Kinect Roundup

Sports! Boarding! Keep fit! Dancing! More boarding!

Version tested Xbox 360

As every platform holder knows, hardware launches must be conducted in accordance with the regulations set out in an act of parliament passed in 1868, commonly known as Gladstone's Mixed Bag Law.

This law states that every launch line-up of software should include a couple of decent titles along with some rubbishy old nonsense. However, line-ups must mainly be comprised of games no one will be able to remember the names of in three years' time.

Microsoft is no lawbreaker. For evidence of this, look no further than Kinect launch games Dance Central, Fighters Uncaged and that thing about leopards.

But with any platform debut, it's the second wave of software which is always the most interesting. Mainly because it tends to be made up of games which could feasibly have been put out at launch but weren't, either because they weren't considered complete and polished enough to fully represent the capabilities of the hardware, or because they are ****.

Perhaps things will be different this time. Perhaps the second lot of Kinect games will surprise us all with their quality, diversity and innovation. Now let's see... A collection of sports mini-games, a keep fit title, a French dancing game, a hoverboarding game starring Sonic the Hedgehog and a hoverboarding game not starring Sonic the Hedgehog. What could possibly go wrong?

(NB: Have no fear, fanboys! A roundup of the second wave of Move titles is coming soon.)

Sports Island Freedom

"Move Your Body! Play All 10 Complete Sports Online," says the back of the Sports Island Freedom box. That is all it says. This is worrying. If you can only afford to pay someone to write two sentences about your game, who knows what your development budget was like.

Plus, you could be in trouble if the best thing you can say about your mini-games is that they're "complete". This implies players are supposed to ignore any issues with the gameplay, and just be grateful you remembered to put in the tennis balls and give everybody hands.

But let's not judge a game by its back cover. Or its front cover, which betrays the publisher's belief that doing the logo in the Mario font will fool us into thinking this game is any good. No. Let us judge Sports Island Freedom by its poor visuals, infuriating interface and supremely tedious mini-games instead.

1

Look out for the sequel, Robben Island Freedom, where you play as Nelson Mandela and must wave your arms about for 18 years.

Anyone for Tennis? You won't be when you discover the court is built on quicksand! Or so it seemed during my first match, judging by the way my character appeared buried up to his waist. Restarting the match solved this problem, but none of the problems the game has when it comes to recognising your moves with any kind of consistency.

It's impossible to hit more than one in five balls, no matter how hard you try or how good a player you are. But don't worry your NPC opponents stay rooted to the spot regardless of where you aim the balls, so they can't return shots either.

The Boxing mini-game sees you controlling a pair of disembodied gloves as you face off with yet more stupid opponents. Just as no one thought to tell the tennis guys you can move around the court, no one told the boxers you can hit back. At one point I simply gave up and stood still, and it took my opponent a full five seconds to realise now might be a good time to throw a punch.

The Archery tournaments take place in the ruins of an ancient temple, so ancient you could swear you remember Lara exploring it in 1994. Hitting the target feels like it has much more to do with luck than skill, while holding an invisible bow and arrow just feels stupid.

Snowboarding Cross suffers from terrible lag and the game's inability to remember that leaning right probably means you want to go right, not jerk left so hard you topple backwards into the snow.

Paintball features a ridiculous control system which involves waving your left arm to move about and your right arm to shoot. While you're trying to manage this, your NPC opponents are trying to work out how to lift their feet off the floor, and failing, so they just slide around the ninetiestastic Gladiators-style arena in an hilarious manner.

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Actual games lie past the menus, if you can get there. We use the word 'games' in the most liberal sense of the word.

Dodge Ball and Beach Volleyball are painfully slow. Mogul Skiing is barely playable due to yet another rotten control system it takes ten minutes to work out what you're supposed to do, and another 15 to get the game to recognise you're doing it. Like Boxing, Kendo isn't very challenging (at one point, I stood there for 17 seconds with my arms folded before my opponent bothered to take a swipe).

The best mini-game is Figure Skating. Yes, really. Unlike with so many of the other games there's no lag, as you're shown the moves you have to perform in advance anyway, and the music's quite nice.

You might think these mini-games would be more fun in multiplayer. Well, good luck trying to persuade anyone to stick with you through the 7000 appallingly designed menu screens you must negotiate before you get anywhere near playing an actual game.

It doesn't help that Sports Island Freedom endlessly struggles to tell your left hand from your right and register what you're trying to select. This makes menu navigation the most challenging mini-game of all.

You'll need even more luck trying to find someone to play against on Xbox Live. I couldn't, for any mini-game, with any settings, at any time of day or night.

Perhaps Sports Island Freedom is best summed up by the person I forced to help me test out the multiplayer mode. His verdict, following several long minutes of tedious menu navigation and 48 seconds of gameplay:

"What is the point of this? It is appalling."

2/10

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