FORGET the Xbox you know: the Xbox of Halo and Assassin’s Creed. Instead, try to imagine an Xbox full of giant furry animals, soothing raft rides and cute dance moves to get you in shape. Now add a slick new peripheral that detects your motions without the need for a manual controller and you have the Xbox Kinect, Microsoft’s answer to the Nintendo Wii.
The Kinect, an accessory to the original Xbox and the 360, was released with much fanfare earlier this month and is a clear attempt to get the Xbox out of the limited niche it occupies in the bedrooms of teenage boys and into the living room.
The device itself consists of a sleek black box on a stand with two infared cameras and one normal camera to snap embarrassing shots of you as you throw various amusing shapes during gameplay.
You stand a metre or so in front of the sensors and move your on-screen avatar like a puppet-master, without so much as the flick of a button. The feeling of controlling on-screen movements with nothing but a wave of your hand is remarkably liberating and the smoothness with which it detects your presence and notices the addition of another person – which automatically shifts its games into two-player mode – is truly impressive.
But, as one might expect, the Kinect technology still has teething problems - a slight lag and a degree of imprecision (it can detect hands, but not fingers, for example).
Even so, it is a clear progression from the weird wrist-flicks and contortions demanded by the Wii and a step towards the brave new world of controller-less gaming.
There might, as yet, be little to hold the attentions of a serious gamer here, but then, that was never the intention.
THREE OTHER PIECES OF HOT GAMING KIT
PORTABLE NINTENDO 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS is the world’s first portable gaming device that offers 3D graphics - and without dorky glasses. But there’s a catch: if you’re aiming to wrap it up for Christmas, you’ll instead have to deliver a pre-ordered promise of a gift due to a delayed release date of early in 2011. For those prepared to wait, however, the 3DS offers two screens, three cameras, a motion sensor and a gyro sensor to create the 3D effect. Mario never looked so real. It’s predicted to retail for around £190.
PLAYSTATION MOVE CONTROLLER
Sony’s PlayStation Move accessory offers gamers a kind of half-way house between the pure motion detection of the Kinect and the complexity of regular controllers. You still use button combinations to make special moves but you can also use the device as a wand to make quick strikes or to point and shoot directly at your targets rather than moving around a set of crosshairs. With such attractions, the Move clearly holds more appeal for serous gamers. £45 from www.amazon.co.uk.
PLAYSTATION PORTABLE GO
The latest PlayStation Portable (PSP) Go is Sony’s relaunch of their device for the gamer who also wants to carry her videos, music and photos with her on one device. It offers a 16 gig disc drive, a camera and the capacity for a wifi connection so that you can watch online content in between gaming. Useful for anyone who finds themselves unusually bored while on the move. It also comes with ten free downloadable games. £149 from www.amazon.co.uk.