Nobody ever said pioneering a new type of controller would be an easy thing. Go ask the guys at Nintendo about how unresponsive the Wii could be if not used precisely enough for a particular game. Or we could ask Sony about those barely function Sixaxis controls that are almost never used in any games except when shoehorned in poorly. Microsoft's Kinect follows along on this trend, faring much better than the Sixaxis but a bit behind the Wii. Why has it fallen behind on the Wii when it theoretically should be a superior experience?
No damn buttons.
Okay, okay - let's back up just a bit. If you've been following anything relating to gaming you've heard all about the Kinect. After an embarrassing E3 '10 event and a none too impressive showing at the event this reviewer was frankly ready to throw in the towel. But when it came out, selling like hotcakes, picking it up was something of a forgone conclusion even if hopes were fairly low as to what I was buying.
The first problem with the Kinect is that it was impossible to set up when first purchased. The amount of space that this thing eats up is insane. You need a good solid six feet of clear space from you to your television, where the sensor should be set up. If you want two people playing locally then you're going to need about eight feet. This is highly problematic for people who live in apartments or small homes and don't have a dedicated gaming room. So after getting tired out from rearranging the entire living room we finally had our six feet or so.
Coming back the next day to play we discovered a brand new problem. While the game accepts voice commands for many things you still need a controller to skip cutscenes and that's not even getting into the pause function.
In most Kinect games pausing is done by holding one hand to your side and raising the other a bit with your palm out. Putting it bluntly, this is a horrifically stupid method of pausing a game. Have something rather sudden happen like a spilled drink from moving all over the place? Well stand in place for a few seconds while the pause slowly starts up. While letting a pause voice command could have caused undue grief in its own way (i.e. griefing your friends by yelling "pause!") this is a woefully inadequate solution. During the time you're trying to pause the game is still going, potentially costing you whatever you were doing anyways. You might as well just let the race / event / whatever fail and then do what you needed to do.
Last but not least is the responsiveness of the device. Now to be fair a good measure of how responsive this device is to your commands seems to be based on the game you're attempting to play. Some games respond fairly well, notably Dance Central, while others require you to perform a move well in advance of whatever situation you need the motion for. This comes up a lot in Sonic Riders but it's very prevalent in any game that asks you to jump or duck down as it's very hard to judge when to perform these without any sort of feedback. Did you do the move too slow? Did you not get out of the sensor's field of view? Is your timing off? Your guess is as good as mine.
With that said though the Kinect is still a rather impressive piece of hardware. The way it can almost effortlessly keep track of every little thing that you're doing is nothing to scoff at. When playing a good Kinect game, which there are admittedly few of right now, you can easily have a lot of fun in the short bursts of playing. It's even better with a group of friends as you can watch, and laugh at, them while you rest up a bit from all the moving around the Kinect requires.
The Kinect video chat is nice as is the fact that you can use the Kinect's built-in mic to chat with your friends even in regular Xbox parties, blissfully removing the need for headsets, it's still not really enough. The Kinect isn't at the point where it's a must have device for gamers until great (hell even some more good) games release for the device. As of now it's an interesting curio that doesn't get the amount of play I wish it did. This puts it right up in there with my Wii for most underplayed hunk of plastic.
Plenty of new, and interesting, games have been announced for the Kinect but until some more of these actually materialize it's best to wait a bit if you don't already own one. The device has potential and Microsoft has made it clear that, in many ways, the Kinect is their new console. Over the next several years the games for it will almost certainly expand upon the possibilities, get much higher in quality and generally be a gaming experience for the hardcore and the family.
Or so we hope.