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Review: Kinect Sports Season 2 feels like a fumble at the goal line

When it was released alongside the Kinect last November, Kinect Sports was one of those easy purchases for a good majority of the peripheral’s early adopters. It was easy to jump in, fun for the whole family and a good display of what the 3D camera motion-sensing system could do. It was also filled with flaws and glitches that affected the game’s visuals and gameplay. Now, one year later, Rare and Microsoft return with Kinect Sports: Season 2.

Filled with more sports, and fine tuned Kinect functionality, this year’s game goes miles ahead of last year’s, but unfortunately, it’s still packed with many of those same flaws that ruined the previous game. This category of casual motion-sensing game is an important one for Microsoft as it seeks to broaden the audience for the Xbox 360 game console, which appealed at first to hardcore gamers but more often than not is now selling to casual game players.

Kinect Sports: Season 2 introduces players to five new sports: baseball, football, tennis golf and downhill skiing; along with darts (note: not a sport – just sayin’). Of these six, skiing is the easiest to jump in to; simply stand like you’re skiing and move your body from side-to-side to move between your markers. From time to time you’ll have to jump for style points, and while it’s quite fun, it can be unresponsive at times. The game does a great job of adjusting the difficulty so you never really feel like you’ve lost until the end of the race – even if you’re doing terrible.

A promising failure

The game’s football mode is disappointing, but comes with some impressive tech. Players control either the quarterback or one of the receivers. The quarterback crouches down to hike the ball and either yells “Hike!” or moves their arms as if retrieving the ball to start the play. Your receivers icons above their heads will turn green when they’re open and you can either throw the ball to the left, right or straight ahead.  Receivers catch the ball by stretching their arms out, and then run in place to get to the end zone. The quarterback can also call an audible at the line of scrimmage if he sees a weakness in the defense, though don’t expect a Madden-like level of strategy here. Calling audibles is basically a game of chance more often than not.

As basic as the football controls are, it’s easy to envision next year’s Madden, which has been confirmed to feature Kinect functionality, use something similar to the system here.  Imagine walking up to the line as Aaron Rodgers in the Superbowl, looking over the defense and calling an audible using the same system the actual team does.  The ideas in Kinect Sports: Season 2’s football mode feel an awful lot like a great starting point for other things – even if they’re not all that fleshed out here.

It should come as no surprise that golf is the game’s most fun and responsive mode. The majority of the golfing mechanic
is easy and responsive, and the addition of voice controls for club selection makes things seem even more fluid. Admittedly, it was a bit weird being so used to having a Wii-mote in my hands to golf, and it threw me off a bit at first, but thanks to how intuitive the game system is, that problem didn’t last long at all. It’s important to note that it took a while to get used to putting, as the game kept hitting the ball too hard regardless of my motion, though a quick trip to the Kinect tuner seemed to rectify this.

Better get used to running in place

In a similar fashion, baseball is also a mixed bag. Pitchers can throw the ball with either their left or right hand, curving the ball by curving their arm. Sounds pretty simple right? Unfortunately, the game seems to fall apart once you step into the batter’s box. As you’d expect, batting is based pretty solely on timing, but sometimes even when you get a good hit, the game sends it directly to a spot in the outfield where an opposing player is, which triggers a mini game for the outfielder. It just seems like the baseball portion of the game is built mostly on luck rather than any kind of skill.

By far, the most disappointing aspect of the game is the darts section. Put quite simply, it’s almost unplayable due to limitations in the Kinect system itself. Darts is a game of accuracy, and the Kinect seems to have no way to judge where you’re trying to send the darts you’re throwing. Quite often I would aim one for an upper portion of the board, only to see it go to the very bottom. To see just how bad the game’s recognition for darts was, I closed my eyes and made a cartoonish throwing motion and to my surprise it went almost perfect straight. Hopefully this is something an update can fix.

One of the biggest problems with the original Kinect Sports was that you had to be playing a full game either online or against a local opponent to compete with friends, but Season 2 adds a challenge mode to each sport that adds a ton of replayability to the title. Baseball for instance has the home run derby and golf has a targeting mini game.  Season 2 also introduces a much more streamlined menu process that features a responsive voice system. Want to play football? Just say it. This year’s game is much easier to navigate through.

Conclusion

Though it’s not a drastic change from last year’s game, the teams at Rare and Microsoft have done a nice job addressing the majority of the issues to make this game a much more enjoyable experience. Not all of the sports are as enjoyable as the next, and unless you’ve got a big group looking to play, you’re likely to get tired of the game rather quickly. But Kinect Sports Season 2 is a fun if not flawed party experience. All in all, Kinect Sports Season 2 gets a 59 out of 100.


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