The Xbox Kinect is an advanced piece of hardware, and it doesn’t seem as though developers and publishers have fully comprehended what Microsoft’s motion-detecting gizmo can do. In some respects it’s like Xbox Live all over again: Microsoft came out with a cool product that’s just a little bit ahead of its time. At least, that’s the vibe you get playing Adrenalin Misfits for Kinect, the first snowboarding-like game for Microsoft’s new motion controller. On the surface Adrenalin Misfits performs well enough, but there are too many miscues, too many nuances that aren’t picked up, and too many head-scratching AI moments to really feel as though the game even comes close to helping the new Xbox 360 peripheral realize its potential.
In Adrenalin Misfits, players get a contraption called a crossboard, which has all the functionality of a snowboard but can work its magic on the snow, water, ice or any number of man-made surfaces. As players progress, they unlock new classes and earn new crossboards, each of which has different specialties in the Speed, Power, Technique, Jump and Balanced Attack categories. In many respects, it feels just like a racing game in which different vehicles handle differently. Only this time, you don’t just get sweaty palms from navigating hairpin turns with a controller, you just get downright sweaty! Players also have the option of selecting an avatar from among a handful of developer-created ones, or they can play as their Xbox 360 avatar, which is a nice albeit Wii-like touch. The chosen avatar has no effect on the crossboards’ performance, though, so the choice is purely cosmetic.
At first Adrenalin Misfits seems to do a good job picking up subtle body movements, which is important for finesse movements through the Slalom gates or to carve the best line down the track. But once you get out of the training modes, Adrenalin Misfits gets infinitely more unforgiving, and in many instances, infinitely less accurate. To increase speed, players must lean forward, but whether the leaning is recognized by the Kinect cameras is basically at the whim of the game’s “lean detection.” Worse yet, when it comes to turning you darn near have to suck your kneecaps while leaning a nigh-horizontal angles into tight corners. It’s uncomfortable to say the least, and it makes the Downhill Slalom modes incredibly difficult, even on Level 1. The Balloon Buster mode, which is similar to Downhill Slalom in that players follow a line of balloons to pop them rather than going through gates, is equally frustrating for this reason. The Kinect simply doesn’t respond well to subtle movements in Adrenalin Misfits, which is really what these two modes rely upon.
The lack of recognizing a player’s lean is surprising considering how far back the game makes you stand to get your entire body in the camera. By far, Adrenalin Misfits has players stand farther back than any other Kinect game I’ve played, which makes it really hard to clear a good game space. And believe me, you need a lot of space, because you REALLY get jumping, moving and waving your arms about in Adrenalin Misfits. You can even do nose grabs on the crossboard by grabbing your front foot in mid-air. Neat concept; hard to pull off in a small space.
The lean detection isn’t quite as imperative in the game’s other modes, but other issues creep up while playing them. Fly Distance mode is a series of competitions in which you not only try to get maximum air but also try to do insane tricks while airborne. With each successful trick, you earn an extra boost that realistically does nothing other than trigger fake wind blasts when you land. You also earn bonus “distance,” which is a completely wonky way to decide who’s done the best tricks because it’s anything but accurate. On multiple occasions I sprang through the air alongside AI opponents, only to see them not do a single thing while airborne but still land with a distance score much higher than my avatar’s — even as I was doing nose grabs, flips and helicopter spins. People always joke about the computer cheating or playing “catch up,” but this is the first time I’ve seen it for absolute certain. My avatar pulled-off tricks in the first 10 meters that would make Tony Hawk swallow his slimeballs, while the AI racer next to me literally floated through the air like a glider. And he still won.
For a break, head over to the Trick Score mode, in which players rack-up as many points as possible while racing to the end of the course. This is by far the best mode in the game, because it’s frankly the most fun. In many respects, Trick Score mode hearkens back to the original SSX on the PS2, which was just a boatload of fun. This mode is the best re-creation of that pure glee, and because it’s basically a “dink around” mode, it doesn’t seem as critical when the movement detection of the Kinect hardware fails.
The final two modes in Adrenalin Misfits are Free Race mode (just play around) and Stadium Games, in which players do various activities in an indoor arena outfitted with a halfpipe, a “big air” course and an all-purpose “terrain park” a la EA’s SKATE games. These are marginally fun, but the latter doesn’t impart the same sense of speed as the other modes, and Free Race just seems flat. And believe me, playing an uninspired mode while the surfer-dude narrator grows even more grating than Keanu at his worst Point Break moments is not an enjoyable experience.
I had high hopes for Adrenalin Misfits, because the training starts out benign enough and the workout value of snowboarding inside the home is hard to top outside of the “official” weight loss games. But the whole point of Kinect is not just to control games with your body, but to have fun doing so. Technologically, it’s easy to tell the Kinect is capable of many great and ingenious feats. If this software could have maximized the hardware’s motion-detecting capabilities, I have a feeling I’d be singing a different tune. But it just misses too many nuanced body movements and allows its AI-controlled characters to cheat far too often to be a recommended game.
- Score: 5.8
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
— Jonas Allen