It’s that time of year again – the roads are icing up, the frost is in the air, hats, gloves and scarves are all the range in fashion accessories and now to complement your new-found 2011 wintery lifestyle comes a great game for your Kinect Sensor too. Winter Stars, published by Deep Silver for Kinect on the Xbox 360 features eleven exhilarating winter sport events to play through. It may be cold outside, but now downhill skiing and figure skating can be accomplished in your very own living room and surprisingly this feels like a Kinect game for the grown-ups…at last!
Upon the initial start-up of Winter Stars, it appears like you’ve already started the game with no idea how to play as you are cruising down the ski slopes full pelt …until you have an accident – then the story mode comes into play. The story itself is nothing over technical, but adds a more interesting element to the career mode because otherwise you’d just be sitting through a menu of challenges with nothing to work towards. The great news is that it does become more engrossing over time, because it’s about starting from scratch in a world-wide winter Olympic style event. The harder you work at it, the better your rewards become as you progress earning Bronze, Silver and Gold medals amongst other unlockable events that benefit the team.
As you are no longer able to ski following the accident, the Career Mode presents itself as a small sporting team with no manager, no experience and no real prospects. Your goal is now to manage them and to assist your new found team in starting from the bottom of the league and work your way towards the top – winning Medals and Cup’s as well as using available upgrades to better manage your skills and experience as you progress. You will get the opportunity to play as every member of the team over the duration of around 60 different challenges broken up into Cup Events, Time Trials, Racing Opponents, Coin Collecting… and a variety of other wacky fun challenges on ice. It’s a real Kinect pick ‘n’ mix of fun games with one of the eleven winter sporting events as the main theme for each challenge.
The eleven winter sporting events include: Freeride Skiing, Snowboarding, Figure Skating, a Biathlon (which has noticeably been spelt Bithalon on the box cover – either it’s a misprint or a word I’ve never heard of), Snowmobile, Bobsled, Downhill Skiing, Curling, Short Track, Ski Flying, and finally Paraskiing. It is just about enough to keep you occupied for quite some time and a great grown up alternative to the many games that involve dancing around or running on the spot – and it’s not over exhausting either so you will not feel like you’re about to have a heart attack like many other Kinect games. Winter Stars is very family orientated so if you’re looking for a great game that the whole family can enjoy together – this is definitely it – whether you’re 3 or 73, 93 is probably pushing it, but it’s very easy to take part and challenge each other without potentially almost doing your back in or breaking your ankles.
As you may already imagine since this is a Kinect title, the gameplay involves using your body to control yourself through each of the winter sporting events as the Kinect Sensor will scrutinise your arms and legs to follow the predetermined route. How you move your body, stay in line with guides and prompts down the slopes will improve your speed. Perfection and good timing will net you the Gold Medals, but requires an awful lot of practise so there is a great amount of replay value here if you really want to try and unlock everything! However, if you’re not over interested in playing through a whole career mode again or specifically want to play an unlocked sporting event on the side – then it’s been thought of for you in the Team Menu, an area that lists all your events and unlocks to allow you to replay any of them again individually. Tutorials have been included for your enjoyment, and it’s recommended to use them because you will get to grips better with the motion controls and how the game requires you to concentrate on timing your moves perfectly.
Multiplayer is a great addition to Winter Stars too and features its own challenges for both Offline two player Splitscreen mode, and Online Multiplayer for up to four players over Xbox LIVE. Just like plenty of other multiplayer games out there, you can create custom matches, join a quick match and set all the different variables and difficulty levels to suit how you want to play the game. You do only have up to five different events to play through in online multiplayer though which are all competitive based game types. Capture the Flag – an event with flags that need to be carried to each check point, your opponent can steal the flag from you and you drop the flag when you crash. Speed with careful manoeuvres is essential. Coin Tornado – Collect as many of the coins scattered throughout as you can and in good speed. You need to have more than your opponent and avoid the Skulls at all cost – just one touch and you can lose them all. Competition – an energetic race to the finish line, nothing more, nothing less as all you have to do is beat your online opponent. Fun Race – a great fun mode with the use of Speed Boosts to make you go quicker, and Snow Drops to help gain an advantage over your online opponent as you race down the tracks. Finally, Rocket Race – a game mode that enables the use of a rocket pack attached to your back and although the game is a simple race to the finish line, the clever use and timing of your rocket pack is either going to hinder you or benefit you depending on your speed and opponent. Are you trailing behind, then your rocket pack can help you get in front, but if you’ve used it already and wore out your boost…it’s a long ol’ stretch to the finish. You have to think more wisely with Rocket Race and it is one of the more addictive games of the five available.
Visually the graphics through-out are above average offering some beautiful realistic winter scenes, snow fall effects and it is definitely evident that the developers, 49Games have gone all out to make this as fun and enjoyable to look at as well as play. The only visual let down are the character models during the cut scenes because they look a little dated, not visually repulsive in any way – just a little dated for 2011 and enough to make you go “wow, they look like they’ve just stepped straight out of ‘The Sims’ and right into this game”! They could have been better, but it’s only a minor issue. More of a bigger issue with Winter Stars is the amount of space required for the Kinect Sensor. The game features some of the most simplistic moves out of almost all other Kinect games played and yet unless you are standing at about 8ft away an on-screen overlay message appears informing you to step back as you are too close to the Kinect Sensor. I did try Kinect Tuning options and playing the game in both larger and smaller rooms, but got the exact same message. Sadly, even if you think you have enough space being in a room with 6ft – 7ft distance between you and Kinect, it does seem to require at least 8ft comfortably.
Winter Stars is a great game for the whole family to enjoy – even Grandma should you have her over on Christmas day. This is a fantastic Kinect game that can be a more enjoyable experience than dancing around or keeping fit, but you do need to have plenty of room space!