Bearing the rival.
Kinect Sports Rivals is exactly the type of game that should have been launched, perhaps even bundled for free, with the late November 2013 release of the Xbox One. Only a spare few titles since then have incorporated the voice and motion controls of Kinect 2.0, showing the hesitation of Microsoft and third-party developers in using the enhanced features of the hands-free system as a form of input. Even I have left the device unplugged since launch.
But with my experience with other Kinect titles, I knew what to do. First, I made sure I had several hours in the day free when I knew there wasn't going to be too much foot traffic through the living room. I moved the coffee table. I moved the central table over the coffee table for extra space. I moved my desktop computer to the side. I vacuumed the hardwood floors. I put on some loose clothing. I plugged in the Kinect 2.0, performed calibrations, and got myself limber. The investment had better be worth it.
Oddly, one of the best parts of Kinect Sports Rivals has nothing to do with the mini-games at all. Before venturing into the meat of the game, you can construct a likeness of yourself as a Champion, allowing the Kinect 2.0 to scan your body and head. After a cinematic involving swirling cubes, as if you're inside an Assassin's Creed loading screen, the software will create an avatar that will uncannily appear as you. My Champion came replete with a rounded face, short hair, and some thick black glasses. If you don't feel the copycat is right, though, you can change a few details like eyebrows and general physique size, though you won't be able to alter anything as intricate as jawline recession.
Unfortunately, some faults become clear as soon as you enter the main game. A certain portion of people will purchase Kinect Sports Rivals strictly for bowling, but no matter which mini-games you're interested in, the game forces you to go through the tutorials and the team story modes for each of the six mini-games to unlock them all. A free play mode should be available at the very beginning for group gatherings; otherwise, friends will become bored and frustrated. (I can still hear my friend snoring on the couch while I was forced to play everything else.)
The excruciatingly long loading times don't help matters either. Given how extensive modern games can be with open worlds and textures, I can somewhat forgive fifteen seconds of loading time, but the far less ambitious Kinect Sports Rivals can have loading times that are upwards of a half-minute. This isn't doubting the fluidity or the strength of the animations, and it's neat that your character becomes ingrained in cinematic cut-scenes. But by the time you finish waiting for the cut-scenes and the loading times to end, you might just flip it off and start reading a book.
Worse, you have to suffer through this every time you restart a match, which just feels like a waste of resources. Not having the ability to skip through tutorials or cut-scenes doesn't make matters any better, especially those that feature the drill-sergeant, un-funny Couch or the clan members that look like rejects from Dance Central. The entire cast of characters tries much too hard to have a personality, so it just comes off as fake and jarring.
Out of the six mini-games, bowling and climbing have the best interactions. Though some of the spin function and general detection for bowling can sometimes be off, nailing several strikes in a row isn't too difficult and it's the only mini-game that's playable with three other friends in the same room. Climbing requires solid hand-eye coordination, and actually feels like an effort as you grasp handholds as quickly as you can to the top of the tower. Having to navigate obstacles like wind and electricity, as well as other the three other competitors who are attempting to grab your foot, is challenging.
Tennis, target shooting, and wave racing have their moments as well. The trouble with tennis and wave racing, though, is that have automatic propulsion so there's not much to do apart from swinging the racket at the right time and steering the jet ski. An element of strategy is needed for target shooting for stealing targets on your opponent's side, activating the turret to steal your opponent's points, and shooting numbered targets in sequence. However, all three of these mini-games only bring to mind the fact that a physical in-hand controller would have made the controls far more precise.
The worst of the bunch, Soccer, is a strange mix of table football and a soccer shoot-out. Blocking balls is much too easy since you can just move your entire body over to the indicator, and there's no way to defend against your AI opponent moving his ball down the field. Its design is too far away from the sport of soccer and should have been replaced with another mini-game altogether.
Kinect Sports Rivals has average replay value with an arsenal of unlockable costumes and gear for each mini-game that you can purchase with in-game coins, as well as experience bars that make mini-games more challenging, although it would have been nice to be able to select the difficulty in the first place. The lack of true online multiplayer stings, though the game borrows the Drivatar idea from Forza Motorsport 5 by having you challenge AI-controlled, Gamertagged ghosts based on the performance of other players. It can't replace real head-to-head online competition, but it's an adequate enough substitute nonetheless.
As a full retail release more than five months after the Xbox One's release, Kinect Sports Rivals is a tough pill to swallow. It's essentially ten dollars per mini-game and only about half of them are worth replaying, after you fully prepare your living room of course. If it had been a launch title or a bundled tech demo, it would not only have had a wider audience but have had its multiple flaws more easily forgiven. As it stands, there's too much to apologize for.