Microsoft and some third-party companies rolled out some nifty titles in 2011, with a few new ones for the holidays that will test your wits and stamina as you lunge around the living room, angling for high scores. Here's a look at some featured Kinect-friendly titles as the year wraps up.
—"Dance Central 2" (Microsoft Studios, $49.99, rated T): More dance and more songs are on tap for this standout sequel. As with the original title, the goal remains to keep up with the crew of fleet-footed characters on the screen while you bust a move to popular hip-hop and electronica songs.
The dance moves are fun even if some of them like the "bear cub" are best left to an embarrassing uncle at a wedding. Truly, it's an awful lot of hand-waving and arms akimbo.
Some of the new features include the ability to create your own playlist from the provided songs as well as top-notch voice commands that allow you, among other things, to slow down the music if you're having problems nailing some tough dance moves. Three out of four stars.
—"The Gunstringer" (Microsoft Studios, $39.99, rated T): In this fairly strange game, you play as the operator of a marionette skeleton that also happens to be one of the fastest guns in the Old West. You hoist up the Gunstringer by the strings and walk him around with movements from your left hand while your right hand handles the trigger-squeezing duties with a swift motion upward at the elbow.
The Gunstringer battles various comical foes, including a wavy inflatable tube character that would seem more at home in front of a used Ford dealership. I had to lean the skeleton out from side to side carefully to avoid getting whacked on the head by one of the wavy man's long arms.
It's mild fun at best. Kudos to the developers at Twisted Pixel Games for their unconventional take on player controls and offering gamers lighter gunfire fare rather than a scaled back, Kinect-friendly "Call of Duty" knockoff. Two out of four stars.
—"Disneyland Adventures" (Microsoft Studios, $49.99, rated E10+): In this title, the gamer uses Kinect as a gateway to the Magic Kingdom of the Disneyland amusement park in Southern California.
Walking my childlike character around the park was a little clunky at first. I raised my arm to move forward, but instead of following a sparkling golden path to my next task, I ended up plowing through crowds of families and getting stuck in a corner near a fence. This got better once I learned to slow my walking pace.
The best part about this game is walking to attractions from memory. If you've been to Disneyland more than once, you know the Adventureland section is on the left side after you enter the grounds. And sure enough, I found it quickly. But the similarities ended once I boarded the Jungle Cruise ride. I had to use my arms to control a water cannon and fend off legions of raging hippos. This is a pretty good game for the young and young at heart if you've visited the park. Three out of four stars.
— "Deepak Chopra's Leela" (THQ, $49.99, rated E): Putting your spiritual and physical well-being in the hands of someone like Deepak Chopra is a good bet. But it's probably tough to book an appointment with him, which is where "Deepak Chopra's Leela" comes in handy.
This is the most soothing video game I've ever played. After custom-crafting my own mandala design (with gestures from my hands), I took part in a hip-swiveling session in which I controlled an image of the rotating Earth. The goal was to align growing trees with moving rain clouds and later to the sun. This was a good warm-up exercise in the game's Muladhara, or Root Chakra, section.
The goal of the game is to help the user align the seven chakras; spinning wheels of energy in the body if you believe in such things. I had the option to Play or Reflect. During Play, I moved my body to engage with Leela, a Sanskrit word meaning "the play of the universe," according to the game instructions.
During Reflect, I took a seat on the floor while Leela led me through breathing and meditation exercises. The imagery is beautiful and the background music is calming.
I found this game both physically and mentally rewarding. These types of wellness titles truly take advantage of Kinect's capabilities and when well-designed, as with "Leela," showcase what gaming can become. Four out of four stars.