It was a nice place, only a half mile from my house and never crowded when I went. It had everything I wanted in a gym, but it turns out so does my living room. Ever since buying EA Sports Active 2 for the Xbox Kinect, that is. But more about that later...
We arrived home from my sister's wedding in New Jersey to find the Kinect bundle on the front porch and a copy of Harmonix's Dance Central in the mailbox. Yes, the same Harmonix that birthed the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. Nevermind the lingering hangover, the cross-country flight, and onset of one of the worst head colds I've had in years, I rushed downstairs the following morning like a child on Christmas morning and immediately connected the Kinect sensor and booted up the packed-in Kinect Adventures title.
Setting the sensor up was a breeze. I had read plenty of tips in the weeks leading up to the Kinect launch about lighting conditions and space requirements and was ever thankful for our house's large open floorplan. I shoved the couch back about 6 feet towards the kitchen, turned on all the lights behind me and was immediately detected in the "best" position for Kinect enjoyment. Kinect Adventures delivers a wonderful first impression of the technology. The disc includes a half-dozen different mini-games that seem designed to show off the Kinect's ability to track your skeleton in three-dimensional space. The games themselves lose their appeal quickly (only Achievement hunters and small children need apply), but as a tech-demo, it does its job admirably. I was at once impressed with the sensor's ability to not only track my hands and feet forward, but my head as well. And the game's ability to take random snapshots of you while playing and then upload (with your permission) Polaroid-like memories to a central website is a bit of genius.
|Yours truly jumping for coins during the river rafting game.|
|Friends having fun with Dance Central.|
|Gotta protect the face when the wife is coming at you with a right jab.|
The exercises range from pushups and squats to side-jumps and planks, but there are also several more "gamey" exercises that do a fine job of tricking you into thinking you're not working out. I was shocked to see how intense the mountain biking exercise was. It was only naturally for me, an avid mountain biker, to have pretty low expectations for this activity, but the combination of holding a squat during the descents, squat-jumping on the ramps, and sprinting the hills makes for a very intense 90 seconds of activity. Another favorite is the goal keeper exercise. Playing goalie while three players kick rapid-fire soccer goals at the net is not only fun, but exhausting. The precision of the Kinect sensor makes it clear on-screen when you're slacking. It also makes you stand up and celebrate a particularly impressive kick-save. The in-game character you create does an excellent job of mimicing your motions (even your bad ones) and the game accurately counts your reps and tracks body positioning so you know when you're slacking or not performing the exercise/lift properly.
Active 2 comes pre-loaded with over a hundred pre-set workouts that you can select from. You can also create your own custom workout by selecting which of the dozens of exercises you want to do. It's also possible to have a custom workout created on the fly by simply telling the game how much time you want to workout for, what intensity level, and what type of workout you want to target (core, legs, cardio, etc.). The degree of flexibility and customization with the game is pretty impressive and, best of all, it does a great job of encouraging you to keep at it. Weekly fitness checks help you monitor your weight and improvement through high-intensity heart rate test designed to measure your cool down. Active 2 retails for $99 USD, but I found it for $79 at Fry's and I've seen ads for Target giving away a $20 gift card with the purchase.
So am I impressed with Kinect? Yes. Does this mean I'm no longer a so-called "hardcore" gamer. Who cares? It's entirely possible to enjoy Kinect and still enjoy going online and blasting folks in Halo: Reach or settling into a game like Fallout. Kinect is not a replacement for traditional games, but rather a way for people to get more out of their Xbox, especially when entertaining. The ease of use, the laugh-out-loud fun you can have with the games, and the jump-in, jump-out nature of the experience makes it unlike anything I've played before. We had 9 people over last Saturday and every single person, including those who haven't ever owned a game system, went home intending to buy an Xbox Kinect bundle and Dance Central. And our friends with The Playstation Move were vocally wishing they had a Kinect instead. I don't expect many great games for Kinect -- just like there aren't many for the Wii -- but I am more than happy with the ones I bought. Which is saying something, considering I originally ordered my Kinect simply for the voice and motion controls for the dashboard.