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A sneak peek at the Microsoft Kinect

I’ve been really looking forward to the new Microsoft Kinect add-on for Xbox 360, so I jumped at the chance to play with it weeks before it goes on sale. Here are my first impressions.

It’s hard to talk about Kinect without comparing it to something else. It’s obviously Microsoft’s response to the phenomenal success of the Nintendo Wii, but whereas the PlayStation Move builds on the basic Wii concept to create something incrementally improved, the Kinect goes in a completely different direction. When you first start using it the comparisons to the technology from Minority Report is obvious, but this really does seem so futuristic.

First we had a quick tour of the developer interface, where we could see how the system can see in 3D and how it maps specific points on your body to the relevant points of your on-screen avatar. This was very cool, and really helped to show the accuracy future potential of the technology.

Next up, we got to play some games! The launch titles include some simplistic, Wii Sports style mini-games which do a great job of showing off the system, as well as some more in-depth games. First off we played Kinect Adventures, which comes free with the Kinect. This is a fun collection of party games which won’t hold the attention for too long, but are a real laugh to play in a group. Next up was Kinect Sports, roughly equivalent to Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on Wii. It’s great fun, and the accuracy of the Kinect means you get a real feeling of playing the sport rather than just waving a controller. I think this game will be much harder to cheat at…

Then there was Kinect Joy Ride, an arcade-style driving game which you control by holding your hands out in front of you like you’re holding an imaginary steering wheel. It feels so natural and obvious and the game is so much fun. We also played Kinectimals, an extremely cute virtual pet game which, while admittedly lost on me, is sure to win the hearts of so many kids this Christmas.

Finally, we got to play Dance Central. I’ve never enjoyed any of those dance games where you have to jump around pressing giant buttons with your feet, so I really didn’t expect to like this. Freed from the controllers, however, this game is just amazing! It tracks your whole body so well, and scores you against the on-screen character. It’s a great game to play with your friends.

Usually when a new piece of kit has been hyped for this long, it will inevitably turn out a bit disappointing even if it’s still quite good. Not so with the Kinect – I love it. It really does feel like Microsoft have brought us a present from the future, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here!