If you don't know the story behind Kinect Joy Ride
, let me sum it up: It was originally announced as a "freemium" Xbox Live Arcade game, in which players would race together and unlock new content through their combined efforts in an ever-evolving world. What it ended up being is a pseudo kart racer with set tracks, a few race modes and Kinect-only controls that have you pantomiming holding a steering wheel and "turning" it to steer. If that sounds gimmicky, it is.
What developer BigPark has created is a fundamentally solid racing experience, with combat, dash and stunt gameplay in addition to straight-up races, a number of unlockable cars and a unique -- I'd even say inviting -- visual style. Performing well in races earns you fans, which in turn accumulate and are counted towards unlocking new vehicles and venues.
If this weren't a Kinect-only experience -- i.e., you played it with a standard controller -- it would rank as a good, but certainly not exceptional, Xbox Live Arcade racer that you probably wouldn't regret paying 15 bucks for. But it's a full retail game, with what can only be described as laborious body-tracking controls, and it can be tough to get past the frustration and find the otherwise fun game hidden beneath a contrived input scheme.
Sure, it was neat the first time I grabbed a pretend steering wheel and was able to make my car turn, or when I performed the motions that initiate boost and various stunts. But the novelty wore thin quickly, leaving me with the realization that not only is the control laggy and imprecise -- it's also not very comfortable to hold your arms out like this for more than a couple of races, and the inability to play while sitting only makes matters worse.
When Kinect was first demoed as Project Natal and the concept of controlling a racing game this way was introduced, the question was "what will that be like?" The answer is "not much fun." And, in the case of Kinect Joy Ride
, if there wasn't a decent racer attached to the gimmick, I wouldn't recommend it at all.
This review is based on a final retail version of Kinect Joy Ride provided by Microsoft.