At first glance, it might look like Child of Eden is some sort of crazy light show and not an actual game — but believe us, it’s the latter. It just happens to be loaded with excellent electronic music and feature futuristic visuals that you’ll have seared onto the inside of your eyelids by the time you go to sleep at night.
The game’s concept is actually pretty simple: You fly through several stages that take place inside a computer, not unlike the premise of the film Tron and its sequel. As you’re gliding through, you battle computer programs that take on the form of bizarre digital enemies. Move your hand in the air in front of you to aim your energy blaster. By clapping your hands, you can switch to a slower-firing weapon that locks onto your foes before being unleashed.
Child of Eden isn’t the most complex game, but it’s perfectly suited to the hands-free input that Kinect offers. It’s a bit like a waking dream, and it’ll have you absolutely engrossed as you try to improve your high score.
Picking up where titles like Dance Dance Revolution left off, Dance Central 2 is a dancing game that doesn’t require a mat-like peripheral in order to work. It uses the Kinect peripheral to track your every move, down to the placement of your hands, as you strike a pose to its numerous licensed music tracks.
As a two-player game, Dance Central 2 is a an absolute blast with friends, making it great for parties. It’s also a great way to get off the couch and get moving in the privacy of your own home. There’s a feature that snaps potentially incriminating photos of you while you dance, but you can turn it off if you’re not feeling like being blackmailed by family and so-called friends.
Downloadable from Xbox Live, Double Fine Happy Action Theater is a collection of fun minigames that are suitable for the entire family. In fact, these activities encourage everybody to get off the couch and in front of the TV to participate.
These games are all really silly, such as a virtual city you can smash monster-movie style or flowing lava that seems to make everything it comes in contact with catch on fire. There are 18 activities in all, and up to six people can take part at once.
Another Xbox Live Arcade Game, Fruit Ninja Kinect is a motion-controlled console version of the very popular mobile game from Halfbrick Studios.
In it, you swing your arms — we prefer a traditional karate chop — in order to slice apart watermelons, bananas, mangos and other fruit that are sent flying across your TV screen. Accidentally chop three bombs, however, and it’s game over.
Fruit Ninja Kinect supports up to two simultaneous players and offers a second game mode where various power-ups are literally tossed into the mix, including ones that slow the fruit down or increase the number of points you’ll get for slicing them. There’s also a Zen mode that removes the bombs and timer.
Of all the best games for Kinect, The Gunstringer is the most like a traditional controller-based title, but it has a really fun gameplay mechanic that could really only be achieved using Microsoft’s peripheral. The concept is that you’re controlling the main character, a marionette gunman called the Gunstringer, as if he were an actual puppet and you’re holding his strings.
The action follows the Gunstringer as he runs into the screen, and you make him move side to side or jump by performing actions with one of your hands. Your other mitt is used to aim and shoot at bad guys as if you were pointing it like a pretend gun. It’s a style of gameplay that’s very easy to grasp, and it works surprisingly well.
Since the premise of the game is that you’re actually performing on a stage, there are some surreal moments where the real world crosses over into the performance. The game even has live-action segments in between the acts of the play.
Moving from a hardcore gamer’s title to something for the younger set, we have Kinectimals: Now With Bears. This enhanced version of an original Kinect launch title lets you and your little ones interact with virtual cats and bears in a lush island paradise, playing fun games with them along the way.
What makes this title so special is the lifelike way the (very adorable) animals interact with you, even learning their names and reacting to voice commands. It’s the sort of title you don’t have to worry about your kids playing, and you’ll probably find yourself getting engrossed in the fun before you know it.
Another great choice for younger players is Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. This interactive storybook is actually the creation of Double Fine Productions, which was also responsible for another pick on this list, Double Fine Happy Action Theater. Like that title, this one’s something the whole family can get involved in.
The idea here is that Cookie Monster, Elmo and Grover are sucked into a storybook where they encounter a cast of new monsters that need their help. This leads to various minigames such as foot races and dancing that encourage kids to get involved and have fun but present absolutely no penalties. It’s really just a way for kids to interact with their favorite characters and meet some new ones while being active. It’s utterly charming and makes players feel like a part of the experience rather than just viewing it.
BONUS: Other Games Better With Kinect
In addition to these fully Kinect-controlled titles, the Xbox 360 has several that let you use the Kinect along with a traditional controller in order to enhance the experience. In fact, these games put the text “Better With Kinect” right on the box, along the top!
Two of our favorites in this category are Mass Effect 3 ($36) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim ($55). We like how they use Kinect because neither of them try to force motion controls into an experience that works just fine using a controller. In both cases, they simply let you use your voice to speak commands you’d normally have to execute with your hands. It’s not a paradigm shift in gaming, but it’s a glimpse at how this technology can actually improve existing types of games.