What it is
Although Microsoft is late to the motion-controlled gaming party established by Nintendo's Wii and then joined earlier this fall by Sony's PlayStation Move, the new Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360 takes the technology one step further.
One known as Project Natal, the Kinect eliminates physical controllers altogether, allowing players to control the on-screen action -- as well as the Xbox's menu system -- through their own body movements and vocal commands. The Kinect sensor bar -- which you simply place near your TV and connect to the 360 (though doing so is easier with the newer 360 S systems) -- combines a camera, microphone, and multiple sensing technologies to track the 3D movements of one or more people in the same room. In other words, you become the controller.
All that's needed to get started with Kinect (other than an Xbox 360, of course), is the Kinect Sensor and a Kinect-enabled game. Thus, the lowest-priced bundle includes both for $149.99 (with the included game being Kinect Adventures! 66). If you don't already have the 360, the console itself now comes bundled with Kinect, for about $300 (including 4GB of storage) or $400 (250GB).
Kinect-enabled games available separately at launch are mainly of the party/casual variety, and include:
- Adrenalin Misfits tbd
- Dance Central 84
- Fighters Uncaged 39
- Kinect Joyride 56
- Kinect Sports 76
- Kinectimals 76
- Sonic Free Riders 59
- Your Shape: Fitness Evolved tbd
What critics are saying
Although the Kinect technology is generally impressing most critics, and the system's control scheme possesses a definite wow factor (at least in the short term), a number of complaints are appearing in multiple reviews. Among them:
- Space. Unless you don't have a coffee table or much furniture in your Xbox room (and you do have an Xbox room, don't you?), you are probably going to need to rearrange most of your furnishings in order to clear space to play. Microsoft recommends at least 6 feet of unobstructed space, but reviewers are finding that 8-10 feet is better, especially for multi-player games. If your room isn't that big to begin with, you might be out of luck. Mounting your sensor bar high up seems to improve matters a bit, but you'll have to pay extra for a stand or mount.
- Time. The use of the Kinect seems to slow down the boot process and can make navigating through menus a bit slower than when using a regular controller (though the voice commands do seem to work well for most people). But even though it is sometimes noticeable, lag does not seem to be a factor when playing games.
- Recognition. After an initial setup, the Kinect is supposed to recognize your face on later visits, automatically signing you into the system. The accuracy of that Kinect ID feature has been spotty at best for most reviewers, with anything from wearing glasses to ambient lighting to skin color seemingly throwing off the sensor.
- Interface. Want to use the Kinect to navigate through the console's menu system? You can, but only using a separate, more minimal Kinect Hub, which critics found too limited and Kinect controls too inconsistently implemented from application to application. On the other hand, using voice commands to control the applications? That seems to be a hit (when they work).
- Physicality. Though this could be a benefit rather than a complaint, prolonged Kinect-ing is a real workout (even if you aren't playing one of the several games actually designed for exercise), and many reviewers reported being sore the next day. (Having to move all your furniture around probably won't help matters.)
- Games. Much as when the PlayStation Move launched, critics are complaining about a lack of solid launch titles for the new control system; only Dance Central seems to have anything to recommend it.
If there is a consensus, it is as expected: the Kinect is a piece of cool technology that certainly has potential to be a game-changer down the line, but at launch, it is an expensive novelty that will be of little interest to hardcore gamers.
Below is a publication-by-publication sampling of the critical response to Microsoft's new controller. We have grouped the reviews based on the general level of enthusiasm for the product, from most to least positive. If a publication assigned a score to the review, it is listed below (converted to a 100-point scale if necessary for purposes of comparison); otherwise, we did not attempt to assign scores to reviews that did not have them. Click on any publication name to read the full review.
