We wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care with Microsoft’s free-to-play downloadable racing game.
Fans of hardware steering wheels look away now. Microsoft’s upcoming free-to-play arcade racing game Kinect Joy Ride had us waving our hands in the air, steering our car with an imaginary wheel, and shaking our booty to pull off powerslides. Though we may have looked a little silly, Kinect registered our movements with a surprising amount of accuracy, and a variety of gameplay modes kept us having fun during our hands-on time.
We checked out two of the game’s modes: Battle Race and Dash. Battle Race is a typical Mario-Kart style game, complete with ludicrous power-ups and arcade-style handling. The major difference is, of course, in how the cars are controlled. To start a race, we had to hold our hands out in front of us, as if we had them around a steering wheel. A countdown then begun, and the cars automatically accelerated off the starting grid. To turn, we had to tilt our hands, as if turning a steering wheel. It was a little difficult to get used to at first, particularly as the controls were very sensitive, resulting in one or two spectacular crashes into the side of the track. However, once we got used to the sensitivity, we were able to steer our car with little difficulty. Kinect was surprisingly responsive, with even subtle movements translating to the track.
Our car had some crazy tricks up its sleeves, the first of which was boosting. To boost, we pulled our arms toward our chests, which charged up the car. We then pushed our arms from our chests to unleash the boost, resulting in our car glowing yellow and accelerating rapidly. Though it made the car a little tricky to handle, boost was extremely useful for catching up with opponents and jumping from one of the many ramps scattered around the track. After using a ramp, we tried some midair tricks, which required us to lean forward and turn our body to one side. Depending on which direction we turned, our car would spin around in the air, resulting in a sweet-looking trick and lots of bonus points. One other useful, yet embarrassing, mechanic was drifting. To drift, we had to steer into a corner and then do a sort of squat, sticking our rear end out to one side. The car then slid around corners, allowing us to get a better racing line.
Power-ups were collected by racing through boxes littered across the track. Once we’d picked one up, a small icon hovered to the side of our car, which could be used by sticking an arm out in the air in the corresponding direction. There are currently eight power-ups available, though we only got to see two in action. One of these was teleport, which switched our car’s position with another further up the track; useful if you’re falling behind in a race. The other was freeze, which cast a block of ice over our opponent’s cars for a limited time, slowing our opponent down and allowing us to catch up.
The second mode we saw was Dash. We had to race against another car along a track, attempting to go as fast as possible. However, unlike Battle Race, we didn’t have full control of the car. Instead, the AI handled steering, and we used our steering wheel motion to switch among one of the three lanes on the track. This meant we could concentrate entirely on speed, building up boosts and overtaking our opponent. There were also green boost marker arrows on the road, which gave our car a small burst of speed when we drove over them. This mode didn’t contain any power-ups, leaving us to simply avoid onscreen obstacles sitting in lanes and using boost to get the edge over our opponent.
Though it initially took some time to adjust to the motion controls, we found Joy Ride to be a lot of fun. The contorted poses that steering placed us in, particularly when we were sticking our booty out, were hilarious. Though we only saw two of the game modes, there will be several in the final game, which is good to see for a free-to-play game. The cartoony art style and simple gameplay mechanics also made it appear very accessible, making it appealing to families and casual gamers. Kinect Joy Ride is due out this November. Look out for more on GameSpot in the next few months.