Kinect, Microsoft’s most recent peripheral for the Xbox 360, is set to arrive in UK stores by the time your eyes are roving over this article. There’s been a fair bit of hype and excitement pertaining to Microsoft’s latest gadget, but is it really justified? Is Kinect the greatest thing since sliced bread or are customers going to be left in the dust?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so let me take a minute to fill you in. Step one: think of the Wii. Step two: apply it to the Xbox. There, you now have a good idea of what the Kinect is. It’s a movement sensitive device that allows you to play games on the Xbox without having to hold anything, so now think of the Wii but without the remote. It’s also able to pick up voice commands, so go ahead and glue a microphone onto the mental image you have of the Wii.

Think of the Wii but without the remote. It’s also able to pick up voice commands, so go ahead and glue a microphone onto the mental image you have of the Wii

With units already selling in Japan and N. America, how has the Kinect been receieved up until now? Well, so far the reaction has been fairly positive. Internet gaming magazine Kotaku gave it decent marks in its review, praising in particular its ability to pick up voice commands, something I’ve never trusted technology to do well so I’ve got to give Microsoft some marks for that. Overall, the opinion from Kotaku seems to be that it’s not a must own, at least not yet. There are still some slow response times to be worked out when it comes to physical directions, but if you’ve ever played on a Wii you’ll understand that these sort of devices are less than precise. Also, there are no great games designed especially for the Kinect yet, so the Kinect’s £130 price tag will no doubt make you wince. Unless of course you’re a student with marvellously rich parents who understand how vital it is to your studies that they invest in a Kinect.

Game wise Kinect is lacking, but then again most new consoles are a bit shabby in the game department upon initial release. It’s just a question as to whether or not the Kinect’ll go down the PS3 route and have nothing decent to offer us four years or so down the line. There have been a dozen or so games released so far, mostly sport and dancing stuff that make full use of the Kinect’s motion sensor. They’ve received mixed reviews, ranging from fun and entertaining to hair pullingly frustrating (I’m looking at you again Sonic). They’ll keep you entertained for a good few hours but don’t expect them to last you for weeks. Maybe the game industry will prove me wrong but expect there to be a lot of rehashed iterations of the same themes.

Of course, some guy has already managed to destroy his LCD TV by swinging a ceiling fan’s chain right into the screen whilst flinging his arms about like an idiot. Still, that’s more a fault of him being a nitwit than anything the Kinect did. I’m sure most people have heard those stories of Wii remotes flying into tellies, though in many of those cases airborne remotes were a result of faulty straps. Let it serve as a warning, mind – if you do end up buying a Kinect or any other motion sensitive controller, watch where you fling your limbs.

There’s also been a bit of controversy and a $2000 prize generated by the Kinect’s release. Adafruit Industries is currently offering this respectable chunk of cash to anyone able to create open source Kinect drivers which would allow the Kinect hardware to be utilized by other operating systems. Microsoft is (as most people could have guessed) narked off and claim the Kinect will be kept tamper-resistant. They’re fools to expect it to remain so – the online modding and scripting community is massive and Microsoft simply won’t be able to stop the creation of open source drivers. Yes, Kinect-enabled software sales might suffer, but on the flip side it’ll only improve hardware sales.

So should you go out and spend your student loan on a Kinect? The short answer is no (the long answer would take up several pages of writing). Why? Well, right now it’s just far too expensive for what it is, a glorified TV remote that lets you play a few party games. At this stage of gaming development, motion and sound-sensitive controllers cannot possibly hope to match the precision of the traditional controller or the mouse and keyboard so forget about playing any sort of games that require a modicum of aim.

Perhaps one day motion and sound-sensitive devices will surpass the good ol’ fashioned controller, but right now Kinect is just a stepping stone to that goal. I suppose I can’t complain about that – accurate motion capture technology just doesn’t spring up overnight. It needs to be tried and tested, perfected and honed. What I can complain about is the price. Unless you have Xbox parties all the time and enjoy throwing yourself about like you have a bad case of the hives, avoid it until it’s much cheaper, has had a few of its issues ironed out by Microsoft and supports a wider selection of games. Your wallet will thank you.

The Microsoft Kinect is available now for your Xbox 360, retailing at £129.99.