Sunday, October 2, 2011

Product Review: Nyko Zoom

Product: Nyko Zoom
Price: $29.99
Purpose: Kinect attachment so gamers can play closer to their TVs
Availability: Most major retailers (Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack, GameStop, etc) 

I really like the Kinect. There I said it. Feel free to make fun of me if you want to, I know I'm in the minority as far as hardcore gamers who enjoy the Kinect go, but I don't care. I think it's a cool device. It hasn't come remotely close to reaching its potential but if used properly, it can be as revolutionary as the Wiimote.

But, and this is a big butt, the Kinect has some issues. The most annoying of which is its space requirement. Ideally, you should be 6-8 feet from the Kinect for it to work properly. Unless you live in the Batcave, chances are you're bumping into walls, couches, or the random ottoman as you dance, punch or kick in front of your TV. And even if you do have the space, you're probably forced to do some quick Vern Yip-style living room rearrangements anyway.

Like many other gamers, the Kinect spacing issues are a big problem for me too. My house is old, it was built in 1946, so it has some very small rooms. My office is only 12'x12'. That's not a bad size but considering I have a desk, a treadmill, a bookcase, and my 360 and Wii gaming rigs set up in this room it doesn't really leave a lot of space for motion sensing. So when I heard about Nyko's Zoom peripheral, which puts a wide-angle lens over the Kinect so gamers can play closer to it, I was intrigued.

The Zoom connects easily to the Kinect.

I didn't pick it up right away however. I don't have anything against Nyko products (I have one of their Wiimote charging stations) but as a rule I'm skeptical of third party devices (especially controllers) and wasn't that impressed with its mixed reviews I was reading online. But, after kicking my treadmill for the 1000th time, I decided to give it a shot. I stopped by GameStop, plunked down my $30 and proceeded to experiment with my new toy. The results? Not quite what I was hoping for.

I tested out the Zoom with two of my favorite Kinect games, The Gunstringer and Dance Central. I have a number of other Kinect games (about 8-10) but since I play these more often than the others and they're very different types of titles, I thought they'd give me the best feel for how the Zoom performs.

Sadly, the Zoom had issues with both games. With The Gunstringer my Kinect had trouble tracking two distinct objects, both of my hands. You use both hands for different purposes in the game, but for some reason my Kinect was suddenly cross-eyed. When I had to put my hands close together or one on top of the other, the game was glitchy, with the on-screen cursor twitching like I had gone a week without a drink.

With Dance Central the problems weren't nearly as obvious. From the waist up the Kinect didn't have any problems tracking me. But from the waist down it seemed to have problems seeing where my legs were. After looking at the post dance photos, I noticed that the camera was angled way too high. It was basically only getting me from the hips up.

My 360 and Wii gaming set up. The Kinect sits front and center.

I popped the game out and went to the Kinect Tuner, thinking I could rectify the problem. But even after fiddling with it for 10-15 minutes, I was still told that my Kinect couldn't see the ground. The ground! I found this odd since my Kinect is placed in front of my TV and is only about 3 1/2 feet off the ground. After messing with the tuner I went back into both games but the same problems remained. I then took off the Zoom, and even though I had to go back to my normal spot (about 6-7 feet for ideal for me), my Kinect performed much better.

Time for some disclaimers. It's very possible that if I'd have fooled around with more of my Kinect games that I might have found a few that the Zoom would have worked with. Even with Dance Central, it didn't effect my gameplay that badly. It was more of an inconsistent annoyance than anything. Also, keep in mind I only tried the Zoom playing solo, so I'm not sure how much it improves gameplay with two people, which is something it should do if it works as advertised. All that said, I'm still returning it.

For me, a Kinect peripheral that doesn't work with every Kinect game just isn't worth the money. If it's supposed to work, it should work all the time. I shouldn't have to test run it with every Kinect game I own or every new Kinect game I buy to see if it's compatible. I also shouldn't have to constantly take it off and put it back on depending on what game I'm playing. It's just a hassle.

While I've seen glowing reviews for the Nyko Zoom, I certainly didn't have a positive experience with it. If you're confused about some of the mixed signals you're getting from reviewers, it may be worth checking out for yourself. Just don't be surprised if you end up disappointed.

Pros: Quick installation
Cons: Doesn't quite work as advertised, $10 more than it should be
Overall Score: 2/5

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