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Eye Toy Kinetic
Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCEE - London
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Health and Exercise/ Miscellaneous/ Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics in Eye Toy Kinetic are not as whimsical as in previous Eye Toy games. The previous Eye Toy games were fun for all ages, but seemed to be pointed at a younger audience, with comical, near-anime styled characters including monkeys and ninjas. (You can never go wrong with monkeys and ninjas!) Kinetic is rated E for Everyone, but features only two characters - specifically, personal trainers. You can choose from a male (Matt) or female (Anna) personal trainer to explain how each of the games works, coach you through the non-game exercise routines and give you advice along the way. Either choice is a nicely rendered example of the shape you're probably shooting for in the first place. I found that the motion was very well done for the trainers. When Anna was instructing me in the meditation exercise, there was a point when I was not sure if I was supposed to keep holding my breath or if I was supposed to be breathing. I actually was able to determine the answer by watching Anna's waistline closely. She is actually breathing. The motion is slight (she's meditating, duh), but if you look closely you can see when she breathes in and out.

The sound effects are pretty good, consisting of some whooshing sounds, some explosions and the like. The voice work is pretty good. I found it to be helpful and calming in the appropriate places - think of it as a digital version of a personal trainer or coach. The music, on the other hand, offered very limited selection. Overall, there are a few different songs to choose from. However, for each activity you have three options - your choice of two songs, or no music at all. Some of these songs are better than others, but for the meditation activity, I found that choosing the Natural Sounds (Water) and selecting the studio with the waterfall worked nicely together to provide a very pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.


Gameplay:
The first thing you're likely to notice about Kinetic when you first start to play the game is that it's not designed for you to simply hop in and play. Kinetic is built with the expectation that you will make a personal profile. You can play without making one, but either way, you have to build a "workout" out of the various games and exercises before continuing on to play them. You can't simply select a "quick play" option and choose one of the games and start playing.

These profiles serve a purpose, however. Using these profiles and building a personal training plan allows you to track your performance, which in turn enables the ability to custom tailor your plan as you go along, as well as compare your performance with others. Since Kinetic uses the Eye-Toy, your Profile is labeled not with your name, but with a snapshot that you take with the Eye-Toy camera. You collect a little bit about yourself and your profile is set. When you set up a personal 12 week exercise plan, you'll have to answer a few more questions and your personal trainer will suggest a difficulty setting for you. Pretty neat.

When following through with your workouts, you'll want to be diligent. Your workouts are designated for certain days; your first workout of the week may be available for Monday/Tuesday. If you do not perform the workout before Wednesday, this workout is considered "missed" and you cannot perform it. This makes sense; this helps to prevent you from hurting yourself by trying to catch up on too many workouts.

The level of attention to detail used in creating the digital personal instructors makes them believable - and this believability makes them viable instructors. That having been said, I have to add that when I first watched the Abdominal exercise routine, I was pretty sure that some of the exercises were only possible for animated characters. Frighteningly, I fear they're actually possible for someone with working abdominal muscles.


Difficulty:
Eye Toy Kinetic is designed with training in mind. It will give you a workout. This, coupled with the fact that a lot of gamers aren't the most athletic people around, makes me think that there will be others out there who find the workouts to be challenging as I have. Luckily, the personal trainers will remind you from time to time that if the exercise starts to hurt, you should rest a bit. Also, the 12-week program is tailored to your abilities, at the beginning and as you progress along.

A word of advice: Don't skip the warm up stretches. These help to get your muscles loosened up and ready for the physical challenge that the different activities present. Don't overdo it - you don't want to hurt yourself. If you need to cut something out, you can skip past the floor exercises; you're not scored on those anyway. In the end, it's not how good your score is, but the fact that you're doing something good for your body. (Now that's something you can't say about a lot of games!)


Game Mechanics:
Eye Toy Kinetic was made in association with Nike Motionworks, (which, as far as I can tell, has never done anything worthy of being mentioned on the internet before their involvement with Kinetic; I assume that Motionworks is involved in some way with Nike's sports training ventures.) The result of this association is that some of the games manage to be fun and challenging while introducing some of the moves of Tai Chi, Yoga and conventional fitness training.

There are, of course, some issues with the game. First and foremost, there is the possibility of lighting issues. You'll want to tweak the settings on your Eye Toy camera if your room is overly bright or dim; luckily, this is possible through the Settings menu. You can also adjust the sensitivity to fit your environment. This remains the biggest detractor for Eye Toy games - getting the proper lighting setup. You need adequate overhead lighting, but if the lighting is too focused, you'll experience decreased sensitivity further from the light. I had this problem and attempted to remedy it with some lamps flanking the television. This worked, for the most part, but with the sensitivity settings set too high, I found that my shadow would register as motion sometimes, hitting things I didn't want to hit. (My chihuahua would also hit several targets - both good and bad - with his excitedly wagging tail, so you may want to make sure that the room is clear of others when you attempt your workout.) After a good bit of working out, I thought I'd turn on the ceiling fan to cool off a bit while I played. The shadows and reflected light caused by the fan's motion worked against me on a much grander scale than my chihuahua could ever hope to - targets both good and bad would register one or multiple hits all over the screen for no obvious reason. When I realized what was happening, I turned the fan off and sweat it out.

The menuing system in Kinetic is, in my opinion, too slanted towards profile based gameplay. This makes it difficult to jump in and try out one of the exercises without building a routine. Some people aren't interested in building routines - they'd prefer to play some of the games and then go off and do something else. Perhaps it's because they want to attach warm up and cool down stretches to the routines. I can see that as a somewhat decent reason, but gamers can still opt out of these stretches - it just is an extra step to aggravate you. If you're in it for routines and long term growth, Kinetic's fine. Just don't expect to jump in and out of the game quickly.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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