Whether you grab Microsoft's new Kinect hardware with visions of turning your living room into a dance floor, a gymnasium, or a racetrack, you'll get a chance to embark on some outlandish adventuring as soon as you get your Kinect home. That's because Kinect Adventures comes included with every Kinect sold. With only five minigames, some better than others, you'll quickly experience all that Kinect Adventures has to offer. And two-player simultaneous play requires a solid 8-to-10 feet of clear space, which limits some to a one-player experience. But these goofy activities are fun to watch even when you're not playing. Kinect Adventures makes for a good pack-in by demonstrating that the Kinect's technology really works and by getting you and your friends or family on your feet and into the fun right away.
The concept here is enjoyably absurd. You play as a fresh-faced new recruit on the Adventure Team, a group of thrill seekers dedicated to doing all sorts of things typically associated with adventurers, like white-water rafting and popping bubbles in space. Kinect Adventures pulls you into this concept on its attractive menu screens by having your avatar, decked out in a cool Adventure Team uniform complete with a snazzy stylized "A" belt buckle, looking out at you from the screen and mirroring your movements as you select menu options. In fact, throughout the game, your avatar admirably mimics your movements. This makes controlling Kinect Adventures a breeze, provided you're up to the occasionally demanding physical activity it requires of you.
There are five minigames in Kinect Adventures. The objectives you're trying to accomplish in any one activity can vary over time, sometimes challenging you to collect a certain number of pins along a course or making you race against the clock, but these changes have little impact on how the minigames are played. Of the five minigames, the one that feels the most legitimately adventurous is River Rush. This game sets you in a raft on a raging river, but this is no simulation of white-water rafting. You stand at the front of your inflatable raft, steering it down the rapids by sidestepping left and right and catching big air off of ramps by jumping. Catch enough air and your raft may even glide along the clouds for a while. There's not a whole lot to it, but the fast pace and the white-water setting make it a good time in short bursts. And it benefits more than any other event from playing with a friend. Needing to quickly coordinate when to turn and when to jump with your partner as you race down the river makes the already fast action a bit more frantic.
The most strenuous minigame is Reflex Ridge, an obstacle course in which you ride along rails on a flat platform, jumping, ducking, and sidestepping the obstacles in your way. At higher levels, you get a decent workout as the obstacles never stop coming, which makes this a good event for those looking for more physical activity. Reflex Ridge is the only game that offers competition rather than cooperation for two players, as you and your opponent ride through the course on separate platforms, shooting for a high score.
The remaining events are considerably less demanding. Rallyball puts you at one end of a hallway, with blocks that need to be destroyed at the other. You use any part of your body to send a rubber ball bouncing to the other end of the hallway to smash the blocks. Like a soccer goalie, you try to stop the ball from getting past you when it comes flying back in your direction, and because some blocks you smash release additional balls, you may sometimes be trying to keep four or five balls in play at once. It's only in these moments of multiball madness that Rallyball really gets wild, but it happens often enough to keep this activity fun.
On the more subdued end of the spectrum are 20,000 Leaks and Space Pop. In 20,000 Leaks, you're submerged under the ocean's surface in a tank with glass walls that seem to be as sturdy as tissue paper. Fish and sharks swim along and bop on the glass, cracking it. Thankfully, your touch magically repairs these dangerous fissures, and because you sometimes have several cracks to contend with simultaneously, it's good that you can use your head, as well as your hands and feet, to get the job done. The issue here is that the cracks are quite small, and because you can't see where they are in actual space, plugging holes involves a lot of reaching out to approximately where you think the crack is, and then, based on how far off the mark your avatar is, adjusting your position. Because the other minigames all rely on broader gestures, this doesn't become an issue elsewhere in Kinect Adventures, but 20,000 Leaks asks for a bit more precision than is reasonable. Last and least is Space Pop, which puts you in a space station and gives you the strange goal of popping bubbles. You flap your arms to take to the air in this weightless environment and move forward or backward and left or right to fly into the bubbles and pop them on contact. It's a serene activity that's greatest virtue is that it lets you catch your breath between rounds of Reflex Ridge.
Kinect Adventures works well as a social experience, whether you have the 8 feet of clear space in front of the sensor needed for two to play or not. When you're not the one playing, watching your friend scramble around to steer a raft or smack nonexistent rubber balls is entertaining in itself. Kinect Adventures tries to make the most of all this goofy movement by snapping pictures at choice moments, such as when you jump over an obstacle in Reflex Ridge or use your arms, legs, and head to plug five holes in 20,000 Leaks. By default, the pics stay securely in your system's memory, safe from prying eyes, but if you want to share that glorious image of you flapping your arms to take flight in Space Pop with people far and wide, Kinect Adventures lets you upload them to a website, and from there, you can share them on Facebook. And if you'd rather spare yourself the embarrassment of seeing these compromising images, you can turn off the picture-taking feature in the game's options menu.
You're rewarded periodically with gear you can equip on your avatar like wristbands, sunglasses, and watches. More unusual and more interesting are the living statues you acquire. One looks like a hamster; another like a massive great white shark with your avatar standing in its jaws; another still like a happy yeti. You can record short voice and movement clips, which the statues then reenact, with your voice modified appropriately. When you give words to the hamster statue, they come out sounding as squeaky as a cartoon chipmunk. There's plenty of opportunity here for both family-friendly laughs or for more twisted humor, and as with the photos, you can share the words and movements you impart to your statues on Facebook.
Kinect Adventures doesn't push the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360, but its bright, slightly cartoonish environments create an inviting setting for all your adventuring, and it is one in which your avatar looks right at home. The limited assortment of activities means Kinect Adventures isn't likely to keep you entertained for hours on end, but some of these events are fun to come back to time and again. Kinect Adventures makes it easy to start having fun with your Kinect from the moment you get it set up, and it shows off what that eerie contraption that's staring at you can do.