The measure of a Kinect game is not how good it is at detecting your movements, or even how many times you have to recalibrate the controller. The real test is whether it creates enough living-room-theater so that these issues no longer matter.
This kind of ambition sets the tone for Kinect Rush, the latest in a string of ambitious bodily -controlled titles for the 360 controller. Although it may initially sound like this is simply Disneyland Adventures repackaged with Pixar stories and branding, it is actually much more original than that.
Kinect Rush pushes the Kinect controller into uncharted territory with a set of open-world action adventures that are not a million miles away from the Lego video-games (as well as offering some two player racing similar to the Cars 2 console games).
The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and Toy Story each provide the context for a series of adventures. These are accessed via a theme park over-world that although not as interactive as the Disneyland Adventures park still functions as an explorable hub for the game.
Kinect Rush was an instant hit with the kids, not all that surprising what with all those Pixar films. What I was interested to see was how long the excitement lasted. Each of the adventures takes you through a set of stories that run alongside their related films. Rather than following the plot identically they use the film world as a starting point for adventures that are similar to the movie antics.
In Ratatouille for instance you are helping Remi escape the sewers by solving a series of puzzles that involve switches, breaking things and swimming down various waterways. This is a long way from the sort of on-rails action that early Kinect games (like Kinect Adventures) offered, something the kids were quick to point out. They appreciated being able to choose their own path through the level, as well as being able to stop and explore particular areas to find hidden coins (the in-game currency). They also liked the fact that when two of them were playing they could each go their own way through the provision of a split screen mode.
Each completed level unlocks a new chapter. Along the way players are also granted special powers that enable them to gain access to hard-to-reach areas. This provides another reason for them to go back and play the levels they have already finished.
The exploration and puzzle elements in the adventures are interspersed with more action-oriented moments. These involve flying, running, swimming and free falling your way through a particular environment trying to avoid the scenery and collect coins.
From time to time players encounter boss battles. In The Incredibles adventure for instance you find yourself battling an Omnibot by picking up and throwing a variety of large objects at it. These moments require more accuracy and create a greater sense of tension, again something the kids seem to enjoy and rise to the challenge.
There were moments when they found the slightly fussy Kinect controls a little frustrating, but as time went by and they got used to controlling the game (and I tweaked the angle and geography of our gaming setup) these teething issues went away. What remained was a real sense of them being in the Pixar movies they know so well.
This is not only because of the Kinect controls, but also by the way game takes them into each world. This was the part of the game my kids talked about the most after playing. Before each level stats you are in the Pixar park talking to another child. As that child gets more excited and tells the story a imagination bubble appears and the scene shifts as the movie characters pick up the narration. The clever thing here is the way the children in the park move and look like the Pixar characters they will become in the game.
My kids took great joy in trying to guess who each new playmate was going to turn into when they went into the game world. More often than not they could guess correctly. It’s a magical moment and one that is mirrored by the player scan that happens before you start playing the first time.
In similar fashion to the Kinect Me XBLA gadget that used the Kinect camera to created a 360 avatar, Kinect Rush scans the player’s body and head to create an in-game persona. This picks up not only body shape but clothing as well, which is then translated into the different hero, car and robot characters you control in the game.
This worked pretty well, and my kids really enjoy the whole process of being scanned. “It’s like getting on a plane” said my youngest, remembering being scanned at the airport before our last holiday. The room we have Kinect in is quite bright and we found that it struggled to pick out the colors of our clothes, which meant our characters looked either brown or grey in the game.
The adventure modes are complemented with an out and out racing element based on the Cars 2 films. Here you race your way through a variety of story-led challenges with the characters from the movie. This is pretty similar to the Kinect Joy Ride game where players can jump in and out at will. Again as you progress you acquire more weapons and abilities and can access new routes and hidden bonuses.
We’ve still got some way to go before we have completed all three adventures in each of the five films, and have plenty of hidden bonuses still to find and collect. It seems that a determined player could get through all of these in five or six hours but that is really missing the point. The real fun here is in the exploration and general playfulness of each of the worlds you get to play in.
Going back to my measure of a good Kinect game, Rush ticks the right boxes with my kids. Rather than asking for more time on the 360, they have got into the habit of asking if they can visit Ratatouille or The Incredibles. Kinect Rush represents a place they can go and play rather than a game they want to finish, and a big part of this success comes from the theatrics that result from the Kinect controls.