Michael Phelps Push the Limit came out the very same day as Hulk Hogan’s Main Event. I’m not sure if this was the turning point for the Kinect but I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty soon you could look to this day as the point where things started to go very very wrong for the Kinect. Since that day I have seen all kinds of games I had no idea existed. There’s apparently a Spongebob themed surfing game, a Nickelodeon dancing game, the Black Eyed Peas have evidently justified their own game, and even Twister now has its own Kinect game. In one of the most baffling decisions I’ve maybe ever seen, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a Kinect only title, something I can’t even begin to comprehend. The Kinect is in danger more than ever of replacing the Wii in terms of copious amounts of shovelware.
Michael Phelps Push the Limit is easily one of the stranger video game concepts I’ve seen in a while and I’m sure you have already formed a pretty accurate mental idea of both the content and the quality of the title. I’m hear to tell you that it may in fact, not be quite as bad as you might think.
Push the Limit is indeed a game where you stand in your living room and pretend that you are swimming. It’s a concept that you shouldn’t be terribly surprised to hear is being done on the Kinect, but it’s a little bit of a shock that it’s a full fledged game and not just a mini-game inside of a larger collection. As a result, you would expect this title to be packed with content. This is not at all the case here.
When you get to the main menu you will have three choices: Career, Quickplay and Multiplayer. If you’re like me then you’ll get someone to do one match of Multiplayer before they are done and Quickplay is just what you will see in the Career so really Career is the only way to go here. There is no story to be had, which is a bit disappointing. At least Main Event attempted to tell a story, as terrible as it wound up being. Here there is nothing. You create your swimmer using a decent sized but uninteresting selection of items and then you begin the first season of your swim career.
Each match consists of a few steps. It opens with a long intro with an over the top narrator that you are supposed to be able to bypass simply by saying “skip” but I could only get it to work 1/20 times I tried. Seriously I tried changing the pitch, tone and speed of my voice but it only seemed to skip when it felt like it. Once you are in control you have to hype up the crowd, which just means waving your arms in the air for about 8 seconds. It’s very tedious and I don’t think a single crowd ever got hyped from my efforts. Also the insert of the crowd never shows more than maybe 10 people, which is either a sad commentary on the world of competitive swimming, or the developers’ unwillingness to create more character models. Both of these seem equally likely.
Then it’s time to perform the dive, where you crouch down and when the gun sounds, you stand up as fast as you can and hold your arms out in front of you to do the actual dive. The angle of your arms determines the success of your dive. Once you’re actually in the water, it’s time to swim! There are a handful of different strokes in the game and to its credit, the Kinect does a good job of differentiating between them all. For the swimming portions the proceedings turn into a sort of rhythm game where you have to time your motions with a meter and once you get into this rhythm it actually feels pretty good. Turning is a matter of pushing your hand forward when a meter is full and the final lap of each race has you PUSH THE LIMIT where you just swim as fast as you can until you are told to reach out and grab the edge of the pool.
The strangest feature I feel is what happens for any race that is longer than 100M. For the middle portions of the race, you no longer have to simulate the act of swimming. Instead, you hold out your hands and move your cursor over circles with lightning bolts in them while avoiding circles with X’s in them. I guess this was to add some variety, or to keep people from passing out from fake swimming fatigue, but it’s still an odd addition that is not particularly fun. So while the actual act of swimming is pretty well executed and can be fun, it is surrounded by activities that feel more like a chore.
The main problem with the game is that even though the swimming itself is fun, once you’ve done a couple of races you will have experienced it about as much as you need to. Each race after that becomes more and more tedious until you are more then ready for things to be over. The plus side there is that you won’t have to wait long as Push the Limit’s career is over very, very quickly. There are only three seasons in total, with annual games between each one that are completely optional. Each season takes no more than an hour, although I have read about people having to restart their career because their character wasn’t upgraded correctly (yes there are five different categories that you can allot points to after each race) by season three and they found things too difficult. This didn’t happen to me and the best advice I can give is to just dump points into Speed and Stamina. I only started upgrading in the other categories near the end of season 2 and I made it through the whole career with minimal effort.
As with NCIS, if you love achievement points then this is your game. If you make it through the career, you will end up with 1000 points. Even if you want to play for 20 minutes, you’ll end up with 400 or more easily.
Michael Phelps Push the Limit is not the trainwreck I expected. The swimming mechanics work pretty well and for the first couple of races it’s a good time. But tedium sets in all too fast and after no more than an hour, the whole thing feels like a chore. Rent it if you really want the achievement points but I wouldn’t seek it out as a purchase by any means.