Platform: Xbox, Wii, PS3
Release Date: 12/07/12
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Kinect Summer Stars 2012 Review
My neighbours probably think that I have some kind of mental health issue; not because of the bad smell I leave in the lift every day, but because over the last week anyone who has looked up and seen me in the window will have observed a madman dressed in full Jamaican get-up, flailing like a epileptic at the disco. I’ve been playing with the Kinect again.
To get in the mood for (read: ‘cash in on’) the upcoming Olympic Games, the talented folk at 49games have unleashed Summer Stars on the public; an athletics-based Kinect game. Unlike its predecessor, Winter Stars, this title has been released under the banner “better with Kinect”, meaning it can be played with a controller or a seizure. I opted for the latter, and the results were better than expected. That being said, I was expecting it to be about as much fun as a romantic getaway with Susan Boyle.
Firstly the negatives – the menu control scheme was horribly inconsistent. Sometimes you activated it by waving, sometimes by standing like Jesus on a cross, and sometimes by hovering your hand as if you were groping an imaginary bosom. In the groping cases (I never thought I’d say those words in a review) there was an issue with the “yes” and “no” options being so close together on screen, you had to have hands as steady as a brain surgeon to select the correct one. Menus aside, once you got into an event the controls were astonishingly accurate. Granted, I was comparing it to Winter Stars, a game with recognition so poor it made a granny with Alzheimer’s seem like a Savant.
Kinect Summer Stars has a satisfactory mix of different events, including archery, swimming, diving, hammer throw, fencing, sprinting, trampoline, and biking. Each of the events has a unique feel thanks to fairly well thought-out control schemes. For example, the trampoline event requires you to time your jumps and in-air arm placement in order to nail the sequence. The biking sections have controls similar to Kinect Joy Ride, and swimming has some innovative features that test your ability to enter and exit the water. Events like running and hammer throwing handle exactly as you’d expect them to, sprinting on the spot like every other Kinect running simulation.
The odd-one-out was fencing. Wearing my Jamaican kit, I limbered up for the time-honoured West Indian tradition of sword-play, fully expecting to wave my arm around holding an imaginary sword. Then, out of nowhere, the game turned into Monkey Island. Rather than actually fence, you simply choose a ‘witty’ taunt to throw at your opponent, and an animation will play which shows whether you were successful. Given that the writers of the game clearly have the comedic talent of Fabio Capello, fencing proves to be an absolute waste of time. I am frankly baffled that this is in the game. Later, while playing the game with a controller, I discovered that there is a mode that allows you to actually fence – I’ll come on to that shortly. To sum up the motion control experience, the game is a vast improvement from its predecessor.
If you’re wondering how the game plays with a controller, you are probably pissing on the wrong lamp-post, as there are plenty of decent athletics simulators out there which are unencumbered by the Kinect gimmick. Probably due to the focus on Kinect, Summer Star’s swamp of mediocrity fails to become a gushing stream of entertainment when played with a controller. The events are mostly timing-based and button-bashing. Playing with a controller really brings home just how distinctly average the game is.
The graphics range from spectacularly underwhelming to vaguely passable; a cacophony of ‘quite nice’ backdrops with rubbery, badly animated characters in the foreground. The scripted commentary feels incredibly repetitive- you’ll often hear two consecutive actions on your part responded to with the exact same bland line commentary. This will really begin to grate on your nerves in a game where you will likely be attempting the same event multiple times to try and get a gold medal. Unfortunately, the developers have again tried to shoe-horn in a ‘story’ and a few amusing characters. The result is a string of awkward scripted scenes with voice-acting so bad it makes you want to press mute. Fortunately these moments are relatively few through the game, so I was able to cope without clawing off my own ears.
You have the option to either play through said career mode, or to enter ‘free play’ and have a go at any of the individual events. There is support for up to three players in the multiplayer mode, meaning you can flail with friends too, if you’d like. This raises the question of whether or not Summer Stars would pass as a viable party game. It certainly has the potential to entertain, the free play mode allows you to drop in and out of events on a whim, and the game seems to handle body recognition comfortably.
Good variety of events
Pretty decent tracking and control schemes
Badly designed menu interface
Repetitive career mode