Pack-in games tow a very particular line: show off new features and gameplay mechanics in a way that's fun as well as elevating the new hardware to must-have status. Knocking this out of the park can be devastating to the competition — Nintendo might have a thing or two to say about that. The more daring the new hardware, the more compelling a reason it needs to provide and Kinect, if anything, is a daring weapon in the war over the casual gamer.
It's not for a lack of trying, though. It's clear that Good Science Studio put in a ton of effort to make Kinect Adventures a slick package, with an abundance of things to do, online play, tight presentation and games that really do show the kinds of experiences that are only possible with Kinect. Menus are nice and chunky, making it very easy for newcomers to learn how to navigate the uniquely Kinect way, and everything is wrapped in an appealing scout-like patch and canvas look that is perfectly complemented by an adventurous Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack and overly excited narrators. But those five games, the parts that really count, range from enjoyable in short bursts to very dull and ultimately just feel like a set of nifty tech demos.
Rallyball is probably the best of the bunch, a sort of 3D Arkanoid where you smack, kick or headbutt a large ball down a tunnel to break blocks, with the occasional multiball power-up throwing you for a loop as you dodge around trying to keep them all in play. The only real depth to it, though, is whether you manage to time your strikes and set the ball aflame for higher damage. Another fun but shallow game is 20,000 Leaks, a strange variant of Twister in which you're in an underwater observatory under attack by the hostile aquatica and must plug the holes in the glass by covering them up with your hands, feet, head or chest.
Possibly the most advertised one in the bunch as well as what you're immediately plopped into upon first booting up the game, River Rush sticks you in a raft and sends you down a river without a paddle — jumping and leaning lets you navigate obstacles and ramps to pick up as many Adventure Pins as you possibly can. Reflex Ridge is quite similar but more linear: instead of navigating a powerful river, you're put on a forward-moving platform and need to pass hurdles by jumping, ducking and side-stepping, with the odd body pose to snap up Pins. Space Pop is the clear stinker of the bunch as you try to pop bubbles in a low-gravity zone by stepping forward or backwards and flapping your arms to float.
These games can be tackled in a few ways. If you just want to hop in for a no-strings round then Free Play or Timed is your go-to mode, but if you're after a bit more structure or wish to get your unlocks on then you'll be setting out on the predefined series of challenges that are Adventures. After each game you're awarded a medal based on how many Pins you managed to accrue through performance and speed. In Free Play these act as high scores, but Adventure requires you to achieve a certain amount of a certain type (say, a Silver in each of its three events) in order to clear it.
As long as you have the required 6-8 ft. of space in the room to play, motion detection is pretty flawless. The only issues we encountered were related to when we moved either too close or too far away from the sensor, but that was mostly from our own inexperience with the peripheral and play space. Apart from gameplay, Kinect Adventures takes advantage of the hardware's cameras by snapping pictures of players during what are supposed to be particularly nimble moments, which can then be shared with friends. It's a neat touch and one we can see a lot of Kinect games implementing, but once you've seen one you've seen them all and it wears old quickly. The same goes for the Living Statues you unlock by completing Adventures: the camera records your movements and maps them to a humorous figure, a fairly throw-away gag in the end. And, of course, two-player multiplayer over Xbox Live is a welcome feature made better through the fact that Kinect has a built-in microphone and thus ditches the need for a headset.
Kinect Adventures is undoubtedly a slick way to ease players into Microsoft's new motion control solution and show off what it can do, but the five games lack that certain spark and never manage to shake the feeling of being anything more than a series of tech demos. It might be cool to show off to friends and family at first, but you'll want to pop in something a bit meatier after a few rounds.