Microsoft’s Kinect has been in the wild for three months now. The quirky little Xbox 360 peripheral was the talk of the town during the 2010 holiday and it went on to sell 8 million units in record time. It’s the first gaming device of its kind, encouraging people of all ages to get up off the couch and play games without a controller. So why doesn’t it move me?
Don’t get me wrong. I think the Kinect is a cool idea. There’s an immediate sense of joy when the game translates your movements on screen. When you finally find the “groove” in Dance Central or get a strike in bowling, it’s a great feeling.
But the novelty wears off quickly. The hover-and-hold interface becomes tedious, the lack of dashboard options annoying, the idiosyncrasies frustrating. For example, I have to move my couch back to make enough room to play, but then when I sit on the same couch to scroll the Kinect Hub, I am so far back that the sensor can no longer see me.
Voice command is interesting, but so utterly limited that it’s useless. Hey, cool, you can tell your Xbox to open the DVD tray! Until you realize that you have to be standing right next to your Xbox to put in a new DVD anyway, so what’s the point?
And the thing is imprecise. Not enough to kill the experience, but enough to nag. Most of the games are clearly simplified to make the delay as irrelevant as possible. You can rely on a controller button to give you all the accuracy you need, and if something goes wrong you can throw that controller against the wall. With Kinect, you are the controller… so when it misinterprets a movement you’re stuck throwing yourself against a wall.
Even my kids, who really liked Kinect initially, don’t play the thing much anymore. I’ve heard the (mostly accusatory) explanations about why I don’t like the Kinect. I’m “not using it right.” It’s “not for me.” I just need to “wait and the good stuff will come.”
It’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t use it. There isn’t anywhere near enough compelling content. Kinect ships with Kinect Adventures, a collection of five samey mini-games, the best of which is a polished variation of the “Human Breakout” game that Microsoft demoed at E3 in 2009. The cream of the Kinect crop is probably Dance Central, and the other decent titles include Kinect Sports, Kinectimals and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.
Of course, these are the same games that people were talking about when Kinect launched, and they remain the best options for the foreseeable future. If you’re waiting for more good stuff to come, you must wait a little longer.
What surprises me is that Kinect came out with no Xbox Live Arcade support at all. The device seems tailor-made for the quick, fun gaming experiences that Microsoft built their arcade service for. Why can’t I play Uno with my Kinect? Or Zuma? Even three months later, Kinect just doesn’t offer enough reasons to move the couch and be the controller.
So for now, my Kinect sits on my television just staring at me. I use it so little that I forget it’s there. Kinect does stay busy recording audio samples and sending them back to Microsoft. Do they really want to hear me singing 80′s songs to myself when no one else is home?
Maybe that was Microsoft’s plan all along…