Despite what its title might suggest, Deca Sports Freedom--which is known as Sports Island Freedom in some parts of the world--is hardly a liberating experience. This shoddy collection of sports minigames forces you to bear the threefold burden of technical shortcomings, glaring design flaws, and frequently awful controls. The lone silver lining is that the 10 sports featured are nice and varied. But despite the delightful juxtaposition of sports like paintball and kendo next to tennis and figure skating, the inescapable truth is that none of them are any fun. Simply put, Deca Sports Freedom is a game that's best avoided.
Whereas Kinect Sports proved that Microsoft's new controller-free camera technology can make for a fun new way to simulate athletics, Deca Sports Freedom doesn't get along nearly as well with the Kinect hardware. Many of the events are plagued by controls that not only fail to consistently register your movements, but also require expert precision in spite of punishing lag. Tennis is one of the worst offenders. The game often confuses a backhand with a forehand or rewards your opponent with a point when you swing a fraction of a second too late. Dodgeball is similar; it's anyone's guess if the game will interpret that you wanted to attempt to catch an opponent's throw or simply stand there with a look of morose dejection on your avatar's face. But at the very least, you have the option to let your own Xbox avatar do the sulking.
Then there's paintball, a sport where technical issues are the least of your worries. Paintball's absurd and deeply misguided control scheme is Deca Sports Freedom at its awkward pinnacle. You're asked to trek around a battle arena, take cover behind objects, and wield a gun as though you were in a first-person shooter. At least, that's the idea. In execution, maneuvering around carries all the elegance of a toddler taking its first step--you're just sort of oddly swaying your body around in the direction you want to move, trying not to tip over, and flinging your arm up to fire the gun. It's only with the sports that use bare-bones control schemes that you experience anything approaching fun. Figure skating requires you to match simple poses as you skate around the ice, while archery is a simple matter of aiming with one outstretched arm and releasing the arrow by gesturing with the other. These two sports are somewhat entertaining the first time you play them, but since they're the only two mildly entertaining sports in a collection of 10, their novelty wears out fast.
But don't let the relative shallowness of figure skating and archery fool you--most of the events in Deca Sports Freedom require memorizing a surprisingly large number of gestures if you want to feel like you're not just blindly flailing against the competition. Deca Sports Freedom is kind enough to let you take part in a tutorial before every event, but they're a tedious and rarely helpful experience. These tutorials show you painfully protracted scenes of a character performing a sport's various gestures and then ask you to mimic what you've just seen--but you're not given the least bit of feedback about what you do wrong, and you have to keep restarting the lesson until you get it right. Combine these ambiguous instructions with the inconsistent way the game interprets your movements, and what you've got is a series of tutorials where the tedium outweighs the rewards.
Oddly enough, the most rewarding part of Deca Sports Freedom might be successfully navigating its menus. The game offers a textbook example of how not to build a user interface with the Kinect. You select menu buttons using a cursor that ostensibly mimics the wave of your hand, but it's a fidgety and fickle beast that leaps from one button to the next almost at random. It's especially painful when you're in the cluttered pre-match menu screen, where a hodgepodge of buttons and settings reside in close proximity, making it easy to overlook what you want to select and accidentally choose what you don't. And when there's only one button on the screen, the cursor inexplicably disappears altogether, forcing you to extend your arm in various directions as you search for the invisible part of space in front of you where your hand needs to be to continue forward.
That sort of awkward movement isn't restricted to you; it includes the game's athletes as well. Nonsensical animations litter just about every sport in the game. Taking a moment to examine your opponent in boxing reveals a jellyfish-like alien being whose arms flutter about entirely independent of his or her body. Replays of successful spikes in beach volleyball show characters levitating skyward without the least bit of a jumping motion. And then there's paintball, where your teammates look like they're twisting around in a sort of tribal dance as they search out opponents. It's an altogether ugly presentation that doesn't do the game any favors. The same can be said for the repetitive pulsing dance beats that accompany all the sports, and there's no announcer commentary whatsoever.
The unpleasantness that is Deca Sports Freedom is spread across a variety of game modes that include one-off matches and a small handful of tournament formats, but the core issues that plague the game remain in full effect no matter how the events and teams are organized. Local two-person multiplayer lets you share in the pain with a friend, while the game's online component allows for four players to awkwardly flail together. However, the online community is so sparse that we weren't able to find a match over several days' worth of repeated attempts. The lack of players online is probably for the best, though, because this terrible sports compilation is a plain and simple mess. The most freeing part of Deca Sports Freedom is not playing it at all.