I shall dub them Rivaltars.
The Kinect has been disconnected from my Xbox One since launch, and while I could state that I'm doing so to protect myself from Microsoft's and the US government's prying eyes, the more significant reason is to stop the Kinect from listening. No matter what game I play or film I'm streaming through Netflix, the Kinect would interrupt the experience with HUD pop-ups asking whether somebody in the room was shouting a voice command once every twenty minutes. The only thing that would have prevented the device from being a fancy brick in my living room would have been a launch title that actually used the darn thing (and not Zumba Fitness World Party which might as well be a VHS tape for Jazzercizing).
Here to save the day, if but a few months late, is Kinect Sports Rivals. This follow-up to 2010's Kinect Sports on Xbox 360 features six events—bowling, rock climbing, tennis, soccer, target shooting, and wave racing—and leverages the power of the upgraded Kinect and the Xbox One's cloud capabilities. I suppose if you're looking for a trollish comment, you could call it six glorified mini-games, but there's more than meets the eye.
In a spacious makeshift living room at the Xbox Loft in San Francisco, fellow GR editor Daniel Bishoff and I first tested the facial and body recognition software of the Kinect in creating our Champion likeness in the game. Not far off from being a regular Xbox Avatar, Daniel's Champion came complete with a lumberjack athlete (a lumberjock?), perhaps detecting that he was wearing plaid, who had a beard that made him look like the brawniest bowler in all of the Rockies. Due to time constraints, I didn't have a chance to check out what my champion would have looked like, but regardless, the character customization options will allow you to choose from among plenty of facial features in case the software doesn't create a facsimile you care for.
While Daniel tackled a session of bowling and soccer, I took a hand at wake racing, tennis, and rock climbing. Bowling pretty much works as you would suspect it would, where you throw the ball with your optimal hand and then turn your hand at the last moment to apply respective spin on the ball, though the tilt detection is a bit spotty. Soccer is a short-form version of the real thing, asking you to kick the ball at the right time to pass to fixed teammates before shooting at the goal. The other player (or AI) then acts as the goalie attempting to swat the ball away.
Tennis takes place in singles matches where you can control the racket by swinging on either side, and swinging high, mid, or low for topspin, flat, and lobs. Although there are no alternative modes than singles (at the moment), the rallies between players can be extensive, with the Microsoft rep and me sweating a bit after several 40-shot battles (I won in the end, though!). Wake racing has you controlling a jet ski with using your hands as handles and attempting to place first by maneuvering around bombs, performing tricks in the air, and speeding through narrow environments. The handling, without some held device for precision, was difficult at first, but it felt much easier by the last lap.
Climbing, on the other hand, might just be the go-to mini-game of the bunch. Racing to reach the top against other AI avatars, which are essentially ghosts based on the performance of other players (umm… Rivaltars?), you must grab imaginary handles in the air and pull yourself up to the next hand-hold. For particularly large gaps between handles, you'll need to jump, literally. Getting the proper rhythm means figuring out which hand to use on the fly and literally forcing any opponents in your way to drop into the digital ether, much like The Wall mini-game in American Gladiators.
How difficult your opponents are will depend on your overall ranking and how many experience points you earn, which is relevant for all six mini-games. Eventually, with enough high placements, you'll be able to join one of the three factions—Wolf Clan, Eagle Legion, and Viper Network—by earning the respect of their respective team leaders. It's not certain how this plays out in online play, but it should lead to some heated competition between players of different factions.
Developed by Rare, Kinect Sports Rivals releases on Xbox One on April 8, 2014. A free Preseason is also available now as an interactive demo.