Kinect Sports Rivals was what I hoped would be the definitive Kinect 2.0 game. It’s a game that truly displayed the power and capabilities of this new device, and for a large majority of the game, I saw this dream realized. However, glaring errors and issues haunt the final product.
Rivals attempts to go above and beyond its predecessors in many ways. By introducing a brand new art direction and adding an actual story to the game, it does so successfully. From the stylized environments and characters to the seizure inducing particle effects, everything about the graphics in Rivals is top notch. Even the scanned in version of yourself is wonderfully realized. The looks of the game are only complimented by the over the top narrative, involving three separate sports teams vying for athletic dominance.
The factions, Eagle Legion, Wolf Clan and Viper Network, all have different personalities and methods to achieve dominance, and it is up to you to decide who you will side with. Mostly played up for comedic value, the plot is thin, and the jokes don’t always hit, but there is a certain charm that makes me remember the Rare of old. A good atmosphere is great and all, but in the end, the sports rule the day.
There are six sports to choose from: Bowling, Tennis, Soccer, Wake Racing, Target Shooting and Climbing. There are three events that have made a return from previous entries in the series, and not all of them have come back with the same quality as before. Bowling has improved if only marginally. Rolling the ball down the lane feels more accurate than before, and unlike its counterpart in Kinect Sports 2, I never once felt cheated by the lack of tracking on the Kinect.
Soccer is more like Foosball this time around, and it isn’t the most exciting. There is no running or passing to AI team mates. You simply kick the ball from one space to the next, avoiding opponents on a set path. When you get it to the opponent’s goal, you must kick it in any direction towards the net and hope the enemy goalie does not block it. The only defensive position you play is the goalie, and because the ball slows down when opponents kick it, it is unlikely you will ever fail to block. One really cool feature I found was the ability to punch the ball to the other net while playing as the goalie. This is, of course, not the most realistic mechanic here, but it was good fun nonetheless.
There is one word that can adequately sum up Tennis: “broken.” I considered myself a master at tennis in Kinect Sports 2, having unlocked every achievement and dedicating half of my playtime in that game to it. I loved it beyond any other event in the two Kinect Sports games for the Xbox 360, and when I heard that tennis was going to be added to Rivals, I was more than looking forward to it. This could not have been more of a disappointment. The entire event feels like a giant quicktime event that works about only half the time. After sinking hours into this one mode, I was able to become proficient, but every time I hit the ball, it felt like a manipulation of the mechanics and not actually playing it. There is no flexibility here, but only rigid animations and imprecise targeting.
I personally found the three new sports to be far more entertaining. Target Shooting was the best performing of the lot, but also the most simplistic. The only motion required out of you, for the most part, is to hold your hand in front of the targets, and it will automatically shoot for you. Despite the limited motions, there is quite a bit of strategy involved. There are sequential targets, the ability to steal your opponent’s targets and the use of a turret, which drains the opponent’s score.
Wake Racing is pure arcade Jet Ski racing at its finest. Probably the most visually stunning, this mode does have its fair amount of problems, with frame rate issues and general lack of difficulty being chief amongst my gripes. Nevertheless, I found Wake Racing to be truly a spectacular mode, with easily the most amount of action out of the six.
My favorite out of all of the sports was one I did not expect. Climbing is the perfect blend of both strategy and action, and in this event, the Kinect motions rarely failed. Getting a perfect rhythm in climbing motions, jumping over gaps and pulling opponents right off the wall is quite fun. I actually found it to contain a higher amount of skill than the other game modes because it allows the player to fully use his or her body, and all my failures belonged solely to me.
To complement game modes, you can upgrade your character with cosmetic outfits and increase your performance with specific sport related equipment. Power ups also help change up rather traditional gameplay with speed and power boosts. This may not be enough to make up for some of the missteps of the game modes, but it is appreciated greatly.