After Kinect Sparkler turned out to be rather dim, the second paid addition to Kinect Fun Labs is here in the much more pleasing form of Air Band, which lets you become a musical ensemble with just your bare hands.
You and a friend can jump in to one of five musical styles — disco, rock, pop, latin and country — and mime playing a keyboard, guitar or drum kit. A neon instrument magically appears on screen and you begin to make music, switching instruments at any time by holding your arms by your side before beginning a different mime.
While there are just three instruments available, there's a little more depth to this title. Depending on where you stand on-screen, the instrument's colour and corresponding music will change: stand to one side and your guitar could be a purple bass, elsewhere an orange acoustic or a green lead electric. While you can't walk around the play space and have your instrument change colour automatically — cool though that would be — it does mean that if you're playing with friends you're not all playing the same notes, and if you're on your own there's triple the number of instruments to play about with.
Of course the best thing about Air Band would have been if you could actually influence the music being played, but once the instrument has appeared on-screen your input is minimal: you might feel cool smashing the drum kit or playing a complex piano solo, but all the music is pre-determined and you'd get exactly the same effect if you just stand still.
That's missing the point of Air Band, though: it's a pleasingly active experience, and without the stress of following notes evident in Guitar Hero and its ilk there's a sense of freedom, if not self-expression, from just standing up and pretending to play a musical instrument. It sounds silly, but the music sounds good and there'll be moments you share with your playing partner that come close to mimicking the feeling of a real musical performance.
At times a fan in the crowd will raise a digital camera — a nice touch — to begin a short recording of your performance, which can then be sent to Kinect Share. Photos are also taken during your 'gig', though it's less clear when these are taken, so you may struggle finding a shot of just the right moment.
With five musical styles, three instruments each with three variations there's enough to sustain you for one go-around with every track, but after that the illusion that your movements have any impact has long since worn off, and you can only literally go through the motions. For parties it's a better ice breaker than digging out a plastic instrument, but while the human input is motion and the outcome music, there's no correlation between the two.
Air Band is a fun and inviting experience that shows what Kinect does best. With nothing to hold or buttons to press, physical motions are enough to make music, and with a partner there's some good fun to be had. However, the inability to influence the music is a downer and will limit your desire to fire the game up time and again. Considering Fun Labs' "look what Kinect can do" doctrine it may not hit all the right notes, but it does an admirable job of replicating the passion of a musical performance.