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Kinect Joy Ride Review

By Matt Cabral, 11/10/2010

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Few games embody the simultaneous brilliance and ridiculousness of motion-sensing gaming like Kinect’s launch day racer, Joy Ride. I mean, here is a title that asks you to hold your hands in front of your body like you’re steering a fake car--something we no doubt all did as kids in our worlds of make believe. The only thing that could possibly top this feat is if Kinect’s microphone also required us to make “vroom, vroom” sounds while air-driving. Maybe they’ll add that feature in a DLC update, but until then I’m happy to fake-steer my way through this unpolished, yet surprisingly addictive party racer.

Make no mistake, Joy Ride’s a super casual experience, one that would make Gran Turismo--hell, even Mario Kart--fans cringe with its cuteness. But it should also stretch a smile across the face of anyone willing to get behind its faux steering wheels. It’s difficult not to be drawn in when you’re mimicking that childlike movement, while witnessing your on-screen ride follow your lead. It helps that the Kinect driving controls are fairly forgiving and mostly accurate, if a bit loose; they’re by no means 1-to-1 or even on par with a dedicated racer, but they generally respond smoothly to your motions, and a little practice goes a long way.

Of course, it’s not just about changing lanes and passing the competition with simple left or right steers; you can also pull drifts with a slight tilt of the head, and build up turbo boosts by pulling back your arms. Drifting is tricky to nail at first, but comes easy with plenty of laps logged on Joy Ride’s various tracks. Additionally, on-screen cues aren’t shy about telling you when you’ve pulled it off, so you’re never risking whiplash by overdoing it. The turbo, which can be built up whenever its HUD gauge is depleted, is released with a forward thrust of the arms. Patiently waiting for it to replenish while your arms are stretched back is nicely rewarded by an impressive need-for-speed boost that leaves your competitors in the dust.

There’s no gas or brake in Joy Ride’s cars, so you only need to worry about keeping yourself on the road. Although, even that isn’t much of a concern as you’ll barrel right through boulders, trees, and buildings with only a temporary speed reduction as punishment for your recklessness. Given this extremely forgiving set up, Joy Ride’s challenges mostly come from the competition; whether racing against the AI, or smoking friends online or in split-screen, it’s more about where you place rather than how you drive. While the simple controls provide plenty of arcadey fun, it still would have been nice to have some braking and accelerating options, even if they were only applied to higher difficulty settings.

The limited behind-the-wheel controls are somewhat enhanced by on- and off-road antics such as speed boost strips, stunt jumps, and collectibles littering the tracks at every turn. Also, a Battle Race mode has you unleashing kart racer-like game-changers such as mines, teleporters and rockets--simply run over an item box, stick your hand out the window to activate, and watch your target go up in smoke. This mode’s a highlight, but there’s also variety in the form of straightforward competitive races, speed time trials, and stunt challenges that place your ride in exaggerated half-pipes. There’s also the arena-based Smash mode, which tasks you with crashing into things demolition derby-style.

There’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking about Joy Ride’s design, but what it lacks in innovation it mostly makes up for in variety and its ability to encourage progression. There’s a ton of tracks, cars, and challenges to unlock, as well as trophies and medals to collect. Most importantly, you need to gain fans to progress and unlock everything there is to see. Doing this depends on your performance in specific challenges, but also pulling wacky stunts and tricks while racing. This could mean pitching your body forward to execute a front flip or arching to the side to perform a barrel roll; more than motion-sensing gimmicks, these moves ultimately put you on new tracks and in fresh challenges. Despite its addiction-amping ability to keep players unlocking fresh content, it sadly doesn’t offer a structured campaign mode. Playing as a career, which seems to be encouraged, tests your patience by continually tossing you back to the main menu.

Joy Ride’s pleasing cartoony visuals earn it some extra points on and off the track; varied locations and personality-filled environments evoke Pixar, theme parks and mini golf courses. There’s also a tacked on, but fun-for-a-few-laughs challenge mode that has you pulling Saturday Night Fever poses on the wings--yes, wings--of your vehicles. And, like many of Kinect’s titles, photos taken of the players capture all the ridiculousness. Kinect’s launch-day racer lacks polish, and serious race fans will want to steer clear of its super-casual approach. However, if you’re looking for a Kinect title with a fun, wind-in-your-hair approach to the genre, this one’s worth taking for a spin.

Overall: 7 out of 10



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