Hands-On With the Hottest New Games

Day Two of the Electronic Entertainment Expo here in Los Angeles, and that means exclusive hands/eyes-on time with the groundbreaking new technologies at the show.

First up, Kinect - Microsoft's motion-sensing camera that promises "controller-free" gaming.  Yesterday, I got to hear Microsoft's PR spiel on Kinect at the opening press conference.  But you can't really get a feel for these new interfaces until you try them out for yourself.   So what's the verdict?  The first few of the half dozen demos I tried out today left me feeling a little bit...meh. 

Kinect Adventures, a sort of extreme outdoor sports obstacle course with rafting and roller-coastering, aims to get players jumping, smacking, ducking, and leaning for points.  But a noticeable lag time between my movements and my avatar's on-screen gave the action a gimmicky feel (something, although, that will probably go lost on the target audience of families and kids).  Sadly, Kinectimals - the virtual tiger pet game - failed to impress hands-on for the same reason.  It gets high points for cuteness, but the most interactive moments - like reaching out to "pet" the cat - felt canned, especially when the animated representation of your fingers on screen wiggle out of cue.  Your Shape:  Fitness Evolved fairs much better, delivering a convincingly precise exercise training experience.  For example, the yoga routines measure the (fairly) exact angles of your squats as you stretch, scoring/correcting you on-the-fly.  Look for this to be big with the Wii Fit home fitness crowd.  The best of the Kinect bunch is definitely Dance Central, a boogie-along-with-the-avatars game that's giddy enough to distract players from any inaccuracies. 

Over at Sony, the much-hyped 3D games were also hit and miss.  More than once, it took some adjusting to get the 3D viewing to snap into focus - and moving around while gaming didn't help.  Killzone 3 in 3D, however, was suitably awesome once it clicked in, proving that fast action videogames could be a huge sell in getting consumers to adopt 3D televisions in the years to come.  While Sony's motion-sensing controller, called Move, feels more responsive than the wireless remote for the Nintendo Wii, it also feels like a bit of a me-too afterthought.  A gladiator game delivers the most pow, as you use two Move controllers to wield your shield and hammer.  No games come close to the aha moment delivered when Nintendo first demoed Wii Tennis here at E3 a few years ago. 

In fact, some of the best games at E3 have nothing to do with 3D or motion-gaming.  Little Big Planet 2, the sequel to the wildly creative Playstation 3 game, adds even more dynamic tools for do-it-yourself players (who can now design their own strategy and action mini-games too).  Rock Band 3, the upcoming music game from the Cambridge-based developer Harmonix (whom I profiled for Spectrum magazine), adds a real MIDI keyboard and multiple vocalists for tracks.  During a behind-closed-doors preview, I got to try out maybe the coolest peripheral ever - the Fender Mustang Pro, a real MIDI guitar controller with 150 buttons.  Players will also be able to plug in an actual electric Stratocaster guitar, since the game can now parse which strings you press. Yes, this is the school of rock for the Xbox generation.  And who says videogames don't teach you anything of value?

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