I Regret Buying Kinect

by Dan Ryckert on Dec 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Like many gamers, I was skeptical when I saw the first concept video of Kinect. Adults and children were shown playing trivia games together, fixing busted tires at pit stops, scanning their real-life skateboard into a video game, and pretending to be a kung-fu master or Godzilla. I was initially skeptical of the peripheral, doubting it would work as advertised. My skepticism grew as the marketing campaign pushed forward, with Kudo Tsunoda knocking virtual balls back and forth everywhere from E3 to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. These demos started resembling gimmicky motion-based Wii minigames more and more, and I set my sights low for Kinect.

As the peripheral's launch inched closer, the ad campaign heated up even more and made it apparent that Microsoft was putting the company's full weight behind it. When we received our first Kinect unit here at Game Informer, I walked in to the conference room to watch Bryan play Kinect Sports. He went into multiplayer so I could give it a shot, and I was surprised to find myself actually having fun. It wasn't perfect, but it reminded me of the same goofy fun I had with Wii Sports back in 2006. I spent some more time with the unit, playing with the voice recognition features and menu navigation. My attitude towards the device turned from skepticism to cautious optimism, and I eventually decided to pre-order Kinect so I could have one at launch.

For the last several console generations, I've bought every system at launch. It didn't matter to me that the launch line-ups of the DS, PSP, PS3, 3DS, and other consoles didn't scream "must-have" to me; I had to have access to the newest games, and nothing else mattered. I never bought Microsoft's line about treating Kinect's release like a console launch, but the thought was the same -- If I didn't have Kinect, I couldn't play the latest games. Because of this, I made the drive to Gamestop last November and bought it on day one.

As was the case with so many console launches, the initial software lineup didn't really appeal to me. Dance Central was a sure thing thanks to the positive buzz and the Harmonix name, even though I'm not much of a dancer. Outside of that, I was begging for a reason to buy anything else. Kinectimals is clearly aimed at a younger demographic, but I picked it up based on the mostly-positive reviews. I also liked the idea of working out at home in an effort to avoid the Minnesota winter, so I picked up The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout. Of those three, the only one I was even remotely impressed by was Dance Central. Kinectimals didn't feel like much of a game, and The Biggest Loser flat-out didn't work. Within a week or two, I had traded in both titles. Dance Central got played a bit more, usually for a song or two after the bars with my friends.

With only one (sparingly-played) game in my Kinect collection, I tried to justify my purchase by playing around with its other features. I tried navigating menus without a controller and managing my DVD playback with my voice, but neither option seemed as responsive to me as the tried-and-true fashion. Signing in to my profile by having Kinect recognize me on sight has yet to work once. You were supposed to be able to stand in front of your TV when your Xbox turns on, and have Kinect sign you in appropriately. I've done all of the calibration, lighting adjustments, and other tweaks that are recommended, and this has literally never worked.

Time went on, and the Kinect release schedule hit a major dry spot. I looked for any reason to even have my Kinect plugged into my Xbox, and couldn't find one. Titles weren't getting released, and technical issues weren't being addressed via updates. At E3 this year, Microsoft announced Kinect Fun Labs, a free download that was specifically designed to highlight the device's strong points. I downloaded it and tried to give objects googly eyes and do other assorted nonsense. Once again, nothing worked as advertised.

Still holding on for some reason to justify my almost year-old purchase, I tried The Gunstringer and Child of Eden. While I appreciated the trademark Twisted Pixel sense of humor in the former and didn't entirely hate the latter, I felt neither game was worthy of the asking price or more than an hour or two of my time. Releasing these games around the $50 price point is one of my main gripes with Kinect. Like many gamers, I operate on a limited budget. I can't afford to buy everything that comes out, and what expendable income I do have goes towards big guns like Skyrim, Portal 2, and Zelda. If I can get hundreds of hours of enjoyment out of a $60 purchase like Skyrim, I can't justify spending $50 to wave my arms around or make pistol motions with my hand.

Recently, Microsoft launched a "Kinect For Core" campaign to cater towards hardcore gamers. I look at that trailer above, and see nothing that caters to the core crowd. The Gunstringer isn't core because it has guns, Child of Eden isn't core because it's abstract and artsy, Forza may be core but certainly not because of Kinect integration, Rise of Nightmares isn't core because it's violent, and there sure as hell isn't anything core about flailing your arms to chop watermelons in half. I'm not saying this because I'm a gaming elitist with strict definitions of "hardcore" and "casual" gamers, I just recognize a desperate campaign when I see one. Kinect is derided by longtime gamers because of its casual nature, and Microsoft is trying to pander to them with a "Kinect For Core" message that no one is buying.

Microsoft's presentation at E3 this year focused on Kinect's utilization in unquestionably core games like Mass Effect 3 and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Ordering squad members around in ME3 via voice commands sounds far less gimmicky than most Kinect integration, but the Gunsmith system in Future Soldier looked unnecessary. That's the problem...yelling at Garrus or checking out gun attachments with Kinect may be novel at first, but is it really a better option than doing the same thing with a controller?

Perhaps my recent frustration with Kinect has something to do with my time reviewing atrocities like Hulk Hogan's Main Event and Blackwater. However, it doesn't change the fact that my personal Kinect has sat almost completely unused since around this time last year. If it weren't for my time working on Kinect games for Game Informer, I would have spent about two hours this year using it in my free time (about an hour each for The Gunstringer and Child of Eden). Despite my grievances, I haven't traded it in yet. I still hold out hope that Microsoft can do something worthwhile with this thing. I had similar complaints about the first year of owning a DS, and it went on to become my favorite portable system of all time. There really is some impressive technology going into Kinect, I just wish developers would find some way to utilize it in a creative and (most of all) fun fashion. Until then, it'll be hanging out in a drawer with my Move controllers.