The 2012 Olympics have all but overshadowed any other sporting event over the next 6 months and whilst more popular than the winter sports, those sub-zero events are far more accessible for console gaming.
Rather than your usual pick an event and play setup like the majority of Kinect games, Deep Silver and 49 Games are trying something a little different and injecting a story thread throughout the campaign. Starting off on the slopes you are thrown into a downhill race, but before you get to grips with the controls you stack and gain some serious injuries. Fast forward and your winter sports team has disbanded, leaving you with a couple of newbies who are keen to prove themselves, as long as you can manage them. So begins this huge story of the underdogs trying their best to be the number one Winter Sports team.
Progressed via a branching storyline there are 11 events to try and unlock, with each one offering plenty of opportunities for training, challenges where you can earn more tracks and upgrades like the lifesaving wildcard and new equipment and of course cup matches.
The first thing you will need to get past is the hit and miss presentation, from well designed menu navigation it is then spoilt by the dated looks and speech of the cutscenes; but once out in the piste it’s so much better with mountainous ranges glowing in the distance and a great sense of speed as you hurtle down the slopes in a plastic rocket.
Through the 11 events to master there are two difficulties; family which allows for relatively easy control that even your Nan can manage or normal, which offers some quite in-depth controls. Most of the events require the basic tilting left and right to steer and then with each event they have their own specific movements like running to start the bobsleigh, pushing arms to use ski poles and bending your knees to slow down on the majority of downhill events; snowboarding has you pulling weird shapes with your arms as you try and keep balance to pull off stunts and the graceful looking ice skating where you match the moves on screen.
Each sport works really well but some manage to stand out from the rest like the Biathlon which involves cross country skiing plus the occasional target shooting where you aim with one hand and flap the other to shoot and reload. The aiming arm is very precise and is one of the more enjoyable of the events, requiring great control in steering, good rhythm and a steady hand. Snowmobile has you steering with your hands out in front of you, aiming for ramps to pull stunts, paraskiing has you deploying a parachute to gain air over thermals to pull off stunts to then land and try and find another thermal, ski flying(ski jump) is the one where you launch yourself of a huge ramp where perfect timing is required for not only a decent takeoff but a safe landing to the more relaxed Curling.
Most of the events have an Adrenaline special power that you can activate by holding both arms in front of you. This is charged by hitting perfect corners and such and is essential to get those gold medals. As with all Kinect games there are some levels that perform better than others, but most work well enough not be game breakers.
Local multiplayer offers support for 2 players and online allows for 4 to create cup matches and also have a go on some of the more party like modes; anyone for strapping a rocket to the back of your skis or some capture the flag action?
What is surprising is that behind that budget looking front cover and with none of the big boys producing it, Winter Stars turns out to be one of the better Kinect titles and is a must have for the Christmas weeks. There are a few niggly issues, one being the fact that the game thinks I am too close to the screen even though some 10 feet away (though it still worked) but these sort of issues are commonplace with Kinect games in general. Overall Winter Stars is a great, fun game, I just wish they included controller input as too, as this would have given even more reason to play this even more.
Rating: GoodReview policy
You can order Winter Stars on Kinect from ShopTo here.