Kinect's launch lineup: something for everybody

Microsoft has been touting its Kinect all morning, and it’s clearly being marketed as a family-oriented device. They demoed quite a few games, covering a lot of territory; gaming rags are already whispering that this is where much of the MS development muscle is going to be applied for the foreseeable future. Not everything is going to be a hit, but among the dozen or so launch titles, there are definitely a few worth checking out, though a lot depends on your gaming tendencies — and age.

Here are our picks for which games will and will not impress buyers when November 4th comes around.

Age 4-8

To more mature gamers, this really seems like nothing more than a tech demo, but the popularity of Nintendogs suggests that the virtual pet genre (especially in a family-oriented device) could be ripe for exploitation. Plus: adults can resist buying custom leashes and toys for their pets, but youngsters will throw fits and ask for them as presents. Watching these demos made me think of Black & White. Remember that game? It’d be insane on Kinect.

Age 9-13
Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures

These suites of minigames are designed for friendly competition, but still have a clear winner and loser, and even replays for bragging rights in Sports. It’s perfect for kids not yet old enough to want Gears but old enough to want to humiliate their opponents. Middle school is the venue for this, and these two titles provide a good environment for it. I’m reminded of the fun I had with a Power Pad, although you can’t cheat by getting down on all fours and pounding the buttons with your hands. I’m skeptical of their kart-racing game, because it looks like skill is totally irrelevant. Kids this age will reject that very quickly.

Age 14-17
Untitled Star Wars game

While they’re waiting for their parents or some older friends to buy them the darker games that GameStop won’t sell them, these teenagers will find some solace in Star Wars. The feeling of power, the massive destruction, and so on. This is a maybe — gameplay is still kind of a mystery, and if Natal isn’t capable of delivering a robust experience, these nascent hardcore gamers will reject it as too arcade-y or casual. The light saber battles better be good. Unfortunately for the Dance Central team, I’m afraid their game won’t prove popular with any demographic. The music isn’t hip enough and the game doesn’t look particularly fun or competitive, unlike DDR, which finds power and reach in simplicity.

Grown-up gamer: Mom
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved

I hate to cater to stereotypes here, but in my defense, Microsoft did it first. And although this demo was performed exclusively by women, I actually thought it looked quite good. The Wii Balance Board, while interesting in some ways, really seems archaic next to this thing. The presumed Achilles’ heels of Kinect (lag and lack of fine motor detection) are nonexistent here, so the whole experience can be about the player. It’s also a great conduit for DLC, which many will be happy to pay for: exercise routines, yoga classes, and so on — minus the hassle and exposure of a gym. I suspect this will be a staple, and will be a key property in getting the family in front of the TV.

Grown-up gamer: Dad

I don’t pick this merely because guys are supposed to be car lovers, but because this is the kind of video game that will get a non-game-playing dad into the gaming world. Even though the flaws of Kinect will be front and center (no pedals? laggy steering?), the wonder of seeing your gloved hands steering the actual car, and the childish joy looking around a virtual world with your real head will prove a serious draw. They’ll have this on display at a lot of electronics dealerships and dads who missed the gaming boat by a couple years will be lining up to take a turn. (image: Joystiq)

Casual gamer:
A million unannounced casual games

We didn’t see anything of this, but given the level of integration Kinect has with Xbox Live, it’s safe to say we’re probably going to see a whole section of XBLA dedicated to (and perhaps exclusively accessed by) Kinect. I’m sure that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of casual game developers foaming at the mouth here. (image: Electric Pig)
Hardcore gamer:
Metal Gear Solid Rising (Lightning Bolt Action)

All meta-commentary about Kojima stuff, Raiden, and the title aside, this game is what hardcore Wii gamers have been begging for and have never received. That’s assuming it uses the Kinect engine, which was not announced but seems likely. Actually chopping guys up in precise, stylish ways? Blood shooting out everywhere? Convoluted MGS-related storyline and hours of cinematics? It’s going to sell a ton.

What’s next?

Third party developers are probably only partially done with their games, and like the Wii launch, we’re going to have to subsist on flagship titles and minigames for a while. At $150, it may be a tough sell for people that don’t already have a 360 and Live. But I think in-store demos will really be key for this, and a lot of people will see the ESPN thing and see the possibilities. It’s also a great babysitter. Once word gets out (and likely after a few updates) we’ll see some really compelling bundles with the new hardware — the family pack, the upgrader, the racing pack… and these, complete packages with single prices, will be what will put it in a lot of new living rooms.

We’ll have all kinds of hands-on with the final hardware and launch titles later. Keep an eye on the E3 2010 tag for more.