When I was 16, in an effort to improve my feeble hitting, I sawed off a broomstick, taped both ends with grip, and would spend hours in the back yard hitting driveway gravel at the galvanized roof of our horse barn. I was quite good at it. Still am.
Unfortunately, pitchers my junior year did not lob gravel at me. I would have killed that. Despite being a completely useless skill, and counterproductive to actual hitting mechanics, this has continued to be a favorite pastime. I love any aspect of pretending to swing a bat without facing the dreadful public embarrassment of a swing and a miss. I thought that's what Home Run Stars, a Kinect game newly available on Xbox Live, intended to deliver, but here I'm still missing, even when there's nothing to hit.
It doesn't even come close. It has about the worst body recognition of any Kinect game I've played. See the video above. Apologies for the poor audio quality, but I think you can see the frustration burning through. Yes, sometimes I play dress up when I play sports video games. There is not a thing wrong with that either.
Your avatar's feet shift even when you're standing stock still. He holds the bat over the plate half the time, no matter how far back you are holding your hands (or, in my case, a broomhandle. But it doesn't matter if you're holding something or not). Sometimes the game will correct this and bring the bat back as the pitch is coming. Many times it will not, producing a rage-inducing swing-and-a-miss. I have calibrated and recalibrated my Kinect sensor, and it's the same every time.
But I can't stop playing it. I go back to this game like a bad relationship, thinking it'll be better, that I can change it. But the magic is gone.
Complaining about this on Twitter, a friend replied that he'd seen the pricetag ($5) and considered it a warning sign of the game's quality. Fair point, but this is the game's essential act, and it can't even do that properly. It raises a legitimate question of why Microsoft would still release something like this, which more damages the value proposition of the Kinect device it makes than deliver any fun. (There's also some sort of SmartGlass functionality for this, but I've yet to see it because Apple is dragging its feet on approving that app.)
I want this game to work, badly. Two-handing a lollipop like the Move controller, for MLB The Show's Home Run Derby, or the Wii remote in Wii Sports' baseball game (or 2K Sports Baseball Blast!) only reminds me that this is all a gimmick. I've never found either experience all that satisfying, and wrenched my left shoulder many times.
But playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, when I've stood with a pitching wedge in my hand, and managed to land my tee shot on the green at Augusta National's treacherous No. 16, I really did feel like I pulled off something worth bragging about. Sure, Home Run Stars is in no way a simulation of a real home-run hitting contest, but with that broomhandle in my hands, the times I've been able to crush a Perfect Hit, the feeling is the same.
The Tiger Woods developers integrated Kinect body-tracking this year but had to patch in support for swinging into the camera in a normal golfing posture (where you are looking at the fight of the ball on your follow through). This suggests the device (and its software) has trouble recognizing your limbs when you stand perpendicular to the sensor.
Still, the Tiger Woods guys got it right. Why didn't Home Run Stars? Maybe it's me. Maybe it's something in my living room. Maybe I should try swinging left-handed. I'll be right back, I'm gonna play this awful, no-fun game again.