Friday, November 12, 2010

Video game number three hundred and twenty two: Kinect Joyride

Video game review number three hundred and twenty two in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Kinect Joyride"

A long time ago, in the galaxy we live in, Joyride was supposed to be a free game on Xbox Live Arcade. It was announced at E3, and hyped as something you'd be able to play with these new "Avatar" things that Xbox was rolling out to make the console a little more family friendly. Apparently, somewhere along the way...someone in a meeting decided this game could be altered to work with Kinect, and the rest is history. All the E3 announcements were mysteriously removed from the developer's official website and this game was never released in it's original intended format. Something that was once scheduled to be a free arcade game controlled with a controller gets hastily patched and becomes a 50 dollar Kinect motion control launch title.

The first time I heard about this "transformation", I was pretty upset. I love cart racers, and I especially loved the idea of a really good one on Xbox Live Arcade. I liked the idea that a ton of people would download this for free, because that would mean there would always be someone to play with online (the way there was for 1 vs 100 and the way there still is for Mario Kart on the Wii). On top of that, I was excited by all the previews I saw. It looked like it was shaping up to be something special, with "fun" graphics, cool items and lots of stunts.

The game that has been delivered on Kinect's launch day still looks really fun, but unfortunately, the motion controls have rendered it rather lame. Instead of tight turns, quick acceleration and braking around the corners (the cornerstone of all good carting games), the only three things the player really "controls" (I use that term loosely here) are steering, boost and stunts.

To "drive", you hold your arms out as if you were gripping a pretend steering wheel (something I never enjoyed doing on Mario Kart Wii). It feels rather ridiculous as you awkwardly try to drive yourself down a ton of awesome race tracks using nothing but your arms. The tracks are beautifully designed, but the steering is shit, so you'll often crash into walls or other obstacles you never intended to drive into. I liken this game to being stuck in the passenger seat of a car being driven by a drunk driver. You feel like you're out of control, and you pretty much know you're going to crash every once in awhile.

Frankly, this never would have happened with a real controller. You also can't control your gas or braking, so there's no real sense of speed. The car goes as fast as the game wants it to go, you just try to steer it. If you pull both your arms back to your chest, you can also (sometimes) charge your boost. Once you thrust both arms forward, the boost deploys, and you go faster. That's fun, when you can get it to work.

The final thing you can control is your stunts. Basically, whenever you go off a jump, you twist and contort your body and the car will mimic your movements by rolling and pitching in whatever direction you happen to move in. This is actually kind of cool, and every track has several opportunities for huge stunts. There's a dedicated stunt mode, where pretty much all you do is jump off ramps and collect items in the air. That's probably my favorite mode in the game. I really enjoy it.

I wanted to give this game a fair shake, so I played for awhile, even though I really don't like it as a concept. I unlocked some tracks in race mode, then I switched over to smash and stunt modes. Both of these focused much less on precise steering, and as a result, were a lot more fun. After that, I logged on to Xbox Live, and ended up playing 5 games in a row online against someone from the UK. He beat me 4/5 races, but was a pretty nice guy just the same. We talked a lot about what we thought about Kinect and this game in particular.

This was actually my first venture into online multiplayer with Kinect. It was kind of cool not having to wear a headset. At first, he couldn't hear me, because my Kinect sensor is mounted directly in front of my center speaker above my TV, but I turned that speaker off and then voice was fine, even though my side speakers were still pretty loud. I could hear him fine in lobbies, but had trouble hearing him during the races, I'm not sure why that was. I'll have to try more online games to see if it's a similar experience.

Overall Score? 5/10. This game probably could have been amazing on Xbox Live Arcade, but on's only average. It's definitely a fun "Kinect experience", and I'm sure I'll show it to my friends when they come over, but it's a shitty racing game when you measure it up against every other racing game out there. I really wish that the Xbox Live Arcade version will still eventually be released in the future sometime, but I seriously doubt that will ever happen. I think it would only serve to call out why some games are always going to be better with a controller. This is absolutely one of them.

Achievements? I got a few so far. I'm going to go back (there are still more modes to try, and I think the local multiplayer will be fun for guests), but I don't think I'll ever 100% it.

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