It’s no secret that the number of Kinect-compatible titles for Xbox One is on the low side, to say the least. Given Microsoft’s decision to unbundle the console from the Kinect sensor at retail, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. However, the device is perfect for a bit of ID@Xbox experimentation and that’s what we see here, with Boom Ball for Kinect (which is the game’s full name, we’re not just being overly specific) from Virtual Air Guitar.
The game is essentially a first-person version of Breakout or Arkanoid, where instead of a single bar-style deflector, you have to use your hands to deflect balls back toward the playfield in order to destroy blocks. Rather than require pinpoint precision, the developer made it so that your hands are holding two bats that are much larger than your hands. In practice, this works really well. We’ve had no problems with recognition or the game missing our commands and every single time that we’ve failed to hit a ball back, it has been entirely our fault. To also remove a potential pitfall, when you only have a few blocks left to destroy, the game switches into “Boom Ball” mode. Here, you hit a series of explosives toward the general area of the remaining blocks, and they home in and clear up the last stragglers without causing frustration. You still need a modicum of skill to be able to aim the homing shots properly, so it isn’t all plain sailing.
Spanning 55 levels, Boom Ball for Kinect mixes things up with some clever and utterly devious block patterns and level designs. One set of levels reverses gravity. Another places a few items on the playfield to deflect the ball in unexpected ways. Later on, you’ll find references to Portal, as the game puts holes in the walls of the playing area, meaning that you’ll have to be on your toes to return the ball as it zips back toward you from a different direction than you’d expect. Power ups are on offer too, with the highlight being multiball. Unlike more traditional versions of Breakout, where you can get three balls in play at once, Boom Ball for Kinect allows you to stack the power up. So, there will be times when you have six, nine, or even twelve balls in play at once. When this happens, things get mighty frantic, mighty quickly.
While clearing each level allows you to progress to the next, the ultimate goal is to collect each of the stars available. Stars for beating the “Silver” and “Gold” completion time will be the most taxing to pick up, and this is a boon given how undeniably easy the levels are to complete. Indeed, on our first playthrough, we completed all 54 levels (and popped the achievement on the final “hidden” level) having failed to complete a level only three times. This means that while the game is solid and plays well, unless you’re absolutely determined to run through and pick up every single star on every single level, it’s very much a one-shot deal. The simple fact of the matter is that while fun to play, the game is far too easy. We mentioned devious level layouts, but it doesn't really matter how devious a layout is, if you can just deflect the ball back and forth for ages while you work out what to do or take a hundred attempts at doing it. Even the least agile of players will walk through the game without too many issues. After a couple of hours, you will have seen everything that Boom Ball for Kinect has to offer and while the game's price is relatively low compared to some other digital releases that we’ve seen of late, there are a fair few other titles on offer that provide a lot more in the way of longevity.
However, it has to be said that this is the only major flaw that we can find here. The fact is that the game does exactly what it says it’ll do, is generally decent fun while it’s doing it, and provides a few hours of genuine enjoyment. It’s the sort of game that will do well at Christmas time when the family is around, despite the fact that it doesn’t include any multiplayer modes. Your mum and dad will be up and playing, trying to best each other’s times or taking in turns with the rest of the family to play through the game. We would have expected more bang for our buck though, to be perfectly honest.
Boom Ball for Kinect is a very well made product. It plays well, responds well, and while it isn’t the most innovative of titles, is generally enjoyable. The fact that it’s over in such a short time and presents so little of a challenge is what does the damage here though. There’s nothing in the way of multiplayer and nothing that will draw you back in for a quick game, unless you’re hell bent on collecting every star. If you’ve got a few pounds spare in your Xbox wallet then you could do much worse, but just don’t expect to be playing it for very long.