Jumping Around Like a Mad Jumping Thing

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JoJo was in a store with a friend of ours and their kids the other day, and one of those Xbox Kinect machines was hooked up. Of course it wasn’t long before they were all flailing about in front of the screen copying the dance moves. When she got home I was amazed—nay, stunned—when she said “I’m going to get one of those”. I’d known about the Kinect for a while of course, but dismissed it as a ‘kid’s game’. But when your girlfriend—who has previously expressed no interest in computer games—offers to pony up to get the system, you don’t start arguing.

So we went and jumped about in the shop, both pronounced it lots of fun, and got the sensor (I already have an Xbox 360 of course). After some deliberation and a bit of research, we also purchased Just Dance 4. And JoJo threw in Fable: The Journey for me as well so I could try some ‘spellcasting’.

This is another one of those things we couldn’t have done back in Sydney, with our tiny TV room in our tiny inner-city terrace, so it’s great to be able to spread out and have plenty of space to flail about in front of the TV, perfecting our dodgy dance moves in time with crappy pop music. And, despite my misgivings about being forced to listen to some of the worst music this side of, well… anywhere, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. So much fun, that I even managed to sprain one of my toes last night as I jumped about!

I was never a big dancer, though being a drummer I had enough rhythm and coordination to avoid making a fool of myself and enjoyed going out to dance occasionally. What’s interesting here is how the brain quickly makes sense of the whole Kinect setup, and it doesn’t take long before the muscle memory kicks in and you’re remembering the dance moves, matching the left and right of your body to the left and right of the figure on the screen, and racking up the ‘PERFECT!’ scores. Of course Just Dance 4 is apparently one of the more forgiving and encouraging in the pantheon of Kinect dance games, so that might have something more to do with the good scores.

The thing has been a huge hit for us and hilarious fun. It’s also surprisingly good exercise. I thought I was in OK shape, but a few songs jumping about soon had me collapsing on the couch struggling to catch my breath. And after you’ve hopped, posed, punched the air and jogged to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, you can replay bits of video and animated picture sequences that lovingly record how ridiculous you both look.

When it comes to ‘proper’ gaming however, the Kinect probably has a product generation or two to go. Fable: The Journey is gorgeous-looking and very well made, but the accuracy isn’t consistent yet, and the gameplay is very much ‘on rails’. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had waving your arms blasting fireballs and grabbing and throwing goblins into the air in the combat sequences, even if it is frustrating pushing your hand out towards one part of the screen and having the fireball go blasting off into the opposite corner… over and over again. Less fun is to be had sitting watching your horses’s rump as you guide your cart along the road, pulling one rein or the other to direct your movement.

Quite apart from the restrictions of the Kinect, Fable: The Journey has the usual problems typical of computer games—annoying characters, cliched Tolkien-meets-Star-Wars plots, grating voice acting, a lack of wit in the writing… but I suppose it is geared towards a younger audience.

Still, there are glimpses of the future we saw in Minority Report here, and while the Kinect experience can be truly frustrating sometimes, it can also be a whole new kind of fun. It will be fascinating to see how the technology develops in the future.

In the meantime… EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!

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