Kinect Sports Rivals Review

Lee Bradley

Wii Sports set a high bar. Combining accessibility with the novelty of motion controls, it enlivened millions of family evenings across the world. Even my house got temporarily caught up in Wii Sports-mania, thanks to my wife Ruth. No mean feat considering she couldn’t give a crap about games.

I’m telling you all this because Kinect Sports Rivals isn’t really for us. It’s for younger kids and mums, dads, aunties and uncles who aren’t into games. It’s for people like my wife. So in the interest of inclusion, Ruth will pop up every now and again in this review. Her opinions are arguably more important than mine.

There are six playable games in Kinect Sports Rivals; Wake Racing, Climbing, Target Shooting, Soccer, Bowling and Tennis. But before you can play any of them, you first have to create your “Champion.”

They’re pretty good, the Champions. After you pose for Kinect they emerge as a cartoonified, oddly idealised version of you. It’s really well done, but even if you don’t like what the game spits out, you can always tinker with the look of your Champion later. For people unaware of Kinect’s capabilities, it’ll blow their mind.

Wake Racing gets the thumbs up from Ruth.

RUTH’S VERDICT: “I loved the face bit! Simple instructions, quick process. Absolutely fun! A bit nerve-wracking when you’re waiting for your head to appear on the top of your body, but yeah good fun.”

Kinect Sports Rivals kicks off with an event familiar to most Xbox One owners: Wake Racing. Courses feature some attractive water effects and a sprinkling of mines, ramps and other environmental obstacles. It’s lightweight but enjoyable enough, a chaotic mess of trick jumps, explosions and speed boosts as you jostle your way to the finish line.

RUTH’S VERDICT: “The water one’s alright. It would be better if you could master the controls. I was laughing when I was crashing. I like dodging mines and going through choppy waters. It’s not boring.”

Also familiar is Football (Soccer), which turned up in a similar form in the original Kinect Sports. You take it in turns to build attacks, attempting to manoeuvre the ball around defenders with either side-foot or lofted passes, before lashing the ball into the back of the net. Meanwhile, the defending team only has to worry about saving shots. It’s simple stuff, but there’s a unique thrill to a well-placed volley that can’t be replicated by merely pressing a button.

RUTH’S VERDICT: “Football’s a really fun one because the more you get into it, the more you can see how you’re supposed to pass. It’s a little bit tricky when you’re in goal because you can’t see the ball coming at you.”

Also returning is Bowling, a staple of sports compilations. In my first game I scored well over 200, getting seven strikes in the process, just by throwing the ball straight at the headpin. It’s disappointing that you can rack up a great score so early without mastering spin, which is fuzzily executed with a twist of the wrist and a bit of arm steering, but Bowling is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable events in the game.

RUTH’S VERDICT: "Bowling I think is the most fun on there. You could play with quite a few friends and have fun in the evening. It’s the most sociable of the games. With a bottle of wine you could have a tournament!"

It's not exactly PES or FIFA, but KSR's Soccer is good, clean fun.

Climbing is all new and one of the weaker events. To pull yourself up you have to reach and grab handholds, but Kinect occasionally fails to recognise a clenched fist, resulting in a tumble to the ground. However, when it is working, Climbing can be fun, spiced up with imaginative use of the handholds and the ability to leap larger distances and grab at opponent’s ankles, something which can lead to some dramatic scrambles for the top. It’s engaging despite its failings.

RUTH’S VERDICT: "Took me a while to understand that you had to grab. It’s quite a fast one and you don’t look at the other screen, you just go for it. Yeah, I liked that one."

Alongside Climbing, Target Shooting is a reminder that Kinect still isn’t perfect. Aiming is controlled with an outstretched arm and finger, with shots fired automatically once you move over a target. But movement is laggy and especially in the more pressured moments it can be frustrating. Dodging incoming turret fire and stealing enemy targets and time adds extra interest, but it’s basically a poor light gun game. It’s the worst event.

