Few things in life are as satisfying as some good ol’ schadenfreude, and the producers of hit ABC show Wipeout know that more than anyone: it’s like an obstacle course interpretation of home-movie clip shows where everyone gets knocked in the balls — fitting, as the most iconic obstacle is a set of huge red balls.
There's a difference, though, between getting smacked upside the noggin with a padded beam and watching said event happen to someone else. Making personal injury fun for all is by no means an easy task, but Wipeout: In The Zone grabs Kinect and takes a hard swing. Hilarity ensues, although not always for the player.
Like in the real show, the goal is to run a series of gauntlets peppered with padded obstacles that are more than eager to knock you upside the face while colour commentators ridicule your failed attempts at not getting booted into the muddy water below. There's virtually no getting around failing either unless you happen to be some kind of Wipeout god, as each course is designed for maximum audience hilarity. Seeing your Avatar fly all rag-doll like from the giant red balls is one of those slapstick gags that seemingly never gets old.
That is, until it does get really old. Wipeout is not the kind of game you really want to play alone since the constant failure doesn't translate too well when half of the game involves you getting crushed. Brutally difficult games like Super Meat Boy manage to make failure fun for solo players, even encouraging it in some cases, whereas Wipeout is mostly just good for laughing at others' misfortune. On the plus side, multiplayer options are nice and robust, offering both online and local multiplayer, including a special mode where sidelined players actually get to grief the sad sap trying to run the course by throwing things at them. Wipeout really shines in these modes and can be tremendous fun when you've got a group of like-minded friends who don't mind a good ribbing, but solitary players may find these "charms" much less alluring.
Each "episode" included consists of three events: a preliminary obstacle course, a knockout round and lastly another more daunting course. You can't really "fail" a round per se — your overall ranking for each episode is time-based, and when an obstacle knocks you down you find yourself right back up there and ready to take it on again. If one proves to be too much — or your patience runs out — you can skip ahead to the next checkpoint and take a 60-second penalty by suitably throwing your arms into the air. There's no shame in skipping, and thanks to the slightly lagged controls you might find it more agreeable with your mental health to throw in the proverbial towel.
Gestures translate pretty much as you'd expect them to: running, walking, jumping and ducking are the cornerstones of getting around, but you can also (sort of) steer yourself in midair by leaning forward and back, and putting your arms in a forward "stop" position has you brake and backpedal. Kinect is never confused as to what you're doing, but the reaction time needed to not get hit on the noggin is sometimes so razor-thin that it feels a bit unfair. As a result it can be tricky to maintain momentum and thus get the results you hope for, hurtling you towards stooge-like results.
Griefing is one of those mysterious pleasures that everyone can get behind when it's over something silly, and Wipeout absolutely revels in that feeling by actively targeting the player to the benefit of pretty much everyone. There really isn't a whole lot of depth to this essentially glorified minigame mix, and on a platform with an embarrassment of riches in that department it can be tough to recommend whole-heartedly unless you have a slightly sinister side and a bundle of friends upon which to unleash it.