Version tested: Xbox 360
Like most people, I don't make sweeping generalisations. It's probably fair to say, however, that no one wants to be treated like a human d-pad.
If Kinect makes you the controller, then MotionSports makes you a NES pad. Even worse, the game's archaic design only reinforces that notion. Unlike Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports or the excellent Dance Central, this is a game that makes Microsoft's accessory look pointless and – at times – even broken.
That isn't Kinect's fault, though. MotionSports would have been terrible on any platform, with any controller. This, after all, is a game that features the brilliant Midfield Kick, in which you are challenged to boot a football from the centre spot into an open goal.
That kind of lazy design permeates the entire experience and isn't helped by awful implementation of Kinect's technology. Of the six Kinect games I've played so far, this is by far the worst at recognising your movements, a point only hammered home by its suspicious lack of full-body avatar control.
Take the skiing. What begins as a thrilling downhill race where you need to crouch and use skiing poles to build speed soon deviates into an extremely frustrating joyride on ice, it's almost impossible to turn left or right with any purpose or accuracy. A ski-jump event is better, but by the time it's unlocked, you'll be too frustrated to care.
The football, meanwhile, should have been a real kick in the teeth, but MotionSports isn't very good at kicks either. An awful Penalty Shootout mode highlights one of the biggest problems – the d-pad effect. Instead of recognising well-struck shots to the corner, the game simply pushes them on to the post, every time. It's the equivalent of holding right or left for too long in a traditional, pad-controlled shootout and it makes you seriously question the game's underlying mechanics.
The only solution to this problem is to treat your leg like a pad and throw kicks diagonally, with all the enthusiasm of a drugged-up Karate Kid. The higher your leg finishes, the higher the shot goes. To make matters worse, if you don't stand in exactly the right spot, you'll 'miss' the ball.
Meanwhile, corners weren't the only thing cut in the football line-up, as Penalty Shootout and the admittedly sensational Midfield Kick are the only two modes available.
American football fares better than its counterpart, but not by much. A running back mini-game, in which your avatar must avoid approaching obstacles, is blighted by lag. If you don't duck or sidestep at least a second before your avatar requires it, then the movement comes too late. The character doesn't dip incrementally either, or match your movements smoothly, like the avatars in Kinect Adventures do.
Surely the whole point of Kinect is to mirror your entire body in these situations, but MotionSports doesn't bother, which leads one to assume that Ubisoft Milan simply weren't capable of it, or – to give the developers some credit – didn't have time to implement the feature properly.
The other two American football events, quarterback throws and field goals, are even worse. In the quarterback game, I was expecting to throw a ball to the receiver, but ended up on the receiving end myself – of some terrible gameplay. (I'm available for parties.)
Put simply, your job as star quarterback is to fling your hand at the screen when prompted. As with most of these activities, there's no real sense of control or ownership over what's happening. You might as well be pressing X.
Field goals, meanwhile, are the award-winning Midfield Kick all over again. To make adjustments for wind direction, you simply step to the side, so the camera follows you, and then kick diagonally. Once you do that, the ball will go over the bar every time.
At this stage, you might be wondering about the structure of MotionSports and how these mini-games fit into the overall scheme of things. Note that I use the word 'scheme' lightly here, as that implies there's one in place.
Each of the six sports on offer has seven or eight events to unlock, which you do by earning medals and thus increasing your 'fame' points. The fact that your fame level dictates progress is something the game never makes clear, a blatant oversight. It's extremely confusing, not to mention aggravating, to earn a gold medal and yet have the subsequent event remain locked. Playing with friends only heightens the confusion, as fame points are individual to each user.
Terrible loading times, cheap presentation and a shoddy translation certainly don't help the cause.
That's not to say MotionSports hasn't done certain things well on a very basic level. The horseback riding is amusing for about ten minutes before you realise the first two events are repeated over and over. Seeing a friend bounce up and down like a lunatic while using a whipping motion to drive the horse onwards is arguably the game's strongest selling point. Also, at the risk of sounding both sexist and ageist, little girls will probably enjoy the show-jumping event.
Meanwhile, the hang-gliding makes for a good tech demo, but a terrible game. Holding your arms out like the wings of a plane, your goal is to reach a landing point while collecting optional rings along the way. Pilotwings it isn't. Not only is this gliding event boring, but holding your arms out like that, for minutes at a time, is extremely difficult. That's considered a tough exercise in boxing training.
Speaking of which, Ubisoft clearly based the MotionSports boxing on Audley Harrison, who was clobbered by David Haye in a heavyweight world title fight recently. After three rounds, Harrison didn't register a single punch – which, funnily enough, is exactly the same experience I had with MotionSports boxing, despite being a competitive boxer myself. Even by MotionSports' terrible standards, the boxing is a broken, unresponsive and frustrating low point.
In fact, there are so many things wrong with MotionSports that Microsoft took something of a risk including it in the launch line-up. With unresponsive controls, bare-bones game design and a bewildering lack of in-game guidance or tutorials, it's only likely to confuse the casual market, not win it over.
More than that, however, it's just going to annoy people. Bad games are frustrating enough without asking you to stick your arse in the air and twist from side to side, or do a fancy twirl that doesn't register. Besides, that's what dance floors are for.
Hopefully this is the last we'll see of the human d-pad experiment. I spend enough time under the thumb as it is.
3 / 10