I’m not usually a big fan of network TV. I’ll stick to series on DVD and Netflix, thank you very much. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t channel surf. Occasionally I come across a blatant rip-off of the English-dubbed Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MxC), a hilarious take on the Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle. It’s brilliantly rewritten with crude jokes and entertaining commentators, and I can usually count on it for a few laughs. Unfortunately, America decided it needed to create its own similarly-themed equivalent, Wipeout. Only rather than running contestants through different challenges, all if not most of the competitors on Wipeout compete in water-based obstacle courses complete with pithy commentary to accompany their pitfalls and failings.
It’s watchable, but nothing I’d actually devote an evening to. So when I was given the opportunity to try out the Kinect-enhanced video game adaptation for the Xbox 360, I was more than a little apprehensive. Wipeout: In the Zone is exactly what you might have already envisioned in your mind – a family-friendly budget game heavy on the motion control and short on the fun. It’s managed to take what was a workable premise in the similar game Doritos Crash Course (an avatar-based title available via Xbox Live Marketplace) and turn it into something nearly unplayable, all in the name of attempting to cash in on the Xbox 360’s latest gimmick: hands-free motion control.
In theory, Wipeout should work out fairly well. Take zany obstacle courses, “hilarious” commentators, and avatar support (all American-friendly augments) and toss them together to test players’ skills and reflexes. Who can make it to the final round and survive without wiping out? The game, for all intents and purposes, is identical to the game show, which is, if that’s what you’re looking for, great. All three hosts from the show (including John Henson) are present as well, offering their take on each flub-up and success you happen to chalk up. At least they went for some authenticity.
Starting out, you’ll need to complete some qualifiers in order to place for your events. This means you have to run an obstacle course at first in order to make any real progress. And while courses at each level of difficulty vary in challenge, some of the TV-specific events are on display here, such as “Big Balls” and “Sucker Punch,” to appease the faithful fans of the show. Unfortunately rather than relying on the Kinect motion tracking to offer interesting or purposeful events for players, instead most events require you to hop up and down every five minutes – even more than Kinect Adventures! ever asked of you in a single session and more like you’re playing Afronova Primeval on DDR.
Your on-screen avatar (the personalized one created solely for use on the dashboard) is slow to respond to each jump, however, and will continue attempting to run each course even when standing still, crouching, or changing position entirely. Even with optimal lighting and space (demonstrated in very large living rooms at two different houses) and jumping when the game very specifically means for you to meant more often than not a fall into the waiting water below, wiping out, as the game’s title implies. And despite my best efforts to keep from doing so, this happened again, and again, and again, to the point that it was such an endeavor to continue playing that I would have preferred to fall off into the crystal blue pool of water myself in real life. What? It’s sweltering here.
Annoying, repetitive quips, aggravating motion-tracking flub-ups, and an overall half-baked feel to Wipeout: In the Zone made the entire package one that I regretted opening. Even fans of the popular ABC show will probably feel slighted in this threadbare package, which may score some points for its authentic licensing but wipes out (literally) entirely when it comes to delivering anything resembling a fun, entertaining experience. What’s most frustrating is that I know we’re all waiting for another killer app to justify that Kinect purchase, but as long as we continue to be on the receiving end of Wii-grade shovelware and cheap cash-ins, it’s going to be a long and winding road. Remember the free Doritos game? Save your money and munch on that one instead.
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