Kinect just doesn’t connect

It’s been a year of hype, a year of hope, and a year of Xbox fanboy imagination run rampant, but now that Microsoft’s motion-controlled camera is actually heading to the real world, the result is quite underwhelming.

Microsoft made the entire gaming community turn its collective head last year when it introduced “Project Natal,” now known as Kinect. It promised gamers that it was not just some peripheral but practically an entirely new platform.

Today was the time to make good on that promise, but all we got was yet another extra device that adds marginal functionality and a handful of contrived mini-games.

The interface of Kinect is reminiscent of Sony’s Eyetoy, a Playstation 2 peripheral that was released 7 years ago. The menu system requires minimally sophisticated motion recognition – hardly a revolution. And the majority of games that were shown off were little more than glorified mini-games.

There’s no doubt that the motion recognition here is superior to other options on the market right now, but the way Microsoft is hyping this up to be some sort of second coming of Christ is way out of proportion to what it is actually showing off.

Some stuff was hardly even worth mentioning, like using voice commands to enter simple Xbox menu options. The idea of voice controls for a console is mildly interesting, but I dare you to find me one person who will seriously prefer saying “Xbox…[pause]…stop” instead of pressing a button on a remote control to end playback of a movie.

I thought one of the neatest features about Kinect did not get the attention it deserved: the video chat option. The ability to watch a movie or share photos/music with someone while talking with them and still being able to see them in a separate chat window is compelling – more so than another kart-racing or fitness game.

In short, Kinect was supposed to be a bold new frontier for video game, but instead it is being very safe and providing only marginal upgrades from the kind of content that’s already been out there for more than a decade.