Games That Get The Kinect

The Kinect is one of the strangest pieces of hardware on the market. With the tagline of “you are the controller”, it was Microsoft’s attempt to jump into the motion gaming market with the rest of the consoles in the wake of the Wii’s success. But despite being a unique identity with no additional hardware needed, Kinect has received a pretty bad rap for having less-than-satisfactory games with poor controls and lack of any real appeal. Mechanics feel wonky, the games aren’t interesting, and it often feels more like a gimmick than an actual gaming experience.

In an attempt to curb this, Microsoft has tried to find other ways to shoehorn the Kinect in with various titles released on the 360. The most popular, of course, is voice commands integrated into gameplay that help direct NPCs or even aid in inventory selection.

But the real issue with the Kinect is not that its games are terrible (which some of them are, I will be the first to admit), it’s that the development of them is appealing to mechanics that the hardware isn’t yet capable of.

This was painfully apparent in the recent release of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. A game with multiple fine-tuned controls and options, what started out as a promising and even somewhat exciting idea became a game mechanic nightmare, complete with some of the worst controls ever seen on the Kinect. With an array of levers and buttons laid out in front of the player, there was no end to the frustration of never being able to select the right part and activate one of the various parts of the mech piloted by the gamer. The result was a near-broken game with abysmal review scores that don’t stray from below 5/10.

On paper, the idea for Steel Battalion was a mildly interesting one. It used both the controller and the Kinect in a hybrid-style control system, and it seems like it would actually work well using motion controls. The problem, however, was that the game relied heavily on a responsiveness and fine recognition the Kinect simply can’t handle, which resulted in gameplay more frustrating than Superman 64.

Believe it or not, there are games that do actually understand and use the Kinect to a surprisingly pleasant and fun result. How do they do this? They rely on large, general motions rather than fine-tuned ones that allow the Kinect to easily pick it up. They trade specifics for generality, and the gameplay is toned down and made much simpler to allow for an experience that doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out. So, what games do understand and harness the Kinect in a good way?

Happy Action Theatre

While it’s been described more as an “experience” than a game, Happy Action Theater is a series of interactive activities that utilize the Kinect with general, free-form motions. Throughout the game, players can swim in lava, interact with doves, and light off fireworks in their own home. Sure, it’s not going to suck you in for hours upon hours of gameplay, but it works, and it works well.




The Gunstringer

Following the adventures of the undead puppet known as The Gunstringer, this on-rails shooter from developer Twisted Pixel is surprisingly easy to play and enjoyable. Players take control of the puppet by moving him around like a marionette, while jerking their free hand back to shoot at targets. It’s the general, large motions here that are very responsive and make the game exciting.




For those who want a pet minus the hair and cleanup, Kinectimals is a game that allows the player to interact with their own animal onscreen. Expansions have allowed for various exotic animals to be made available on consoles, and controls are varied and easy to pick up.




Kinect Sports

Like all other motion-based gaming, a sports game came bundled with the hardware that worked surprisingly well. Players were able to compete in track events, table tennis, soccer, and even bowling in this game with intuitive controls that worked well, especially when played with a group.



Fruit Ninja Kinect

A port of the iOS hit Fruit Ninja, the Kinect version worked well for the same reason the touch-based version did: simple controls. While the game exclusively utilized swiping for gameplay in the iOS original, the Kinect version managed its own version of this by using general slicing and chopping motions with the arms. It’s responsive, it’s easy, and it’s just as addictive as the iOS original.


Dance Central

No motion-control list would be complete without mentioning a dance-based game. Dance Central is another title for the Kinect that just works; it tracks entire body movement, rather than a fine motor function, making the responsiveness easy and fun.




While we can expect to see a much better and improved version of the Kinect with the next generation of consoles, we have to keep in mind that for the time being, the Kinect is not quite up to par with what many developers think it is. When it comes to motion-based gaming, the simpler is the better, and we cannot forget that people are much more likely to embrace a game that is both intuitive and enjoyable.

No one likes to rage quit. Especially when there’s no controller to smash.