Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo is a fan of Microsoft's Xbox 360 peripheral Kinect, but there are five main reasons he's not able to get the most out of his new toy. It's not easy playing Kinect when you don't have a massive living room, share a home with kids and pets, and worry about how silly you look to others!]

I Want to Kinect!

Though I had originally planted my feet firmly in the Kinect Haters camp, these days those same feet are happily dancing around in front of my television set. I received a new Xbox 360 bundled with Kinect this past Christmas, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how awesome Kinect turned out to be. It’s a really nifty peripheral!

With notable games like Steel Battalion and Child of Eden on the horizon, I’m truthfully excited about what the future has in store for Kinect. And, in the meantime, I’m unexpectedly having a great time with the Kinect games I’ve played. Well, most of the time, anyway. Though Kinect can be a heck of a lot of fun, there are a number of issues that prevent me from fully experiencing all it has to offer.

I have identified five main factors that stand in the way of my ability to properly enjoy Kinect. A couple of these issues are unavoidable, while the others are the result of personal circumstances in my home. No matter the reason, however, it bothers me that I’m not able to get the most out of playing Kinect. But that doesn’t stop me from trying all the same!

Factor 1: Play Space

Judging from the size of the rooms portrayed in all the Kinect print advertisements and television commercials, you’d think the peripheral was intended for people living in mansions. In reality, most normal people like me don’t have such luxurious accommodations, and finding room to meet Kinect’s demands can be troublesome.

In order to be used effectively, the official word from Microsoft is that Kinect requires a minimum of 6-8 feet of space from the sensor to the player. I broke out my tape measure and confirmed the distance from the sensor to where I stand is 7.5 feet. So that gives me just the right amount of room to play, right? Unfortunately, the amount of space available in my living room doesn’t always seem to be enough room for me to successfully appease Kinect.

7.5 Feet

Now, to be fair, some games work without a hitch in my home. I’ve had no issues while playing Kinect Adventures, despite only standing in what the game deems to be the “good” range. The 7.5 feet distance also seems to be more than enough room for me to make a fool of myself while grooving to DanceMasters.

However, other titles like Adrenalin Misfits seem to get flustered that I’m not standing further away from the Kinect sensor, and it’s almost impossible to play the game without it deciding it can’t recognize me or my movements. Irritating! It actually made me yell out loud at Kinect: “Hey! What are you doing?! I’M! RIGHT! HERE!” Maybe I’ll try the likes of Adrenalin Misfits once again after I become rich and move into a castle.

Factor 2: Software

With just about any console or peripheral release in gaming history, there usually exist one or two quality games surrounded by a slew of titles that are passable or undercooked. Kinect is no different. So, while we have the very polished Dance Central with its intuitive menus and outstanding motion detection, we also have seemingly unfinished fare along the lines of the buggy Deca Sports Freedom.

Kinect Can't See ThisInterestingly, some of the problems gamers experience with Kinect software seems to differ amongst individuals and play spaces. I’ve read a number of very negative reviews of Sonic Free Riders, for instance, stating that its menus were a bear to navigate and controlling the racers was all but impossible. Yet, in my personal experience, I have had little trouble selecting game modes and options and I’ve always manage to speed through the courses with ease.

It is obvious that specific playing conditions influence the ability of the Kinect sensor to recognize player inputs. Factors as simple as the placement and intensity of lighting in a room or the color of a player’s shirt may affect how well Kinect works. That said, developers should anticipate the diversity of place spaces and conditions, and software should be designed to be adaptable to such a wide range of circumstances. Easier said than done, but it is a necessity.

As time goes on and developers have more time to learn what types of design work best for Kinect games, the amount of high quality software titles will likely increase. A substantial part of that quality will come in the form of better motion recognition, more intuitive interfaces, and (hopefully) more realistic space requirements for players. In the meantime, it will be the user that has to make necessary adjustments to meet the needs of the software, and not vice versa as it should be.

Factor 3: My Kids

I love my kids, but it is all but impossible to play Kinect while they are awake. Any time I try to clear space and stand in front of the television for some Kinect Time With Mister Raroo, it never fails that my son and daughter get into Kinect’s line of vision, making the sensor go haywire. Any slight movement on their part causes Kinect to stop the game and question just what the hell is going on in my house.

