New Kinnect Games System: 10 Best (and Worst) Things About It

Clear the living room: It's video game time! Credit: Microsoft.



1. No controllers! In case you haven't seen the ads filled with images of people who appear to be playing charades while standing in front of their TV sets, Kinect is the latest innovation to hit video gaming since the introduction of the Nintendo Wii (which, okay, was not all that long ago -- but hey, technology moves fast). And Kinect just may change everything we know about playing games.

With the help of a fancy, hi-tech camera that sits either on top of or in front of your television, Kinect allows you to play video games with no controller whatsoever. The Kinect camera watches every motion you make with your full body and translates it to the characters onscreen in the game. But as awesome as that general concept is, it's only one of the coolest things about Kinect. Here are the rest. As well as a few things about it that may not be so great -- from a parent's perspective.

2. You can't fake your way out of a workout. As much as it's possible to build up a sweat while waving around a Wii remote in a motion-controlled game like "Wii Sports," you can always cheat the system by just moving the one hand that holds the controller. Wii remotes don't care if the rest of you is lifeless on the couch. Kinect sees your entire body and it wants all of you to move. If you're supposed to be running a race, you need to really pick up those knees, or you're going to lose.

3. It makes you feel like you're in a sci-fi movie. For ages, we've been watching movies about the future in which we see characters simply wave their hands through the air to flip past Web pages and scan through computer menus. Guess what? We're there!

4. It knows who you are. The thing recognizes your face and can call up your personalized avatar without you needing to ask. Okay, that one borders the line between cool and creepy.

5. It takes the concept of virtual pets to an amazing new level. Remember those little Tamagotchi things that kids used to care for by pressing buttons to feed them? In the game "Kinectimals," you can literally pet a virtual tiger cub, scratching under its chin and smoothing the fur on its back, with the same motions you'd use to nuzzle a real animal.

6. It's got a sense of humor. While waiting for the start of a footrace in "Kinect Sports," if you start dancing around, your avatar will mirror your funky steps and the computer-controlled opponent standing in the lane next to you will look at you oddly and say, "What the heck are you doing?"

7. It can make you a better dancer. In a game like "Dance Central," where you have to mimic the moves of the virtual dancer onscreen, you can take note of the steps you like and add them to your personal repertoire.

8. It keeps you on your toes. And more than just literally (though, you do need to stand up to play). Kinect will snap secret pictures of you while you're playing and surprise you after a game with awkward snapshots of yourself in ridiculous poses. What? You say that feature is creepy, too?

9. It's sympathetic to novices. The earliest Kinect games, at least, don't seem to require too much precision. Performing a move that's even reasonably close to what's necessary usually allows your avatar to pull off some awesome maneuvers onscreen. This is a factor that makes hardcore gamers groan, but can make Kinect all the more appealing to young kids and gaming newbies.

10. It has finally turned the Xbox 360 into a true family game system. For a long time now, Microsoft has been introducing kid-friendly games and good-clean-fun elements, like cutesy avatars, as a way of competing with Nintendo's Wii -- the video game bestseller with families and younger kids. Kinect, which launched with a slate of family-friendly games (minus one exception, below), makes Xbox a true competitor on the family front.


And now, the not-as-cool bits...

1. It can make violence feel even more violent. In the mixed-martial-arts brawler "Fighters Uncaged," for instance, you're throwing real punches and kicks. It's a uniquely visceral experience -- but, boy, is it aggressive. And let's all just hope that little Timmy doesn't happen to wander into the playing area.

2. It's not a friend of apartment dwellers. In order to the Kinect camera to get a good full-body view of you, you need to be standing six to eight feet away from your TV -- with absolutely nothing between you and the device. Folks without cavernous living rooms may need to hire furniture movers.

3. There are still a few kinks to work out. For the most part, this whole "you are the controller" thing really seems to work. But there will still be frustrating moments, when the device seems to have a mind of its own. These can especially occur when two players are simultaneously jockeying for control of the machine -- beware, parents of siblings. But having said that, I've still got to admit that Kinect's potential is mind-blowing.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.