Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure forces me to confront a question that decades of gaming have trained me to avoid: Why is Mario so fat? I mean, the guy's spent 25 years running and jumping, so how has he maintained that pasta-for-lunch body? I ask because if I keep playing Kinect Rush, I could well make the portly-to-skinny transition perfected by Sonic the Hedgehog. If I keep playing Kinect Rush, which is unlikely.
"Rush" is a very literal command here, because most of the gameplay in Kinect Rush is running, running, running, with the occasional leap. You race through coin-covered levels by moving in place before the Kinect's all-seeing eye: pump your arms to stroll, move your legs to jog, and move them all at top speed to sprint, rotating your shoulders to change direction. The full-body physical requirements, and the demand for top speed, means that playing for any length of time leaves you feeling like you've done a solid workout; I leave it up to you whether that's a plus or a minus.
The game is set in Pixar Park, an imaginary theme park where CGI moppets imagine themselves as characters in Pixar movies. As they breathlessly describe made-up plots, the player is dropped into the story they've invented. This frame story is Microsoft's joylessly literal corporate thinking at its most depressing: What we have here is an entertainment product in which your kids can pretend to be kids using their imagination. Is some closeted Situationist at Asobo Studios trying to undermine the very idea of virtual entertainment?
There's no reason for this leaden justification; it would be just as easy to make up a scenario where all the Pixar characters have to band together, Kingdom Hearts-style. But that would require just a little more creative license than anyone at the main office could wrap their heads around, so the distinctive personalities of Pixar's characters get filtered through headquarters-approved multicultural munchkins. The Microsoft problem mars a lot of the game, not least the tendency of Microsoft-published games to begin with 15 minutes of grindingly un-fun avatar creation, logging in, and similar preapproval paperwork before you can actually play the damn game.
Once you finally wade through all the packaging, the game isn't bad at all. The running and jumping are physical enough to be a good time, and the flying and driving sections are genuinely graceful. The driving is good enough to make me wish for a straight Cars-themed Kinect game, or better yet, a Kinect-controlled Spy Hunter. Like most Kinect controls, it can be a little imprecise, but it's also immersive and fun, and the challenge of gathering maximum coins is good for some replay value. Unfortunately, there's not much variety to the gameplay; once you've played two or three different levels, everything else is just doing the same thing in different visual environments.
But those environments sure are nice. Asobo did a great job recreating the whole look and feel of Pixar worlds: The Ratatouille levels, for example, exude a soft pink glow, while the Incredibles levels skillfully adapt that movie's hard-edged 1960s pop style. If your kid is a Pixar fan who just wants to run around inside his favorite movies, Kinect Rush will satisfy.
Really, that "if your kid" is crucial to deciding if this game is right for you. For an adult, the repetitive gameplay will be a turnoff, and the condescendingly encouraging background chatter will make the game unendurable for those without serious self-esteem and credulity issues. But if you have a kid who enjoys working off their massive energy reserves in the world of Pixar, the game could be well worth the money. Me, though, I don't like to run this much unless I've just stolen something really, really good.