Version tested: Xbox 360
Unlike Kinect Sports and Adventures, Joy Ride doesn't actually make you move very much. You can even play it sitting down with moderate success. You simply hold your hands out in front of you on an imaginary steering wheel and veer left and right, and your avatar will do the same in its little sportsmobile. There's no need to worry about accelerating and braking, as the game does that for you. You've got more important things to fret over, like how you're going to pay the rent after spending £165 on a magic camera and a racing game.
There's a modicum of finesse to the control system, but nothing overcomplicated. You can lean into your turns to drift, boost by pulling your hands towards your chest to charge up and then thrusting them outwards again, and pull tricks in the air by twisting your body. All of this can have unpredictable results at times, but as you grow accustomed to the way the Kinect sensor likes you to stand and move, you feel increasingly in control.
The game doesn't really care if you go off-road, thankfully. Racing on the grass or dirt doesn't slow you down, and your car simply smashes through trees, fences and other obstacles without a care in the world or a dent in the bonnet. This is good, because you will inevitably find yourself miles away from the track. All the time. When you can't control your speed to slow down for corners and the steering isn't very sensitive anyway, it's very difficult to stay on the road.
With that in mind, it's sensible that the game has been designed so that accuracy doesn't matter, although it could also be seen as an admission that it's not capable of accuracy. Either way, it's impressively accessible. Anybody, even little kids, can pick up everything they need to know within about thirty seconds, and it's difficult to fail challenges altogether.
A second player can jump in and out at any time between races just by moving into position in front of the sensor. If they have a profile on the console, Kinect will try to recognise them – otherwise, it will assign them a random avatar.
There are five game modes, each with just one course unlocked at the start. Pro Race is a straightforward competition; Battle Race is the same, but with added items like missiles, speed boosts and a teleporter, which you use by stretching your arm out to touch an icon. Both of these game types are playable against on Xbox Live.
Stunt puts you in a half-pipe and asks you to score as many points as possible by twisting and turning in the air and collecting fruit pick-ups. [There is no videogame that is not improved by the addition of fruit – Ed.] Smash drops you into a circular arena full of wooden statues to obliterate. Dash is a super-high-speed drag race where all you have to do it switch lanes to avoid obstacles – this mode can be extremely fiddly. In Trick, the most out-of-place mode, your car sprouts wings and your Avatar balances on a wing whilst you strike poses.
If you score well, you'll gain fans and unlock increasingly challenging courses and more cars, though I can't say I've noticed a discernible difference in handling or speed between them. At first it seems like there might be a decent amount of content, but after about half an hour, you'll realise that you're just doing the same things over and over again.
Of all the game modes, the Race and Stunt modes are the only ones that offer any lasting value. There are only seven full racecourses in total, and you have to endure an awful lot of grinding to unlock the last of them. As they get harder, the lack of precise control becomes more and more dismaying.
Joy Ride also has the same photo-taking habit as its brothers Adventures and Sport. I really wish it wouldn't do that. It's not preserving moments of fun for all eternity, it's taking embarrassing pictures of you and a mate standing up with your arms out in front of you and, usually, unattractive expressions of fear and concentration on your faces. It doesn't superimpose a marker-pen cock on your face, but it might as well. At least in Sports and Adventures you tend to be actually doing something with your body when it takes those surreptitious snaps.
Joy Ride's stickiest problem is its menu system. It uses the same functional gesture controls as other Kinect titles, asking you to hold your hand out in front of you and move it around to select icons, but after every single race it boots you right back to the main menu, five screens away from another go. For a game that's supposed to support frictionless, jump-in multiplayer, this is a real issue. The faffing makes twenty minutes playing Joy Ride feel more like an hour.
Every trip to the menu is another chance for Kinect to forget who you are, too. When you're playing during the day in ideal lighting conditions, this isn't so much of a problem, but as my play session stretched into the evening it would sign me in as a Guest and change my avatar to some hateful preset about one in three times. It's a small irritation, but it mounts, and recalibration didn't help much. Having to physically sign in over and over with hand gestures just makes you wish for a controller.
But then, with a controller, Joy Ride would just be a bland cartoon racer. Without one, it's a bland cartoon racer with an easily exhaustible gimmick. It's fun for a while, but by no stretch of the imagination is it worth £35. If it were bundled, or a downloadable title at a third of the price, it might pick up an extra point, but it doesn't have enough depth to justify the investment. It's not that Joy Ride doesn't work – it works perfectly well, within its own clear limitations – it's just that it's not something you'll want to play more than once or twice, with or without a pad in your hands.
5 / 10