Kinect is proving to be the ideal platform for younger gamers right now; we’ve already had the reasonably enjoyable Disneyland Adventures, and it’s highly likely that the forthcoming Kinect Star Wars will find more favour with pre-teens than thirty-something geeks. Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure is another controller-free release which has its sights set squarely on the younger generation, but given the almost universal appeal of Pixar’s movies, it should come as no surprise to find that adults are getting excited about it, too.
With smash-hits such as Toy Story, Up, Cars and The Incredibles under its belt, Pixar's something of a dream ticket when it comes to video gaming licensing. The premise that ties together all these fragmented worlds is pretty simple; you’re a kid visiting Pixar Park for the first time, and within this leafy and pleasant environment you can indulge your fantasies and become all kinds of cool characters from your favourite films. This park is divided into sections, each representing a different Pixar movie.
Before venturing into the park itself, you’re asked to create a character. You can select a default avatar or allow the game to scan you in, offering what is intended to be a close approximation of how you appear in the real world. This element feels half-baked and awkward; it requires you to stand with your arms and legs splayed while the Kinect camera scans your body. The process often stalls or conks out, forcing you to start over. Even when it does work, we were unimpressed with the accuracy of the created character.
The majority of the games in Kinect Rush are on-foot action titles. For example, Toy Story features a mission when you have to get from one end of a daycare center to the other as you jump over platforms, slide down ropes and install batteries into toy cars by picking them up and throwing them. The Incredibles offers a slightly different take; it’s more focused on superhero powers and heroic teamwork.
The odd one out is Cars, which boasts a driving mechanic where you accelerate by holding your arms outwards, as if you were gripping a steering wheel and turning by making the appropriate motion with your arms. This is arguably Kinect Rush’s most immediate and compelling game mode, and is probably where you’ll spend most of your time.
With many Kinect games, we’ve noticed a worrying trend: getting other players involved is often a hit-and-miss affair. In Kinect Rush, the developer's thankfully avoided such issues. The hop-in, hop-out multiplayer system works really well, and the game does a good job of keeping track of players in the room. To actually join a game, you have to put your arm in the air; when Kinect has a track on you, the screen splits. In an especially neat touch, it can even tell when you switch positions with your fellow player, and swaps the split-screen viewpoint accordingly. This is a godsend if you’re playing with younger players who get easily confused when it comes to recognising which character they’re in control of.
Indeed, it’s obvious that Kinect Rush has been crafted with the very young in mind. Although the game tasks you with completing missions and collecting coins, it never really becomes a harsh challenge. The aim here is clearly to allow everyone to have fun, regardless of their skill. This is reinforced by the fact that the game allows you to skip certain tasks if you’re really struggling.
Sadly, other elements of Kinect Rush do end up feeling a little too much like a struggle. The main issue is the controls, which rarely feel intuitive or accurate. Movement during most of the on-foot sections is controlled by swinging your arms around, just as you would if you were sprinting. The big difference is that you don’t move your legs — something that isn’t always immediately obvious to really young players. Turning is handled by twisting your shoulders in the direction you want to move in: an understandable choice, but not a particularly natural one, because when you twist you also turn your eyes away from the screen. It feels odd to have to tilt your upper body to move in a particular direction, yet keep your eyeballs firmly glued on the display.
The ultimate test of any control system is how well a young child can adapt, and when we tested Kinect Rush with a four-year-old, they soon became frustrated. You can hardly blame the developer for this — after all, the age quoted on the box is 7 and up — but even adult players seem to struggle with the controls.
Despite these interface niggles — which, if we’re being totally honest, are pretty common across most Kinect releases — this game still provides good, wholesome fun for the family. The ability to jump in and out of games at will is fantastic, and the fact that the game design isn’t constantly bashing you over the head with tricky objectives helps remove a barrier which would ordinarily keep inexperienced players away. And of course there’s the appeal of the Pixar licence; the massive popularity of the studio’s films will draw in individuals of all ages, making this an ideal family title.
While it doesn’t quite provide the intuitive and all-encompassing experience we hoped for, Kinect Rush just about manages to overcome its irksome control issues and provide plenty of entertainment for all members of the family. Hardcore players obviously won’t find a stern challenge awaiting them here, but those who revel in the prospect of light-hearted social play should find much to appreciate — just so long as they are willing to endure a few moments of slight frustration.