Your Shape: Fitness Evolved
Just like Dance Central, the Kinect hardware is also tailor-made for the next game on the roster, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.
There are definite shades of Wii Fit here. The player follows the movements of the on-screen guide in a series of yogic movements, punctuated with mini-games that include clearing the screen of blocks by punching and kicking them.
The visuals are clean and attractive and the transposition of player motion into on-screen action looks great. Lag is clearly in evidence, but it's not exactly an issue for a game like this, and only really apparent during the faster-paced mini-games.
Probably the weakest of the titles at the event is Kinect's Joy Ride. It's a cartoon-esque, Crazy Taxi-style driving game that uses a control system extremely similar to the old Natal Burnout demo we saw at E3 and gamescom last year.
Hands are held out before you to simulate holding the steering wheel just like the old demo, but there are some new additions: nitros are engaged by pulling back on the "wheel" and then thrusting forward, while physically leaning left and right allows you to exaggerate the turning motion, almost like a conventional power drift.
It's also possible to gain "mad air" and perform various car-based stunts through the contortion of your body and indeed there are game modes and environments specifically designed to put this system through its paces.
However, Joy Ride is clearly showing some issues. First and foremost, from a technical perspective the game appears to be having problems locking on to certain people. While I "interfaced" with it easily enough, poor old Johnny Minkley completely failed to get the motion sensor's attention, leading to three reboots and even a quick glance at the "NUI" (natural user interface, apparently) debug tool to check that the Eurogamer TV chief's skeletal data was being processed, which it was.
Joy Ride also highlights something else of interest that needs work: menu navigation. During the Project Natal Experience shenanigans we got a glimpse of the new Xbox 360 front-end optimised for use with Kinect - it consists of a range of on-screen buttons with the user's hand controlling a glowing sphere, highlighting each option.
In that context, it looked as though a gestural "prod" was used to activate the button. Joy Ride (and indeed Rare's Kinect Sports) also uses the same basic idea, but instead of prodding you leave your "hand" in position on the button and wait for it to engage. It feels clunky and unresponsive, and you also find your hand having to rest in odd, uncomfortable positions simply to activate a menu option.
It's not exactly a major problem in the greater scheme of things, but you still get the sense that developers are finding their feet with these mechanisms. It's interesting to note that in Kudo Tsunoda's Kinect Adventures there is no "prod" - instead you progress through (single "button") menus by making a "zip" style motion, helpfully mirrored on-screen with an appropriate on-screen graphic.
The overall verdict from the handful of games we see is, by and large, positive. These are not core games for traditional gamers - indeed, the only game we've seen that could make that claim is the Star Wars title glimpsed at the Project Natal Experience (and sadly missing from this event). But the impression you get from the best of the games is that they are infectious family fun: they're genuinely entertaining and you want to get involved.
This need to participate is the magical ingredient that made the Wii such a hit, and Microsoft has definitely tapped into that same rich vein, but provided its own unique appeal that provides a sense of involvement that goes well beyond the fun offered by the Wiimote waggle controls.
Whether that sense of entertainment can endure, and whether developers will overcome the many and varied technical challenges of the system remains to be seen, but based on this initial playtest the signs are looking good.
Xbox 360 Kinect is due out this November along with a range of first- and third-party software titles.