Kinect Joy Ride is a colorful racing game that has a lot of good things going for it. It lets you play as your Xbox Live avatar and choose from a number of good-looking rides; its imaginative environments are host to several different event types, in addition to regular races; and it can be played with friends both locally or online. Sadly, though, almost every aspect of the game falls short of its full potential because you're forced to play with motion controls that, while uncomplicated, are imperfect at best.
You don't need to concern yourself with accelerating or braking in Kinect Joy Ride, but you are responsible for steering, performing tricks, using weapons, and charging up and triggering speed boosts. To steer, you stretch your arms out in front of you as if you're holding a steering wheel. The Kinect has no problems recognizing your attempts to turn left and right, though it's difficult to make subtle adjustments when drifting around corners or attempting to collect tokens on the track, for example. Worse still, attempts to charge up your all-important boost by pulling both of your arms back don't always register. Activating boosts by thrusting your arms forward works more reliably, but that doesn't count for much if you're having trouble charging them beforehand. Weapons and other power-ups--which only come into play in Battle Race mode--are activated by holding one of your hands out to the side. That works just fine, but because steering is already problematic, it can be a little worrisome to take one of your hands off of the invisible wheel.
Despite the problems with its controls, Kinect Joy Ride is rarely frustrating. There are times when a missed boost opportunity might cost you a position in a race, but the game does a good job of rewarding you regardless of whether you finish on the podium or are last across the line. Every time you finish an event, you gain fans, and as your fan base grows, you unlock new rides and events. You make progress regardless of how poorly you do, and you're free to repeat events that you particularly enjoy and can ignore any that you don't like. It's unfortunate that the differences between the numerous vehicles you can drive are only aesthetic, but it's at least fun to show off your latest unlocks in online races.
Pro Race and Battle Race are the only modes that can be played online, where they support up to eight players simultaneously. Races are contested on tracks that incorporate plenty of shortcuts, numerous boost pads, and--more often than not--some opportunities to get big air and then perform flips and rolls by leaning as if you're shifting a significant amount of weight in your kart. Stunts earn you additional fans, and although there's no other tangible reward for performing them in the middle of a race, there's also never any danger of you failing to land one and losing time as a result. AI opponents do a good job of keeping both offline and underpopulated online races challenging, and even if you manage to finish first, there's some replay value to be had attempting to beat bronze, silver, and gold medal times for every event. Battle Races aren't as much fun as Pro Races. There are only six different power-ups, and none of them are particularly satisfying to use because they don't require any skill. Falling foul of one that freezes all of your wheels or having opponents simply teleport ahead of you just isn't much fun either.
Stunt mode, on the other hand, offers an enjoyable challenge and--because it doesn't demand precise controls--is one of the better event types on offer. Your goal is to rack up as many points as possible on courses that resemble either a gigantic halfpipe or multiple halfpipes connected by loop-the-loops and the like. Using well-timed speed boosts, it's possible to get insane amounts of air, and as you perform stunts, you can also score points by collecting items like bells and cherries that are hanging in midair. There's something very satisfying about launching your chosen ride high into the air and then, as you lean in different directions, watching your avatar clinging to it for dear life as you perform barrel rolls and backflips.
Similarly satisfying, though more demanding of precision, are the Smash events that challenge you to drive around bowl-like arenas destroying statues and other items by crashing into them. It's not particularly challenging, but to achieve high scores, you need to destroy as many of the targets as possible while drifting so that you keep your points multiplier going. Furthermore, you need to keep an eye on the clock that's counting down because once you've destroyed all of the statues, you trigger a ramp and must jump off of it to take down the giant "boss" statue. It's a shame that there are only a few similar Smash arenas in the game because they're fun when you get a good drift going.
The remaining two modes are titled Dash and Trick, and both are odd because they play very differently from everything else in Kinect Joy Ride. Dash events are short time-trial events on tracks that are littered with both obstacles and collectible fan tokens. Speed boosts are every bit important in these events as they are in races, but what's strange is that when you steer your kart, you don't have analog control and can only move left or right one or two lanes at a time. Your car takes corners automatically, so all you need to do is make sure it's in a lane where the only thing it's going to hit are collectibles and boost pads. This method of steering works well enough that it makes you wonder if races could've worked better if they employed a similar system. Trick events are even further removed from the rest of Kinect Joy Ride and see your chosen kart taking to the skies as a plane, which you then wing walk on. Avatar silhouettes appear onscreen prompting you to copy their poses, and you score points for doing so both accurately and quickly. This makes for a nice change of pace, but you're unlikely to spend much time in Trick events because it doesn't take long for them to become repetitive.
Kinect Joy Ride isn't a bad game by any means, but it's also not a good game to release alongside the new Kinect hardware. Rather than showing off what the Kinect is capable of, Kinect Joy Ride is an obvious example of a game that would be better if you could play it with a regular controller. It's fun to see your avatar racing around in a muscle car or an ice cream van, but the sad fact is that he or she invariably appears to be having a better time behind the wheel than you.