Kinect owners looking for a sports-themed assortment of minigames will find that there's more than one game in town. MotionSports' more realistic visuals may suggest that it offers a more realistic and rewarding sports experience than Kinect Sports, but this isn't the case at all. On the contrary, infuriating controls, unreasonable difficulty, and a lack of clear instruction and feedback make going for the gold in most of these events only slightly more enjoyable than taking a jab to the face from a heavyweight champ.
Your goal in MotionSports is to take the world by storm by rising from local athlete to international superstar as you compete in minigames based on six sports. Throughout your career, the same commentator stalks you everywhere, covering your every event. His comments range from wildly enthusiastic ("That is just some freakin' fabulous stuff right there!") to just plain strange ("The kind of girl you can take out with your friends and she'll actually enjoy it"), but he does liven up the audio presentation a bit. Between your competitions, you see a city scene with photos of you plastered on billboards, but any sense you may get of being a superstar is sapped by the often hilarious placement of your image. One billboard might show just your torso; another may show part of your head but get cut off just above your chin. Clearly, your MotionSports athlete needs to hire a new agent.
The best sport among MotionSports' six offerings is hang gliding. It's set apart from the other five events by very simple, responsive controls that leave no room for ambiguity--you know exactly what you're supposed to do and how to do it. You hold out your arms as if grasping the glider bar, lowering your left arm to turn left and your right arm to turn right. Soaring through either a natural landscape with majestic rock formations or the concrete canyons of a quiet city, you must pass through rings on your way to the target landing zone, descending to maintain speed and using columns of rising air to lift you up. Finding the right balance between speed and altitude feels good, and it's rewarding to hit that sweet spot where you're gliding quickly and you approach the landing zone at an ideal trajectory to score a bull's-eye. The way the glider reacts to the subtle movements of your arms makes it feel like an extension of yourself, and the beautiful and peaceful locations make gliding a serene little escape.
But that's where the good news ends. Football is represented, but don't expect to play full games on the gridiron. Instead, you participate in a series of isolated training exercises. You start with vertical and lateral runs, where you're responsible for ducking, jumping, and sidestepping obstacles as the onscreen athlete runs up the field at a steady pace. Then, in a running back challenge, you use these same skills to evade attackers as you charge for the end zone. Succeed as a running back, and you may get a shot at being a quarterback. In these simple challenges, you look for a receiver--there's just one, and he's designated with an icon--and you make a throwing motion in his direction. That's all there is to being a star quarterback in MotionSports.
The movements you need to make in boxing are clear enough, but they often don't work like they should. You fight in first person, with your punches represented as colorful whooshes in the air. You can throw jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, but these don't happen in real-time response to your movements (there's no point in throwing a rapid flurry of jabs, for instance, because your fighter just isn't capable of doing so), and often they don't happen at all, either because your movements aren't recognized or because your opponent's canned animations don't allow him to be interrupted by a punch at such an inconvenient moment. In addition, boxing is unreasonably difficult. Even your second opponent is extremely tough to defeat, and with no suggestions on how to improve your performance in the squared circle, you'll quickly want to throw in the towel. You can box head-to-head with a friend, but the split-screen presentation makes what's happening during the bout unclear. It's difficult to tell who's hitting whom, and when punched, your boxer's head often flies back so that you can't see anything.
In soccer challenges, you play as either a penalty taker or a goalie. As a goalie, you move your arms in the direction you think the ball is going to go. The goalie's movement is delayed until the final instant, making these shots look dramatic but creating a sense of detachment between you and the action. Making matters worse, your movements are often misinterpreted. For instance, anticipating a low kick, you might move your arms down and to the left, only to see your goalie leap clean over the ball. This imprecision and the lack of anything resembling one-to-one responsiveness really take the fun out of goalkeeping. Kicking from close range works reasonably well when the only thing between you and victory is a goalie, but some challenges introduce special conditions. For example, a challenge in which you need to kick the ball into small moving targets demands remarkable accuracy if you're going to earn high marks, but the lack of clear communication from the game about how to kick high or low makes being that accurate more difficult than it should be.
Horseback riding and skiing round out this collection. Horseback riding is somewhat broken. You shake the reins to make your horse gallop, but sometimes when the starting gate opens, your jockey is rapidly shaking the reins as you make the indicated movement, yet your horse just stands there, ignoring your commands. Even when your horse is responsive, moving your arms up and down quickly in a rein-shaking motion is tiresome. Skiing works better. You push with your ski poles to gain momentum, lean your weight from side to side to turn, and crouch to gain speed, but staying on course and maintaining a competitive speed is too difficult to make hitting the slopes enjoyable for all but the most dedicated players.
Most events can be played by up to four players, each taking turns, but this does nothing to improve the experience. In addition to all its other problems, MotionSports is hampered by frequent, sometimes staggeringly long load times, so you need to be patient as you wait for your next opportunity to get frustrated by control woes and difficulty issues. The subtle precision and soothing quiet of hang gliding offer some serene pleasure, but the other events are plagued with far too many flaws to make MotionSports tolerable. This isn't the sports-themed collection for the Kinect that you should be playing.