The first Kinect Sports was a flagship title for Microsoft’s Kinect launch last year. It showed off the then brand spanking new motion control peripheral perfectly by letting you play out reasonable approximations of actions normally pulled off by top tier athletes (as opposed to couch potatoes). The game turned out to be a lot of fun if you had a decent-sized crowd around, so much so that some of the more minor issues with the tech could be safely ignored because you were having way too much fun.
Unfortunately, Kinect Sports: Season 2 is a much harder game to forgive. As subjective as this may be, I think the first game had a roster of sports that were more accessible to a global audience. From (proper) football to bowling to a generous track & field component, they were all sports that didn’t require the flipping through of rulebooks or general handholding. Season 2, on the other hand, prominently features baseball and American football (rudimentary instructions are thankfully provided), supported by downhill skiing, golf, tennis and darts. Perhaps retaining all (or some) of the sports from the last game would have gone some way in smoothing out the package.
Aside from event accessibility, there are also issues with how some of the more complex sports have been interpreted and shrunk down to manageable time chunks. American football has no defensive component, for example, and feels too redacted when compared to the actual sport. Golf, on the other hand, does go into a bit more depth. You’re allowed to switch clubs and there are a decent number of lengthy courses to choose from. There’s a certain tangibility to swinging a make-believe club with varying force and seeing the results on screen that makes it more satisfying than the other sports. This carries over to baseball as well. You’ll have a good deal of fun trying to knock the ball into the stands or running and sliding into bases. Pitching doesn’t offer quite as many options, with available pitches restricted to a fastball or a curveball (and a single variation of the curveball at that).
The others are more of a mixed bag. Darts might seem the most accessible, but there’s an odd unpredictability to the controls that makes some of your throws seem like more of a gamble than they should be. This might have been an issue that Rare was aware of, seeing as how Darts has its own short setup menu. Skiing comes with a limited number of the courses and simplified controls, but is fun for what it is. You lean forward to pick up speed, and lean to your sides to hit flag-gates. Tennis, on the other hand, feels a bit undercooked, especially considering how far we’ve come from the first game. And that brings us quite neatly to how Kinect Sports: Season 2 makes use of the Kinect sensor itself.
Fast forward a year from the previous game and we’ve seen a good amount of enhancements made to the core Kinect engine, allowing for more accurate reading of player movement. Now this being a first party title, you’d expect those enhancements to make their way to a game like Kinect Sports much faster than they would to a random third party publisher’s game. Sadly, that isn’t the case with Season 2. It’s especially telling in games like tennis and golf, where it’s clear that the old issues of accurately mirroring and refining user movement haven’t been fixed. Tennis is extra baffling with your on-screen character (and especially their forearm and wrist) never moving as fluidly as you would want it to.
There have been other changes made aside from the change of sports as well. The number of mini-games (based on the six main sports) have been shortened somewhat, and there’s also a whole new levelling system in place that takes into account your affinity for a particular sport rather than an overall global experience level. Challenge Play allows you to compete with friends even when they’re not online. You choose the mini-game, set a score, and issue a challenge. It’s convenient, hassle-free, and it eliminates the need for both parties to be online at the same time. The game also comes with voice recognition that lets you control the menu as well as issue audibles within select games. Unfortunately, us Indians have to make do without it as the voice recognition hasn’t been fine tuned to our dialects. You can still try it out, but the results can’t be guaranteed.
There haven’t been any major improvements made on the visual front either. The graphics do seem slightly more polished, but it isn’t anything to write home about. What does stand out about the presentation is the general light-heartedness of it all. It’ll take a lot to suppress a smile when the game lets you distract your opponent in darts while he’s trying to concentrate or celebrate a home run in baseball. The announcers are pitch perfect in tone, and the hilarious clipped licensed music interludes when you score points or complete your turn make a comeback
And that’s what saves Kinect Sports: Season 2 from being a complete disappointment. It’ll give you a good time even with its niggling flaws. If that’s something you can live with, and you’re looking to complete your Kinect Sports collection by adding the second game to it, you could consider giving Season 2 a try.