Say what you will about Kinect, but Rare has taken very good advantage of it in the past. The first Kinect Sports title is a great game, and while the sequel wasn’t quite as good, Kinect Sports: Rivals is a return to form. It’s a fun party game that shows that the Kinect for Xbox One has a surprising amount of potential, even if all of that potential is not capitalized in this latest offering.
Kinect Sports: Rivals starts off pretty bad. Access to the events is blocked by a big wall of “training” and a forced story that is ultimately pointless and just a waste of time. It was a bad move clogging up this kind of game, a mini-game compilation, with a “story”, but it is at least short. After the first couple of hours of unlocking all the events, that’s when the game really becomes a blast.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first thing that you experience in the game is Kinect scanning yourself in as a “Champion”. Since Avatars are not yet a part of the Xbox One experience (and who knows if they ever really will be), Kinect Sports: Rivals utilizes their own “Champions” that are created using the Kinect scanning technology and can later be customized to suit your purposes.
The scanning works surprisingly well. While the low detail style of the Champions means that it’s not going to be a jaw-dropping resemblance or anything like that on the screen, they do get your basic features and hair color right. It’s also nice that the Champions are fully customizable after the scan, from editing their look to purchasing new costumes for them from the shop, there’s plenty of ways to make your Champion be unique and stand out.
When players complete events, they earn three different things. For one, they earn XP in that event so that they can level up their skill level in that particular event and unlock even more options for it. Secondly, they earn fans. Fans represent the “Division” that your Champion is in, which basically amounts to the overall level of your Champion across all the sports. And finally, players will also earn coins.
I think there are microtransactions in this game, but I can’t really be sure. There is an option to go to the Xbox Live Marketplace when in the shop, but it’s so easy to earn coins and there are no straight up prompts to make such purchases, which is the correct way to include microtransactions in a game.
At any rate, the coins are used in the store to purchase new uniforms for your Champion as well as new equipment, such as special bowling balls, tennis rackets, jet skis, etc. The new equipment bring with them improved stats and stronger power ups.
The power ups are activated by voice commands, and they work perfectly when playing solo or bowling. When playing split-screen multiplayer, the voice commands are understandably very poorly implemented. How is the Kinect supposed to distinguish between two people that are playing the game simultaneously? All it hears is “Speed Jump”, or whatever the name of the power up you have equipped is, and then it’s going to activate one or the other–or the more likely option, it’s just not going to activate either power-up. For some reason, the Kinect voice commands simply do not want to work properly when playing the game in split-screen multiplayer mode.
Speaking of multiplayer, while the split-screen multiplayer has its issues, it is still a lot of fun to play and increases the replayability of the title by a significant margin. That being said, the Xbox Live multiplayer is completely botched. There is no way to directly compete with others on Xbox Live, you just play with their recorded ghost data or challenge people on your friends list. There is no matchmaking of any kind, and this is severely disappointing and limits the game.
Kinect does really wonderful things and is really impressive in a lot of aspects of Kinect Sports: Rivals, but there was a lot better overall implementation of the device in say, Xbox Fitness. Kinect in this game does not work as properly as it needs to, for some reason requiring even more room than other games that use Kinect motion controls. It also has a tendency to decide random objects in the room are people instead of you, which can be understandably irritating.
But now it’s time to talk about all the different events that are on hand in the game. There are six events this time around, and the first one players are introduced to is Wake Racing. Wake Racing is a little hard to control at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can be pretty fun. All the tracks are a little samey for my taste, and having to hold your arms out in front of you to control the ski can be very tiring and tedious. However, it’s a passable event that has its own thrills.
Bowling has been a mainstay in mini-game compilations like these since the days of Wii Sports on the original Wii almost a decade ago. It’s practically a requirement to include it in any games like these, and it also makes an appearance in Kinect Sports: Rivals. The bowling comes across as a little stiff and easier than other games, but it’s still a lot of fun to play with friends, and it works the best when it comes to both the Kinect’s motion controls and the voice commands as well.
Rock Climbing is a unique sport to Kinect Sports: Rivals, and it works very well. Players climb a wall with various other obstacles to be worried about, such as electrified ridges and of course, their rival players. It’s possible to yank opponents off the rock climbing wall, which is outright hilarious. The different walls to climb are actually extremely different from one another and provide more variety than the alternate race tracks seen in the Wake Racing event.
I have mixed feelings about Soccer. The controls almost never work as intended in Soccer, but yet it’s still somehow entertaining. Soccer is the least polished out of all of the events, but playing it in multiplayer is extremely fun. I won’t say that the Soccer event in Kinect Sports: Rivals is a well made event, but it does bring to the table plenty of laughs and entertainment.
Target Shooting is the least fun out of all the events. It simply requires pointing a cursor at the targets and then they are shot automatically. It is the most tedious and least imaginative. The gimmicks that Rare attempted to implement into the game to make it more exciting fail on multiple levels.
Finally, there’s Tennis, which is practically a requirement just like Bowling. Tennis in Kinect Sports: Rivals is actually kind of painful to play. It gives your arms a serious workout and requires stamina to play for extended periods of time. It is the sport that will give you genuine exercise, whereas the others come across more as pure gaming experiences than mini-games designed to give you quality exercise.
With this new console generation, I hoped for a significant leap in the visual presentation. For the most part, I have been let down in that regard thanks to games being almost all cross-generational experiences Kinect Sports: Rivals also lets me down in that regard. The art style and graphics are just so plain and basic that they really stood no chance of standing out right from the get-go. There are a few visual effects that are stunning, and the accuracy that Kinect is able to use to create a digital version of you in the game is really impressive, but Kinect Sports: Rivals could stand to look much, much better than what it does.
It also didn’t receive the amount of polish that it needed in the technical departments. The load times are just way too long, and there are too many loading screens between you and the action. This hurts the momentum of the game and makes it less appealing to play as a party game, though I will say that menu navigation and the like has increased tenfold since the previous iterations, so it all kind of evens out.
In previous games, menu navigation was originally restricted to the Kinect by itself using motion control gestures. This was a tedious process and a poor design decision on the part of Rare. The second game added voice commands that did improve upon the menu navigation, but still didn’t match the simplicity and ease of use of allowing someone to navigate the menus using a traditional controller.
Kinect Sports: Rivals has all three inputs as options. Players can use voice commands, use a controller (thank God), or also navigate using the classic motion controls, though this has been improved. Previously, players had to move their hand over the option they wanted to select and then keep the cursor hovered over that option for an extended period of time. Now players simply guide the cursor to the choice they want to make, and then push their hand forward to select it. Perhaps this was too complicated of a motion for the original Kinect on Xbox 360 to properly pick up on, but the motion control navigation is much improved in Kinect Sports: Rivals on Xbox One, I’ll tell you that much.
Popular music has been licensed as the soundtrack in Kinect Sports: Rivals, and the result is a catchy soundtrack that will have you singing the songs after you’ve turned the game off. Having licensed tracks in sports games has long been a tradition that has always given these titles extra flair. I love the soundtrack in Kinect Sports: Rivals, and it keeps the menus and elsewhere always interesting because there’s always something pleasant to be listening to.
Kinect Sports: Rivals is a great party game. Hunting down achievements with buddies is a lot of fun, as is simply competing against one another in the various sports. There are issues present here, but none of them are enough to really keep the game from still being significantly fun. I’m still waiting for Rare to move on from this franchise, and hopefully they can return to one of their classic series now that they have released three Kinect Sports titles. But even if they do create a second Kinect Sports game for Xbox One next, at least I can be confident that it will be of high quality.
Tested on Xbox One. Final Score: 8/10