As you may have gather from my obsessing over Wii-Sports Resort table tennis and the recent Sports Champion table tennis on PS3, I’m something of a ping pong fan. The sport brings that magical mix of deft touch and accuracy that is perfect for a video game. Although I play in real life, with a young family I’ve appreciated being able to play with friends on the Wii or PS3 when they come over for an evening.
With Kinect coming out, I’ve been itching to try out Kinect Sports table tennis addition to the table tennis pantheon. The last few days I’ve been lucky enough to put the game through it’s paces. Here’s how it looks after a few days – the short story here is that it is much better than you would expect:
I really wasn’t expecting all that much from Kinect Sports table tennis – after all Kinect is about tracking limbs rather than hands. But I’ve been more than a little surprised by Rare’s motion controlled sports collection – and their Table Tennis delivery in particular.
Getting started with Kinect was simplicity itself. The camera is powered and adjusts itself to ensure the best view of you. Any calibration and setup is seamless – much easier and less problematic than the sometimes fussy Move, although not quite as instant as the Wii. And controlling the 360 with just your voice is eerily fun – and more importantly means you don’t have to pick up a controller even before or after the game, a frustration with PS3′s Move experience.
The moment it placed a ball in my left hand – bat in the right – and asked me to serve was magical. The sense that the console was really seeing me totally changed how it felt to play. Tossing the ball with one hand and hitting with the other instantly made Wii-Sports mapping of both actions to one controller feel rather stilted.
Having served, I could control my shots much more than I expected. Instinctively holding my palm flat I could sweep under the ball for backspin or over the top for a topspin. There isn’t the same fidelity of spin as the Wii – or ability to curve the shot – but the sense of connection is maintained well.
What I hadn’t expected though was that Kinect not only tracked my limb movements, but also my position in front of the camera and torso rotation. I could move left or right to go wide for a shot – in fact I soon learnt that I needed to. And by rotating my body left or right I could easily step around a backhand to hit a forehand shot down the line.
As the table tennis play speeds up, Kinect Sports calls in a few tricks from the Wii and PS3. If you miss-hit a shot the ball gains a wobbly trail like in Wii-Sports Resort, indicating the other player can perform a smash. And like Sports Champions, at high speeds the game is less insistent on an actual contact between bat and ball to pull a shot off. It sounds strange I know, but this makes the really fast shots actually achievable.
Timing of the shot still dictates how clean a contact you make though and the ball can be directed left or right by swinging in that direction. There’s not the same physical relationship you have in Wii-Sports Resort, but easily enough control to develop a range of tactics and it’s nice having back the direct relationship between the direction of swing and resulting trajectory of the ball.
Drop shots are hard to pull off, and Sports Champions still has the edge here, because you need to make a striking motion to actually make contact with the ball. That said, combine a tight angle with a gentler swing and you can really move your opponent around the table.
Not so good is that the best way to play multiplayer is online – the local mode suffers from reduced level of controls and the need for a large space to play in. With two of you in front of the sensor space is tight, this much I expected, but also the sensor seems to lose its torso detection that made the single player game work so well. It still works with two people, but loses some sparkle.
Having gone to the extent of importing a custom Wii-Sports Table Tennis controller it felt odd not holding anything to control the game. But then I realised I could hold something if I wanted to – and now that imported controller is used for both Wii and Kinect. If I could just get it to glow maybe I could use it for the PS3 as well.
Wired: Hands free controls work wonders for families.
Tired: You need a big space to get the most out of Kinect controls.
Kinect Sports is available for $47.99 from Amazon.