RUTH’S VERDICT: “Wasn’t keen on this one. Found it hard to line up… I didn’t realise you just lined your finger up with it. I didn’t understand when to dodge. Didn’t get that at all. Didn’t get it. It’s the only one I wouldn’t do again.”

Last up is Tennis and it does a solid job, moving your Champion around so you can focus on making top spin, backspin, lobs and power shots. Like Bowling, the event gains from the fact that everyone knows the anatomy of a good swing. All you have to worry about is perfecting the timing. Nailing a shot with a satisfying thwack and some Federer-inspired posturing is one of Kinect Sports Rivals’ highlights.

RUTH’S VERDICT: “Yeah. Tennis. Tennis? Once I knew how to hit, it was fine. I was moving back and forward but Kinect couldn’t see me. That one was alright.”

Shooting: Kinect Sports Rivals' crappiest event.

Unsurprisingly, Kinect Sports Rivals is best enjoyed with friends and family in your home, but the game also goes out of its way to keep single-players interested. There’s a persistent XP system; new equipment, events and levels unlock at a fast pace; plus there’s a kind of story mode with teams to choose from and characters that act out little dramatic, context-giving scenes. It’s all layered on pretty thick. David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor and presenter of the game, is a genial presence throughout.

There’s also loads of online capabilities, like leaderboards and challenges, upcoming global championships and competition over Xbox Live. It’s all designed to keep you playing even when you don’t have friends around and it’s nicely done. Plus, of course, there’s the achievements. The list here is perfectly in keeping with the game, unchallenging for the most part, but enough to keep you coming back for more. The “reach level 10” cheevos for each event seem particularly well-judged; time-consuming enough that you’ll have to put in the work without it ever feeling like a grind.

RUTH’S VERDICT: "I didn’t like the story bits. They kept on talking and all I wanted to do was play the game. Too much waffle."

Kinect Sports Rivals is undoubtedly the best title in the series, a sumptuously produced and colourful game with a solid collection of lightweight but largely enjoyable events and more modes than you can throw a bowling ball at. Make no mistake, Kinect still has its shortcomings, but they’re less apparent here than they ever have been before. This is probably as good as it gets.

RUTH’S VERDICT: "I liked it! Would definitely play again. I want to play it with mum and see what it does to her face."


Soundtracked by some jaunty dance tunes, Kinect Sports Rivals will have you jiggling alone during load screens. David Tennant is a brilliant inclusion as the presenter, but some of the voice acting during story sequences is pants and the incidental dialogue is annoyingly repetitive.

Bright, colourful and charming (in a corporate kind of way), Kinect Sports Rivals is an attractive game. Events play out across a tropical island loaded with colour and when there’s the opportunity, like Wake Racing’s beautifully undulating sea, the game knows how to flex the Xbox One’s muscles.

A few motion-sensing wobbles aside, Kinect Sports Rivals is a hugely accessible game that anyone can pick up within a couple of tries. Considering the target market, it’s a triumph. Where Kinect Sports Rivals falls down, however, is in terms of gameplay depth. It’s best enjoyed either in short bursts or with friends.

You couldn’t wish for much more. There’s loads of modes, unlocks and online functionality and developer Rare is dedicated to introducing new reasons to play, like World Championships. The story mode, meanwhile, is a little annoying and gets in the way of your immediate enjoyment, but its inclusion is a nice touch.

Perfectly fitting for the game itself, Kinect Sports Rivals’ list is a well judged balance of skill and progress achievements. It’s an easy list, for the most part, but that’s to its credit. Nobody wants to be playing Climbing for 10 hours just to unlock 5G. It’s nicely done.

It should go without saying that sports compilation games of this type are lightweight and disposable. But within that context, Kinect Sports Rivals does its job well. The motion sensing works, with a few exceptions, and the events are wrapped up in some beautiful presentation. Microsoft finally has a decent excuse for Xbox One’s all-seeing eye.

Game navigation