(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 04--"Kinect Sports Rivals" available exclusively for the Xbox One. Rated "E" for Everyone. $59.99
No matter what I think of "Kinect Sports Rivals," I've got to give the developers credit for getting me off the couch. The game had me flopping around like a loon, stretching atrophied muscles that hadn't seen use in years. My left hamstring was so sore I feared I wouldn't be able to walk into work the next day.
But just like the previous title in this two-game franchise, "Kinect Sports Rivals" is extremely shallow. Once the charm of working up a sweat wears off, all that's left is a collection of mini-games that should retail at half the price.
The good news is you don't have to buy another peripheral to play it. When Microsoft made the controversial decision to pack a Kinect motion device into every Xbox One bundle (for an extra $100), it guaranteed their consumers would have access to every game.
Those of us who purchased an Xbox One at launch more than six months ago have been waiting patiently for a game that makes use of the Kinect sensor (other than voice commands), and "Kinect Sports Rivals" does offer hope for the future. The high-definition camera inside the Kinect does an amazing job of reading the play environment, registering the movements of every finger on your hand. When I sat down to answer my phone in the middle of a tennis game, my on-screen avatar mimicked my actions perfectly, sitting in mid-air with an invisible phone held to his ear.
Unfortunately, the application of this technology leaves a lot to be desired. Almost all the motion recognition problems that hampered the Xbox 360 prequel "Kinect Sports" are present here, souring the instant gratification that defines a casual gaming experience.
Just like the previous game, "Kinect Sports Rivals" is broken into several versions of popular sports that have to be played using every inch of your body. There's Wave Racing (better known as jet skiing), rock wall climbing, target shooting, tennis, soccer and bowling, which ensures you'll have to spend at least a few hours with the game just to check everything out.
It doesn't take long to develop favorites. The subtle mechanics of Wave Racing outshine every other game on the disc, providing the kind of reliable control I never thought possible for a Kinect game. All you have to do is hold your hands in front of you as if grabbing invisible handlebars, steering the jet ski with gentle turns of your hands. You can accelerate the jet ski by squeezing your right hand, which feels just natural enough to seem realistic. I wouldn't mind seeing Wave Racing expanded into a full-fledged game.
The rest of the mini-games are a mixed bag, though rock climbing is unique and accurate enough to warrant a few more play-throughs. The over-the-top bowling mini-game is OK, but the inaccurate controls behind tennis and soccer are poor enough to make both games physically painful. The laughable target shooting feels like an afterthought, considering you don't do any actual shooting. All you do is point your finger like a gun and sweep it back and forth across the targets, which automatically explode as soon as the targeting reticule touches them.
Oddly enough, all these mini-games are wrapped around an extremely silly plot that pits you against rival sports teams on a cushy resort island. Each team represents extremely broad stereotypes (though no sensitive ones), such as a team of Vikings and a competing group of tech geeks who dress as if they dropped straight from the movie "Tron." It's over-the-top and rather grating, but it's a perfect fit for the Saturday morning cartoon vibe the game is aiming for.
It's that vibe that might actually make "Kinect Sports Rivals" worth buying, if you have children and non-gaming friends who want to play along. The janky controls only lead to more laughs when you're playing in a group, and a bigger living room works wonders for the Kinect's accuracy. My living room is so small the Kinect couldn't even see my feet while playing soccer, forcing me to prop it against the wall at a downward angle. Unfortunately, that extra tilt meant the Kinect couldn't see my head.
Perhaps the best peripheral for this game is a larger house?
If you don't have anyone at home waiting to play this with you, "Kinect Sports Rivals"is nothing more than a curiosity -- an itch that can be scratched with a weekend rental. But it might make a great birthday present for your 8-year-old nephew -- if he has an Xbox One, that is.
Two out of Four Stars
"Trials Fusion" available for download on the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PC for $19.99. Rated "E" for Everyone.
I've only driven a motorcycle once in my life, and in the 30 seconds the ride lasted, I was absolutely terrified. I came within inches of hitting the only car in the parking lot, and the owner of the bike never offered to let me drive again.
My disinterest and apprehension of motorized vehicles is rooted somewhere in the lost memories of early childhood, making me immune to the joys of motorcycle and stock car racing. But I've never been one to turn down a free game demo, which is how "Trials Fusion" ended up on my PlayStation 4 hard drive.
Five minutes after starting the demo, I dropped $20 on the full version of the game. Motorcycle racing still bores me to tears, but "Trials Fusion" is much more than a driving game. It's a physics test disguised as fantasy motocross.
I'll admit I'm coming into this franchise a little late. "Trials Fusion" is the fifth game in the downloadable "Trials" series, presenting an arcade take on the real-life sport of observed trials. The player controls a rider on a physics-based dirt bike that exists entirely on a 2D plane, which means the rider can only move forward and backward while performing incredible jumps. Completing those jumps requires a bit of basic physics common sense, such as easing down on the back tire while hitting the downward slope of a massive hill.
For you older gamers out there, it's kind of like a pumped-up version of the Nintendo classic, "Excitebike."
This kind of game doesn't need gorgeous graphics to impress, but "Trials Fusion" still is one of the prettiest downloadable games I've ever played. The silky smooth frame rate is absolutely jaw-dropping on the PS4, and the whacked-out fantasy levels that range from desert hills to outer space are jaw-dropping. Jumping to the top of a plane wing only to plummet back to a well-placed ramp on the ground was almost scary enough to make me pee my pants.
I never imagined "Trials Fusion" would be one of the best games of 2014, and that's one of the reasons it's so refreshing. It's rare to see such a perfect unison of controls, graphics and sound, and this latest "Trials" entry only costs a third of a $60 retail game.
I've always been biased toward certain genres, which is why "Trials Fusions" almost didn't get a chance to impress me. Just goes to show you the best game developers can reach beyond genre, touching that addictive nerve that exists in every true gamer.
But I'll still never drive another motorcycle. Not in real life, anyway.
Four out of Four Stars
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