pain.
RED BULL CRASHED ICE
This is the only Kinect game still installed on a console I own. I think it’s the greatest Kinect game ever. It’s also the only speed skating video game I own, and that sport has always fascinated me because it is the fastest a human can go traveling under their own power. Everything else is assisted by gravity or a machine.
Anyway, Crashed Ice is a racing game and velocity is controlled by swinging one’s arms. I would kick my own ass to win this game, flailing back and forth in front of the TV. I have poured sweat repeatedly and nearly fainted playing Red Bull Crashed Ice. It’s easy to beat the CPU skaters, but if you have a speed horse mentality like I do it doesn’t really matter. You will be pumping your arms as hard as you can go to the end.
Crashed Ice paired with a Fruit Ninja Kinect warmup is actually good for a morning workout. Much better than Nike + Kinect or UFC Personal Trainer or the other fitness titles that later launched for Xbox One with Kinect 2.0. Only Red Bull Crashed Ice captured the racing gamer’s instinct to sit on the accelerator throughout the entire run and applied that to a physical act. Say this for Red Bull Crashed Ice, after 10 races, my heart was racing like I’d drunk a six-pack of the stuff.