Kinect Needs Space
The first thing you need to know is that Kinect needs a lot of room. It works best when you stand at a range of 6-8 feet away from it. If you want to play two-player games, you'll need 8-10 feet of side to side space as well. You are probably going to have to move furniture around to accommodate Kinect. How bothersome that sounds to you should affect your decision to buy it. If you don't have the space, or don't want to have to move stuff around, you probably shouldn't get it. Personally, I didn't mind it. Once I shuffled my apartment around a bit, I had plenty of room.
What this does mean is that this isn't something you'll be able to give to your kids and expect them to be able to use in a cramped bedroom like normal videogames. Kinect is a living room-type of device. Not so much a kids bedroom-type of device. You really need proper space for it to work correctly. Again, if this isn't an option, you should probably skip Kinect for now.
So, Does Kinect Actually Work?
Okay, all of that out of the way. Now the important bit - Does Kinect work? Absolutely, and it is surprisingly intuitive. To select something, either on the Xbox 360 dashboard or in game, you just hover the little cursor that represents your hand over the option you want and hold still for a couple seconds. Easy. It feels very natural. The voice commands also work great. You just say "Xbox", then "Kinect", and all of the available voice commands pop up on screen so you just say what you want it to do next. To bring up the Xbox 360 guide, you hold your hand at the bottom left corner of the screen. It all works great.
Playing Games is Crazy Fun
Actually playing games is more important than playing with the dashboard, though, and here Kinect is a bit hit and miss. It depends entirely on the specific game you're playing whether the Kinect experience is good or not. The controls are never perfect 1-1 translations of what you are doing into the game, but the good games are close enough that you don't really mind. It is no different from games using a normal controller. Some games are just poorly made and don't work. Some games work incredibly well. I can honestly say that when Kinect works, it is fantastic. It is completely up to developers to get that performance, however.
Can you make big quick movements and do things to "break" the games to show how Kinect doesn't work right? Everyone has probably already seen the Youtube videos of wonky Kinect gameplay that critics of Kinect love to post to "prove" it doesn't work. Yes, you definitely can get similar results. You can make Kinect's motion tracking look absolutely pathetic if you actively set out to do that. That is true of the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move motion controls as well, though. But for all three systems, when you play by the rules set up by the games and the controls, everything works fine. That is the thing about motion controls in general: If you want to find flaws, you will. If you want to have fun, you will.
That really is the bottom line, isn't it? Kinect is fun. Really fun. As long as you don't mind looking completely ridiculous while you play, it is a ton of fun. Gather some friends around and you'll laugh and have a great time, which is pretty much exactly what Microsoft promised us from the get go. Are there things I don't like? I don't really like games that require you to jump a lot (I do live in an apartment, remember). It would also be nice to see some other genres represented in the games besides dance / exercise / minigame collections, but that is something that will hopefully be fixed with new games in 2011. Aside from those things, I've had an absolute blast with Kinect.
So it is definitely fun. I've established that. Should you plunk down $150 (plus extra for more games) to buy one this holiday season? That is a little trickier. If you want to only buy the hardware and just play Kinect Adventures, I'd say no. Kinect Adventures is one of the weaker launch games, and doesn't make a great first impression. If you buy an extra game or two, such as Dance Central or Kinect Sports (my personal favorite launch game so far), then I'd say go for it. If you have kids. If you have friends who all want to play. You'll have a great time with it. Or if you want to play by yourself and raise a pet tiger in Kinectimals, that isn't a bad way to go either as that game is surprisingly decent too. Those are just a couple of the available games, though, and as of this writing I haven't played all of the launch games quite yet. Please check our Kinect Game Reviews section as I'll be posting full reviews of most of the Kinect launch window games in the days and weeks to come.
Kinect's future is looking pretty bright. The hardware works. The games are fun. And 2011 should bring a wider variety of games and experiences than the launch window games offer.