The Average Gamer

Winter Stars Review (360 Kinect)

It’s been a long time since I’ve hated a game as much as I hate Winter Stars. The only reason this game hasn’t toppled Star Trek: Legacy from its top spot as worst game game ever played is that it’s a Kinect game and therefore had a much harder job to be great in the first place.

Winter Stars has all the hallmarks of being a deep game. The career mode has a tournament tree that needs to be unlocked. You gain XP that can be spent on different events, purchasing new parts for your bobsled or unlocking “talents” for your figure skating. It’s unfortunate that these have no discernible effect on your skills. You may as well just turn the difficulty down.

As for the playing the game itself… let’s start with the interface. The developers have chosen a hybrid of the two most popular forms of Kinect interface – hover over a hotspot and then wipe across the screen to select it. In doing so, they have created the most unfriendly monstrosity of an interface I have ever had the misfortune of using.

The layout of menu “buttons” is perfectly designed for a screen and mouse. Lots of beautiful rectangles, perfectly aligned, nice and big and close to each other so they look pretty. Problem is, when you’re trying to use Kinect, the difference between option 1, Continue Campaign, and option 2, Delete Campaign FOREVER is approximately 2 centimetres in hand-waving space. It’s incredibly easy to drop from one choice to another mid-wipe. Thankfully, I haven’t deleted my campaign because choosing that option is followed by a confirmation screen which is equally difficult to select first time.

Once you finally do get into the campaign mode, you’re confronted with the tournament tree. Again, you’re asking to hover over hotspots. This time, however, you move your hands left and right to scroll around the tree or to select tournaments. Cue hilarious funtimes when you’re want to scroll right and instead jump into an event because there is no part of the screen that doesn’t contain a tournament.

By the time I reached the events themselves, I was already feeling grumpy and intolerant. Having to use yet more of these hover-and-wipe gestures to skip through a cheesy, badly-drawn cut-scene and 5 pages of instructions did not help matters.

Finally, I emerged from menu hell to play a winter sport. Bobsleds, woo-hoo! I actually quite like this event, except for having to run on the spot to get the thing going. Please, game designers. We ladies do not appreciate having to put on a sports bra to play a game. Lucky for me and thanks to my UFC Personal Trainer experience, I am now an expert in subverting Kinect controls. You can simulate running in Winter Stars by flapping your forearms up and down at the elbows. Away we go!

You have two methods of control in Winter Stars – Simplified and Normal. Simplified puts the game almost on rails, with just the occasional pose to keep things on track. In practice, this makes the game pretty much a waste of time. I managed to place second in the figure skating by virtue of doing nothing at all. Still, it’s probably good for keeping children interested.

Normal mode is a big jump from Simplified and gives you full control over everything you’d expect from your player. For all its flaws, I’ll give Winter Stars this: it’s an incredibly responsive game. I don’t know what unholy magic 49Games have worked but the response times on critical timing events, like the shooting section of biathlon, are stunning. It works very well in bobsled too, leaning left and right to direct your sled around the corners at high speed.

Of course, this one great feature serves to work against you in events like figure skating as you either start too early or hold a pose for too long. Big gestures in motion games can be fun and did help me feel like I was a figure skater (given a sprinkling of imagination) but the translation in Winter Stars comes across as unnatural. Rather than mimicking the skater, you’re simply asked to hold one of a few poses, with unclear timings and camera angles that serve to hinder the game’s directions. Here’s a video from 123Kinect showing how difficult it is to track the instructions.

I freely admit that I didn’t play much of this game, which is not something we normally do for our reviews. In fact, I’ve just played the first of approximately 20 tournaments, which only covers 4 of the 11 events. Why do I have the audacity to review this game on the basis of such little gameplay? Because it’s appalling.

I’ve played the opening tournament 3 times, for 2 full hours. Because I’m atrocious at downhill skiing and I find it dull as dishwater, I’ll need several more attempts to win this tournament. I can’t progress further in the game without winning and therefore, these four events are all I can play.

Even though each event is only 3 minutes long, the frequent loading screens, tutorial skips, menu choices and other actions can drag a 12-minute tournament out to 20 minutes or more. That’s a lot of replay required for failing just one event. Couple this with an annoying “Please move away from the sensor” that pops up over half the screen throughout most of the downhill skiing, yet still allows the game to register my actions and this game just isn’t a pleasant experience.

Other people have really enjoyed it. See 123Kinect’s detailed review where Winter Stars is “one of the better adult Kinect titles to date” or This Is Xbox’s “a great game for the whole family to enjoy“. I like my family. I wouldn’t inflict this game on them for the world. Might post it to my ex-boyfriend tonight.

Should you be a glutton for punishment or need something to keep the family occupied over Christmas, Winter Stars is available now for Xbox 360 Kinect, Wii and PS Move.

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