|It's the gadget of the year. ... Microsoft Kinect still represents a phenomenal way to get the whole family involved in gaming in a manner that not even Nintendo has managed. And there’s so much potential, we’re aching with excitement. [5/5 stars]|
|It sounds cliche, but Kinect really is a truly revolutionary way of interacting with your games console (it's far better than Sony's EyeToy), and we are really looking forward to seeing what games come next.|
|n/a||The New York Times|
|Nothing since the Wii, certainly not Sony’s imitative Move system for the PlayStation 3, approaches the ambition and technical achievement of Kinect in potentially reshaping the mass home media experience. ... The system has limitations, but Kinect is truly inspiring because it is easy to see that Microsoft is only beginning to take advantage of what this system can do. ... The Kinect experience is so captivating that I found myself looking at my other electronics with scorn.|
|The technology and the feel behind Kinect is simply staggering. ... It's not so much that the [launch] line-up is brimming with excellent titles - more that the technology feels so fantastic, that even the most average gaming experience is elevated to satisfying levels.|
|Kinect is an absolute pleasure to have in the home. Much more importantly, it's a reliable one. [8.8/10]|
|88||The Globe and Mail|
|The lag I experienced makes me doubt whether Kinect can be satisfyingly implemented in what one might call a "traditional" game for so-called hardcore players ... However, from both a technical and entertainment perspective, Kinect is a good and innovative product. [3.5/4 stars]|
|88||USA Today Game Hunters|
|The overall Kinect experience reminded me of the first time trying the Nintendo Wii, and how marvelous it was to enjoy video games in a whole new way. [3.5/4 stars]|
|Kinect won't satisfy the hard-core gaming crowd, but we think it'll delight children and make for an excellent entertainment piece at any party. [4/5 stars]|
|The system requires a lot from users in order to work effectively, and rearranging your room to play games is far from ideal. Delay between the player's and the screen is also a significant problem, and while many may not notice, it will certainly stand in the way of more advanced gaming applications. On the other hand, Kinect can be a tremendous amount of fun for casual players, and the creative, controller-free concept is undeniably appealing. [7.5/10]|
|While we're not fully sold on the navigation properties Kinect showcases at this moment, there's a chance the technology will result in more innovative gameplay later on. Whether it will, of course, remains to be seen, and requires a leap of faith on the part of the consumer. [3.5/5 stars]|
We like Kinect a lot. But it's not a perfect product by any means, and many hardcore gamers out there are going to be disappointed by it. [3.5/5 stars]
Like so many new technologies, 3-D camera control needs lots of improvement before it advances from nifty gimmick to fully functional hardware. The software that drives the current version of Kinect leaves a lot to be desired, and even if Microsoft fixes these early problems, the hardware labors under some perhaps insurmountable limitations. [7/10]
|The wow factor surpassed my first touch-screen tap with the Nintendo DS, my first bowling flick on the Wii, or even my first childhood leap with Super Mario Bros. ... It's hard not to look at Kinect and already wonder when Microsoft will release an improved one in the future. But based on the fun I've already had and witnessed, I'd feel disingenuous to encourage anybody to wait that long.|
|The Kinect as hardware is great, but there's plenty of room for software engineers and UI designers to improve. [6/10]|
|Kinect's imprecise, casual approach won't be for everyone, least of all Wii and PlayStation Move fans used to tactile wands and accurate controls. ... Kinect comes across as a wonderful idea with tremendous potential that's still in need of a smarter interface and better controls. [3/5 stars]|
|Games that feature full-body movement make best use of what Kinect can offer. Syncing up your movements with the movements on the screen is a lot easier and more natural with Kinect than with a normal controller. ... But games that would be better enhanced with a physical device in hand feel flat.|
|I was definitely more impressed by the Kinect hardware (and the software) than I imagined I would be. But I'm not ready to champion Kinect as the death knell for controller-based gaming, and I'm not sure I ever will be.|
|Kinect isn't perfect by any means. It's expensive, finicky, unreliable and difficult to accommodate. But it's also an extraordinary piece of futuristic technology. ... It feels, frankly, a lot like your first experience with the Wii; it's not quite as capable as you imagined, but it is inescapably, totally new. And there's no question that non-gamers will be blown away by it, although most will probably find it too expensive.|
|Having only 1 title out of 17 launch games truly do something compelling and new isn't a very good launch, especially for people who don't like dance games. Right now, the answer to the fundamental question of "are you having fun with Kinect" is, unfortunately, "not really."|
|For now, Kinect is a device for people with extra money and — very important — a lot of room in front of their TV. ... Kinect merits a visit to your friend's house if you hear he or she has it. But it's not must-own yet, more like must-eventually own.|
|Despite the cool tech, none of the launch games are going to be anything you'll be playing a month from now, and there's no top-tier, first-party title like a "Gears of War" or a "Legend of Zelda" to entice you. Those games may be coming in the future, but for right now you should feel safe in knowing that you're not missing out.|
|n/a||San Jose Mercury News|
|While the gameplay concepts are there, developers have yet to capitalize on it. ... [And] it's still buggy. All the kinks need to be worked out. At times the system doesn't work right.|
|When Kinect becomes the device that lets me sit on the couch and interact with my 360 and some games it will earn a permanent place on my gaming center, until then it's reserved for group game night.|
|The lack of buttons with the Kinect is a big, big problem. ... It's telling that when I play a game with the Move after spending a week with the Kinect everything seems more satisfying with the Move.|
|I have to put this bluntly: If you don't have at least 8 feet of unobstructed space between where you plan to place the sensor and the limit of how far back you can stand, Kinect will just not work right. ... I find the technology itself fascinating, but the fact that I know a lot of people who simply won't get Kinect to work in their rooms beyond troubling.|
What do you think?
Xbox owners: Are you excited about the Kinect? Let us know in the comments section below.