There once was a time when video games were the anti-workout, the kind of thing guys who didn’t give a hoot about their physiques did in their free time. Sure, you could argue “Super Mario Bros.” gave your fingers a workout (and perhaps rescuing the princess set your heart racing), but for the most part, gaming was right up there with hitting the McDonald’s drive-through when it came to keeping fit. The Nintendo Wii, released in 2006, changed all of that, forcing us to get off the sofa if we wanted to play along. Tech being tech, it stands to reason something hotter would eventually come along -- and sure enough, Kinect for Xbox 360, introduced late last year, has taken gaming to a stratospheric new level.
Using 3-D imaging, voice and face recognition and motion-sensing technology worthy of a James Cameron movie, Kinect watches and relays your every pitch, sway, kick and hop. You lift your virtual ski poles or throw a sucker punch, and Kinect displays your avatar doing the same on screen. Liberated from a controller, you become so lost in the action that you forget you’re breaking a sweat. (As a courtesy, the Kinect occasionally reminds you to take a breather and hydrate.)
Although game releases are still trickling out, what we’ve seen so far has got us pumped (literally). Below are our current faves and future releases that have got us just as excited.
Feats of Daring
Ride roaring rapids, fly through outer space and navigate an alpine obstacle course in “Kinect Adventures!” (Microsoft Game Studios; bundled with Kinect). These whimsical outdoor adventures will likely be your introduction to Kinect-style gaming, and after a few twists and turns, you’ll be hooked. Once you get good, post your score on Facebook, along with the Polaroid-style digital photos the Kinect snaps of you during game play.
So you think you can dance? Pick up a copy of “Dance Central” (Harmonix; $49.99) and learn routines that will earn you major props -- and maybe a phone number or two -- the next time you go clubbing. Break-it-down on-screen instructions (which you can watch in slow motion) and an impossibly patient instructor’s encouragement keep hope alive even for those with two left feet. Songs range from old school (The Commodores) to new (Cascada).
No Pain, No Game
If you relate a little too well to the contestants on “The Biggest Loser” (pre-weight loss, that is), “The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout” (THQ; $49.99) is for you. Among our favorite features: the ability to work out simultaneously with fellow Kinect-owning friends (via Xbox LIVE) and a function that will track and record your physical progress as you whip yourself into shape over time. Best part of all? You don’t need to embarrass yourself on national TV to do it.
Become a Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Harry may still wave his wand, but in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” (Electronic Arts; $39.99), you won’t need one. At first, this homage to the last book in the series by J.K. Rowling may leave you feeling as though you need a degree from Hogwarts, but with some practice, you’ll be using spells and potions to battle Death Eaters and Snatchers like a true wizard. (Of all games reviewed here, this is the only one that can be played without Kinect, though doing so is certainly less magical.)
Sure to Be a Thriller
“Michael Jackson: The Experience” (Ubisoft; $49.99), scheduled for an April release, is a game that will have you singing and dancing like the King of Pop. With both a karaoke feature and an immersive music-video format, it’s the sort of game we predict you won’t stop playing till you get enough. Or till your family tells you to beat it. (Sorry, we can’t seem to stop ourselves.)
Will the Force Be With You?
If the Darth Vader boy from those great Super Bowl ads got you spinning your own sci-fi dreams, “Star Wars Kinect” (LucasArts; $49.99) promises to have you saber-wielding on behalf of the Rebel Alliance in a world so immersive you just might forget you don’t live on planet Tatooine. Sadly, this game feels like it comes from a galaxy far, far away -- its release date is December 31, 2011.
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