Gamescom 2012: Ubisoft Kinect Round-up – Kinect the Dots
Written Monday, August 27, 2012 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
It’s early morning on the last day in the Gamescom business centre and crammed into a small room are a number of game developers, a few members of Ubisoft PR, three incredibly fit professional dancers and me. As you can imagine, I was terrified. I could almost hear the sinister laugh of my evil overseer (Dan Webb) in the background, and I could also see why every other journalist had decided to have a lie-in rather than subject themselves to early morning activity. However, I was going to have to “be the controller” in front of a rather large group of strangers and it was unnerving to say the last.
At first it seemed like I might get away with it. The lead creative developer on The Hip Hop Dance experience let me stay confined to my seat and allowed the professional dancers to take centre stage, “Trusty dance group come on down”. I quietly applauded his choice while he explained the newest addition to the Kinect dance genre. “This is part of the Experience franchise that started with the Michael Jackson Experience,” he explains, “And now, instead of a solo artist, we're going for an entire genre. The entire culture of hip hop.”
The Hip Hop Experience takes a different approach to showing you the ropes too, as unlike similar games, you're not expected to mirror your on-screen avatar leading to a potential flailing of limbs. Instead they have their back to you and you can copy them move for move, with secondary mirror image dancers in the background for those used to that style of play. It’s a neat idea and one that does actually seem fairly beneficial to making this a much more approachable dance experience. They have also integrated Kinect voice commands into the game so you can select any track just by bellowing it as you approach the dance floor, which is just how it works in clubs right?
There is plenty to keep people moving on the disc too, with 40 tracks to choose from and three difficulties per song. You can also select different difficulties for each individual dancer so there's nothing stopping a rank amateur from mixing it with the best – other than the potential threat of Hip Hop humiliation of course (the worst kind of humiliation). There are over 750 dance moves spread throughout the tracks that have been professionally choreographed by some of the finest talent in Hollywood, and as you can practice each and every one of them at any time it may take a while before you master them all. The beauty of the game is that it will highlight any moves that you may screw up one too many times and then let you immediately hop into practice mode to tune up your skills.
The overall idea is to present the whole hip hop package, “So the outfits, master videos, dance moves, everything – is all authentic.” So while Ubi admits that some of the moves may seem a bit trickier than other games, the aim is to make sure players want to hop back in to continue to improve and practice. A mode that has been added in that may well be of interest to fitness fanatics, show offs or masochists is Dance Marathon. “This is exactly as it sounds. We take all 40 songs and string them all together to make one song, and then we see how long you can last,” our host states with a chuckle. As well as giving you a chance to master all of your moves you can also see how in shape you are, which will apparently be aided via the Autumn/Fall Xbox Live dashboard update that will introduce a feature showing how many calories you’ve burnt while playing Kinect games.
Next up was Avengers: Battle for Earth, presented by art director Dan Vargas. “This is the first collaboration between Marvel and Ubisoft,” Vargas explained. “It’s also the first time you’ve been able to control the heroes directly.” Clearly there are grand things in store then and the premise of a Kinect based fighting game is certainly intriguing, as Vargas states that, “We wanted to take advantage of the iconic poses and moves of the characters as part of our gameplay.” The storyline is based on the Secret Invasion comic series from a few years ago, featuring the Skrull and all of the heroes and villains involved, so you won’t just be pounding nameless foes for no reason – you’ll also be doing it to advance the story.
It seems like we have dodged a bullet yet again, as Vargas gets a willing PR volunteer to step forward and show off the basic gameplay. Different moves and actions have different results, with you using your arms for ranged attacks and your legs for kicks and throws. Heave an enemy into the air and you can pummel on them as fast as you can swing your mighty fists, plus you can chain various movements together to perform dodges, heavy attacks and even super moves. Each match sees two teams of two square off, and there are various on-screen prompts to aid in your attacks and defensive moves. The idea being a kind of rock, paper, scissors affair whereby various attacks counter each other and you have to string moves together to good effect as well as swapping characters in at key moments to swing the momentum in your favour. There are twenty characters to choose from and each of them have a variety of moves and special attacks to learn. “While the game is easy to pick up and play, it is difficult to master,” says Vargas after finishing the presentation, which is surely exactly what a good fighting game should be.
Unfortunately, he then catches me unprepared. “I’d invite you to try it out if you are interested,” he asks, as everyone casts their eyes in my direction and with such an innocent offer how can I say no. Thankfully the controls are just as easy to pick up as he said they would be and, even though we are in a perfectly sized room for the Kinect to function properly, it all seems to work fairly smoothly. I’m blasting my opponent with one hand, then tossing them into the air with a swift knee before flailing my arms in the approximate direction of some sturdy punches (which everyone graciously declined to laugh at). On a couple of occasions the moves I was trying to pull off didn’t seem to work first time, but as the second round kicked in I seemed to have a much better grasp of the game and strung a few respectable combos together. Emerging triumphant, and not totally shaming myself, is a nice feeling and the game's detection is pretty much spot on. There'll also be an online versus mode as well as local split-screen combat to boot, so the chance to virtually beat on your friends may be good for a few laughs too.
The final game on show was Just Dance 4, which is the follow up to the world's best selling dance game (on Kinect). The series continues the tradition of being able to have up to four players simultaneously, and has the option for new players to jump in and out of the gameplay at any given point which makes it the ideal party game. The developers were also keen to make sure the detection was spot on this time around so that no matter how many players were taking part, they were all getting fairly and accurately scored for their moves. The menu system has been set up with a smartphone style interface (don’t tell Apple) so that players can quickly swipe between songs and modes on the fly with no long winded menus to trawl through. The whole thing has been designed with a casual, pick up and play vibe that should make it an instant hit amongst newcomers.
There are 44 tracks on the disc at launch with an eclectic mix of dance music, rock, pop and dubstep (the horror). Luckily they wanted to show off the new gameplay too but, in heart stopping horror, “To show you that, I need you to come up here and dance.” Despite his assertions that I’d be great, I had that nagging feeling of dread. On the plus side at least the man himself was going to join me and one of the dancers also stepped up, proclaiming that this “was his song.” So just the game developer and a pro dancer to compete with then: not a problem. Four minutes later and I’ve actually managed to out score my host, though the professional shames us both as you would expect. The game picks up everything superbly, though I’ve no doubt that I was playing on easy.
Just as I’m sitting back down though, my host reveals another new addition. The ability for the Kinect to record you while you dance and splice together a 25 second music video that you can instantly upload to Facebook, Xbox Live or the Just Dance channel for the world to enjoy. I cringe in horror as he replays my ‘moves’ but mercifully he deletes them rather than setting them loose on the web. The idea is a great one though and ideal for shaming your friends as they dance drunkenly in front of Kinect. A quick upload online and they can relive their sterling performance the day after. Surely the stuff that dreams are made of for anyone holding a party and with the option to store up to 100 videos it could soon take off.
As I take a moment to thank my hosts and shuffle off to my next appointment, I notice that the next session rapidly fills up with a plethora of journalistic victims who can hide behind one another when the call comes out for volunteers. Ah well, at least I got to beat up the Hulk and shake my ass.
The Hip Hop Experience will be busting a move come November 2012, while Avengers: Battle for Earth will be Hulking up at around the same time (and will be exclusive to the 360 at launch). You can also expect to secretly record your friends via Just Dance 4 when it shimmies onto shelves in October.