New tech is fun to play with. For the longest time I only ever owned a PlayStation 3, but after Christmas last year an Xbox 360 with Kinect (albeit the lowly 4GB model) was one of the new tech items that made its way into my home. New tech is fun, if it works. Kinect is new tech (new is loosely applied as it has been out for a year now) and as such developers are still trying to figure out ways to get it to work without the experience being completely broken, repetitious, or pointless. Or all three.
Aside from dancing games like Dance Central (or the Galactic Dance Off in Kinect Star Wars), there aren’t a ton of unique Kinect game experiences like The Gunstringer or Happy Action Theater to choose from. Instead the majority of Kinect titles are mini-games cobbled together around a themed menu. Kinect Rush: A Disney•Pixar Adventure doesn’t deviate from this plan.
The premise is that Pixar has a theme park where kids can play on oversized set-pieces from Toy Story, Cars, Up, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. Different kids enact different adventures, expanding moments from each movie through various on-rails encounters. Jumping, running in place, hanging from zip lines, and rushing down slides all sound fun, but actually doing so as an interaction in a video game is only best done in very short spurts.
Throughout my various sessions with the game, an achievement-like message popped up suggesting I stop if I was tired. Obviously the game wants kids (or adults) to have fun and get some exercise at the same time, but there is also perhaps an assumption that most gamers are not used to the type of physical exertion that the game actually requires. I don’t mind moving my arms back and forth to mimic walking or running in place. I don’t mind jumping, or flailing my arms about either. I just wish that the game (or more likely the Kinect itself) was more precise at determining when I’m just trying to do the expected motions and NOT moving my body left or right, which is the only way to steer or navigate in the world.
Nothing is more frustrating in this game than trying to perform the expected motions without actually moving your entire body so that the game doesn’t think you suddenly want to veer off to the left or right. Because most of the levels in the game are on-rails and forward motion is not something you have direct control over, the option to even attempt to collect some of the objects in the world is an exercise in futility. Collecting all of the extras in a level unlocks additional characters and new modes to replay the same levels, which is a nice option for diehard Pixar fans, but not something most players will want to hassle with due to the finicky controls.
While the individual stories from each movie aren’t anything mind blowing or unique, they are crafted to work within the confines of using only the Kinect as a method for control. Aside from the game not being able to consistently detect whether or not you are trying to twist left or right, most other movements are accurately picked up by the Kinect. My one major complaint about the game is that it uses a mix of voice commands and gestures to navigate within the menus prior to playing a level. For some reason almost every menu has a voice-activated command (which works really well), except in the case of the main menu structure where the Kinect identifies which person is actually playing so that their gamertag can be proportionally assigned.
One other frustrating component to the game is the option to create your own avatar. When I first got the game, my son (who is a budding tech wiz) excitedly put the disc in and went about trying to create his own virtual version of himself. I wasn’t completely watching to see what his issue was, but after about 2 minutes of trying to create his own character, he gave up and took the disc out and has openly vowed to not play the game again. I thought his words were a bit harsh, but when I finally had my chance to create my own avatar I quickly realized what he was complaining about.
When creating a character, the on-screen display shows an outline of a body with a live camera view of yourself. The game asks that you stand within the body outline so that it can scan and create a virtual you. I’m not sure if the problem is with the game itself or with the Kinect, but after scanning for a few seconds it keeps prompting me to stop moving. I’m not moving. Then it tells me to stand back. I do. Then it says to step closer. I do. Then it tells me to stop moving again. Well which do you want? Move, don’t move, stand back, move closer? Make up your damn mind!
Sadly this initial moment is the only impression my son took away from the game. While I can understand why he was frustrated and put the game away, I think the game could have done a better job explaining that creating a personal avatar isn’t necessary and that there are plenty of pre-made ones ripe for the picking. Either that or, I don’t know, make the damn character creation actually work. That would be nice. As I said earlier, new tech is fun, but only if it works. In this case it mostly works, but just left a bad first taste in the mouth of its primary target audience.
Kinect Rush: A Disney•Pixar Adventure (try saying that five times fast!) is not a bad game if taken in small doses, and it does a wonderful job capturing the look and atmosphere of the movies it draws from. Unfortunately, even with the potential for replay within each level, the game just doesn’t have a lot of substance. Kids may find it charming and fun, or they may completely dismiss it. The one thing going for this game is the potential to play as some of the coolest Pixar characters in scenes from some of the studio’s most beloved worlds, but I can’t help but think that this game would have been far better played as a conventional controller-based platformer. At best this game is a way to get kids to exercise while playing a video game, but at the same time kids could just go outside and make up their own stories like the kids in the game world do.
+ Voice commands work well
+ Lots of potential replay value
+ Good way for kids to exercise while playing a video game
– Kinect controls are too sensitive
– Each level feels like a repeat of the last with a different movie theme
– Creating your own hero avatar doesn’t work
Platform: Xbox 360 Kinect
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release Date: 3/20/2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Source: Review copy provided by publisher