The trajectory of most new video game hardware is a lot like the trajectory of a really good game of Defender: you fight for survival, you struggle to meet a specific set of criteria, and once you've done all that, the second wave swoops in and it's back to the grind. Hardware can't hyperspace its way out of trouble though. That bit of the analogy doesn't work.
For Kinect, instead of blasting mutants and saving pixelated disco astronauts, Microsoft had to get enough peripherals into peoples' homes, and then steadily work at updating the software to give designers the kind of fidelity they could actually use. With 10 million cameras sold - or just shipped to retail? I can never remember - and a lot of game studios making appreciative noises about recent updates, that seems to have happened. Now, at a recent product showcase, Team Xbox has been showing off some of the second-generation Kinect titles that are coming later this year.
For a lot of developers, the shift seems to have been away from frantic anything-goes experimentation towards finding out whether Kinect's any good at violence. You'll be using the peripheral - if you want to - in big-budget shooters like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Mass Effect 3, but there is also a range of bespoke action games on the way for which Kinect isn't just an afterthought.
Leading the pack is Sega's Rise of Nightmares, a singularly ambitious Kinect title in that it breaks a few cardinal rules: it's aimed at a core audience, it's incredibly violent, and it's not on rails. AM1's latest channels some of its team members' experience with The House of the Dead to create a moody little bludgeon fest that sees you kidnapped while on holiday in Eastern Europe and held captive by a torture-happy doctor type who looks just like Mel Blanc off of Looney Tunes.
"At one point I was bludgeoning some zombie or other with a scooped-out chest cavity and a Rod Stewart haircut."
The control scheme takes a little getting used to, but seems fairly promising. Movement's handled by putting your right foot forward and using your shoulders to turn, and you interact with in-game objects - grabbing weapons or opening doors, say - by holding out your right hand.
When it's time for a fight, raising both fists gets you into a punching stance, and then you can keep enemies at bay with jabs from your left and finish them with all manner of melee tools in your right. Weapons degrade over time, so you'll need to pick your battles, and in a brief five-minute demo, I messed around with a lead pipe and a chainsaw. Just like Cluedo, then. Apart from the chainsaw. That bit of the analogy doesn't work either.
Sega's promising that the control scheme is going to be tweaked a little before release and, to be honest, it's currently a little too sensitive for someone with my particular level of basic co-ordination problems. There are plenty of clever touches, though, from the instant enemy lock-on when you get into a fight to the fact that you can raise your hand at any time and the game will start moving towards your next objective automatically. On a side note, at one point I was bludgeoning some zombie or other with a scooped-out chest cavity and a Rod Stewart haircut. God bless Sega.
Star Wars Kinect - or it may be Kinect: Star Wars - has more big-budget visual polish than the rather murky Rise of Nightmares, but is a little further away from the finish line in terms of nailed-down features. The demo I played through was on rails, for example, but the developer still hasn't confirmed whether the final game will be too.
Either way, Terminal Reality's definitely on its way to making something that at least looks like the trailer unveiled back at E3 2010. There are lightsabers (right hand), force blast and force throw (left hand) and even that weird scooting dash the first footage hinted at (duck your head forward), while the game's Time Crisis-style assortments of enemies require you to dodge to the left or right and even jump behind them in order to cut them down. After years on the Wii Balance Board, it's strange to be allowed to actually jump in a motion-sensitive videogame, and it adds a little strategy to some otherwise fairly straightforward battling.
Star Wars certainly seems expensive - Cloud City gleams brightly while enemy droids wobble around with a strange charisma - and if you're a Star Wars fan, you can expect plenty of familiar faces, with a storyline that will include visits to locations from all six of the films. (I almost said all seven, just to make super-fans angry.) It's simple stuff, but that's probably a smart decision on the side of the developers. I'd heard horror stories about the game's inability to interpret basic movements, incidentally, but my demo, at least, held up very well.
Kinect's second wave isn't all about violence, however. In fact, it's tempting to say that younger kids might have the most to look forward to. After all, they've got serious studios like Double Fine and Frontier working on games for them.
Double Fine's offering comes in the form of Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, a product that is so crushingly sweet-natured, I don't mind admitting I shed a very manly tear the first time I encountered it earlier this year - although it was at the end of a very long day and there was something in my eye, okay? It's a storybook adventure aimed at very young children, and it steps away from the usual Sesame Street stuff of literacy and numeracy to teach basic social skills. I expect to learn a lot.
The game's divided into six chapters, each of which will have roughly six different mini-games. Chapters take about half an hour to complete, and see the gang helping a different monster with a personal problem. Marco, for example, is pretty upset because nobody came to his (her? its?) birthday party, while Grrhoof has a scary face but really wants to make friends. Know the feeling, Grrhoof.
Expect pretty basic games handled with artistic flair. One example sees you reaching around the screen to direct glow-worms over to a tree in order to create a pleasant glittering diorama - not sure how this helps messrs no-friends and ugly-mug, mind - while another has you copying Grrhoof's movements, so that he presumably won't feel like such a social outcast. The Sesame Street gang are rendered beautifully, and the game has just the kind of gentle humour you'd expect from a union of the Children's Television Workshop and the people behind Psychonauts. The kids have lucked in, then.
Frontier looks to be handing in some top quality work too, with Kinect Disneyland Adventures. Now, pretend for a second that you really, really like Disneyland (professional disclosure: I'm not even pretending), and then try to imagine how excited you'd be if someone squashed the whole thing down onto a disk.
That's what the house of Elite has done. It's recreated the real Disneyland - the Anaheim, California one - as a fully explorable open world, and set within it a series of stages based around the famous rides. At the moment, the team's only showing off Peter Pan's Flight and Big Thunder Mountain: both seem to involve swooping around beautiful dioramas collecting stuff.
Multiple paths are promised, and the eye candy is excellent, with Peter Pan's London being particularly pretty: a wonderful midnight blue world of chimney pots and roof tiles. The navigation isn't bad either - these are reinventions of the rides as the Imagineers wished they could have built them, apparently, so you'll fly through Neverland with your arms outstretched, leaning to turn and flapping to get a speed boost, instead of hopping into a mechanical galleon which I've always suspected could have your arm off.
Disneyland itself is far more than just a hub. You'll be able to explore every element of the park, using a neat movement system that sees you pointing at the screen to shuffle around, and your kids can interact with famous Disney characters, many of whom will send them on quests. When that's done, there are always plenty of bonus objects to hunt for and mess around with, and when that's done, remember that it's still Disneyland in your freaking living room. If there isn't a level based on the Haunted Mansion, mind you, I will go absolutely mental.
Beyond all that, Microsoft is also releasing its fair share of straight-up sequels. Kinect Sports 2 is on the way, and although the good stuff is currently embargoed, I can say that the blank looks very blank.
Elsewhere, Harmonix has added drop-in, drop-out multiplayer to Dance Central 2. Each player will be able to select their own difficulty level, practice mode will allow you to work on specific parts of songs, and you'll be free to import all your tracks from the original game. Otherwise, it looks a lot like business as usual, which means that it's still a party game you're going to struggle to play at parties, because newcomers won't have a clue what they're doing.
That's the start of Kinect's second wave of games, then: Microsoft's many-fronts assault on this year's Christmas market. As attacks go, the Xbox has certainly built up a bit of momentum, and now it remains... No. The second bit of that analogy just wasn't going to work.