I’ve tried playing Kinect with my baby daughter Yoshie strapped to my chest in a BabyBjörn, and while that works better than expected for the most part, two things cause problems. First, Yoshie adds an additional 20 pounds, which makes playing high-motion games all the more exhausting. Second, Yoshie likes to swing her arms and kick her legs, which Kinect sometimes mistakes for my own movements.

You're a Booty! You're a Booty!My son Kaz, on the other hand, is old enough to understand that he needs to stay out of the view of Kinect in order for it to work properly while I’m playing. Unfortunately, he fancies himself something of a preschool comedian, and he pounces upon any opportunity to sabotage my playtime by jumping into the frame and acting like a goofball while spouting his beloved potty talk. But it’s hard not to laugh when Kaz is running around in front of me yelling “You’re a booty! You’re a booty!” at the television.

And even when Kaz isn’t trying to throw a wrench into my Kinect sessions, he prevents me from playing by deciding that he wants to play instead. I always let him have priority play time because that’s just what happens when you’re a parent. It’s adorable to watch him play Kinect games, and it’s heartwarming to see the amusement he gets out of aspects of the games that I wouldn’t normally give a second thought to.

When Kaz and I were trying out the Kinect Sports demo he had absolutely no interest in the actual events themselves, but rather spent most of his time at the select screen, watching the in-game crowd’s reactions whenever he’s swing his arms. Raising his hands caused the crowd to cheer, and he squealed with delight at this newfound godlike power in his hands. Why bother with virtual bowling or running when have hundreds of people applauding your every move?

Factor 4: My Pets

I think my dogs and cats have a secret conspiracy against me. The minute I turn on my Xbox 360 and try to play Kinect games my pets assemble from all corners of our home to spoil my fun. My dogs will start wresting around with one another in front of me, confusing the heck of the Kinect sensor. My cats will get underfoot and start whining at me to feed them, testing my balance as I do my best to avoid crushing them.

Almost-Squished CatI’ve had to resort to locking my pets in another room in order to enjoy Kinect unhindered, but even then my pets will still wreak havoc. My dogs will bark from their prison and my cats will scratch at the door or magically navigate around whatever obstacles are placed in their path. The interesting thing is, the animals don’t act as wild when I’m just sitting on the couch with a controller in hand. It’s only when I’m up on my two feet, waving my arms and shuffling from side to side that they go bananas.

Some of the Kinect games snap photos of you during your play sessions, and there have been a few comedic shots as a result of my pets getting in the way. They love to photobomb my Kinect snapshots! My dog Howie has also unknowingly “starred” in a couple rounds of DanceMasters, which projects a live video image of you boogieing alongside the in-game dancers. I have to admit, that was really cute, and it proved he has even worse dance moves than me.

Factor 5: Mister Raroo

Ultimately, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to Kinect. I lack coordination and I am self-conscious of what a doofus I must look like wiggling around in front of the television. Recently my wife walked into the room and laughed when she saw me dancing, which was more than enough to make me decide Kinect will mostly be kept a solitary activity. From now on, I’ll probably only play at night after my family is asleep.

Too Shy For KinectAll the same, I should do my best to keep my personal hang-ups from preventing my enjoyment of Kinect. The more I play Kinect games, the better my coordination will become. As I learn to let go of my inhibitions, I won’t be so shy about bouncing about, even if my friends and family see me and giggle at how silly I look. Most people look like fools when they play Kinect, and that’s kind of the charm.

For the time being, however, the five obstacles discussed above are dictating how I play Kinect. If you should ever pass by the Raroo Residence round about midnight, chances are you may just see my solitary silhouette in the window, leaning left and right as I guide my boat through splashing rapids in Kinect Adventures. Just don’t let me know you’re there, otherwise I might be too embarrassed to keep playing!

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and pets. Copies of Adrenalin Misfits and DanceMasters kindly provided by Konami. Sonic Free Riders generously provided by Sega by way of Jamie Love at Gamesugar. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com. For all your Game Time With Mister Raroo needs, visit Club Raroo!]