Kinect brings Xbox up to speed with the Wii and PlayStation 3 with its motion-sensitive gaming. But while PlayStation Move comes across as a mere copy of the Wii's input system with improved accuracy, Kinect has a few new tricks of its own.
The human joystick
For a start, there are no wands, remotes or sticks. With Kinect, you are the controller. Place the sensor on top of your TV, plug it in and it cranes its neck to centre itself on you. A combination of three cameras sense your position in three dimensions and trace your body movements.
The Kinect system could overlay your image from its main 640x480 camera onto the action, but in general it uses an onscreen avatar of some sort that mimicks your pirouettes and prances. In some cases there's nothing of you onscreen at all, such as in the Minority Report-style menu screens where you control selections with waves of the hand.
Lag is an issue though, at least with some of the launch games. One-on-one beat-em-up Fighters Uncaged, for example, is almost something very special, but the slight delay between your movements and the game characters holds it back. But there's hope: Dance Central, from the makers of Rock Band, manages to translate your thrashing limbs into cool dance moves without any noticable delay.
Aside from those delays, Kinect does as remarkable job of figuring out what you’re up to. The depth perception makes it possible to interact with games in a much more natural way that simply flapping an arm to one side – start petting your baby tiger in Kinectimals and you’ll be hooked. Well, for an hour or so at least.
Let’s be frank: the initial line-up ain’t great. The Kinect launch titles do little to showcase the massive potential of the system, although Kinectimals is undoubtedly a vote winner for anyone who’s enjoyed Nintendogs on the DS. The Wii demographic will find enough diversions in the short term, but that killer app is absent.
Which brings us to the point of who Kinect is aimed at. For now it seems very much the younger generation. Maybe the inhibited oldies have been struck off Microsoft’s list, but it would be nice to see something beyond the rafting, dancing and sporting fare.
Here’s the best bit: the voice recognition is actually very clever and in our tests refused to be banjaxed by a variety of accents. Speaking a menu item’s name selects it, and there’s plenty of opportunity to talk to your games too. Rather like the jumping and flapping, it might be that this is one step beyond the riper gamers in this world, but it’s there, and it’s impressive.
Despite the somewhat deflated launch line-up, Xbox Kinect is very impressive ineed, and just about the most advanced bit of games tech we’ve seen in the last few years. It does things we didn’t think were actually possible, and we like that a lot. If it gets the right games, Kinect could kick PlayStation Move and Wii into touch.