Which brings us on nicely to Kinect Adventures, the full game from the team led by Natal creative mastermind Kudo Tsunoda. Yes, the old Ricochet demo is back, but this time it is integrated into a full game consisting of 20 different "adventures". So, mini-games. We get the chance to play three of them. Ricochet itself remains much as the same as it was when we played it last year, albeit with graphical changes.
However, what's curious about the game is that the 1:1 mapping between human motion and character movement on-screen isn't quite as smooth as I remember it. At gamescom last year the on-screen Avatar was uncannily mapped to your actions. Here the skeletal structure seems somewhat more rigid, almost as though the number of control points has been dialled back.
The obstacle course section sees your Avatar on a moving trolley, and you're tasked with moving out of the way of oncoming barriers, whether by side-stepping, ducking or jumping. Collecting bonus tokens is the name of the game and that often involves striking a pose to match the way that the pickups are arranged as they hurtle towards you.
All pretty good fun but, like Kinect Sports, you often feel as though you're jumping or ducking too late, and that you need to "buffer up" your commands in advance. You can blame lag for this, of course, but I think the issue here isn't just a technological one - it's biological too.
Let's assume for a moment that both Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures do indeed have 150ms latency. One reason for the feeling of lag will be that the human body simply doesn't react as quickly as our fingers do. It takes us longer to physically jump than it does for someone to push a button with the intent of jumping. All this is over and above whatever latency gesture recognition might add, of course.
One element about Kinect Adventures which really must be applauded is its implementation of split-screen two-player. It's literally drop-in, drop-out in a local flavour. If you're playing the game solo and someone wants to join in, all they need do is "jump in" to the scene and start playing. The game automatically changes into a split-screen configuration and will return to the solo view if one of the players then decides to duck out of the camera's view.
The final game in the three-level demo of Kinect Adventures is River Rush. You've caught a glimpse of it in the now-infamous Parade video of Kinect in action. One or two players take on rough waters collecting tokens, dodging obstacles and leaping to different parts of the level. Weave or step left or right to move the onscreen dingy and jump to send it flying into the air.
All very straightforward, all very fine. It's worth pointing out that Kinect Adventures uses Unreal Engine, so along with Rare's Kinect Sports it's the best-looking title.
The most effective Kinect game at this evening's hands-on event, though? Harmonix's Dance Central has got "massive hit" written all over it.
The idea is extremely straightforward: choose the track of your choice (Lady Gaga has a sizeable representation), then mirror the on-screen dancer's moves. These individual moves are buffered up with explanatory directions to the side so you can effortlessly move from one step to the next. It's easy to get into, great fun to play and because it's essentially a massive exercise in gesture control, there is no discernible latency.
It's ironic that the game with perhaps the least Kinect technology in direct evidence during gameplay is probably going to be the biggest hit, but the bottom line is that the genius is all in the implementation, and Harmonix has got that just right.
Dance Central occasionally diverts from its "mirror my actions" gameplay to instrumental breaks, where the on-screen dancer disappears to be replaced by the player in the form of Kinect's depth map, rounded out and smoothed off, then filtered with a range of psychedelic effects. When the break is over, you're also treated to a range of stills taken from the camera, showing the best of your freestyle groovin'.
It's a nice diversion from the core gameplay, and those "action stills" crop up in other titles like Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports. Rare's game even offers the chance to upload the "player view" camera feed to YouTube - the first time I can recall that an Xbox 360 title has been allowed to communicate in such a manner with a third-party website outside the Live domain.