Kinect Fun Labs: Mars Rover Landing

This free Kinect Fun Labs download has been funded by NASA themselves, who in turn are funded by the American government. So a big thanks goes out to all the honest and hard working Americans – your taxes have helped to pay for this. Good job!

We do genuinely mean that without a hint of sarcasm – Mars Rover Landing is the best thing so far to arrive on Kinect Fun Labs. Here you’re given the chance to try and land NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity in return for achievements and avatar items. The difficulty level seems rather tough at first but it soon transpires that this isn’t down to bad game design – it’s to illustrate how both luck and skill play a great part in real life rover landings.

The task at hand has been split into three mini-games. The first sees the rover entering the Martian atmosphere and has to be positioned in the centre of the screen to prevent it from burning up on entry. This is achieved by stepping left, right and forward. Every few seconds a bout of turbulence occurs, during which you have just a few seconds to bring the rover back to the centre or else its integrity will be damaged. Getting the rover to the next stage unharmed is a very tricky task – we spent nearly an hour trying to get the achievement for entering the atmosphere with 100% integrity, only to eventually give up after failing to get to any higher than 98%. We know that we attempted it for over an hour as there’s a countdown to the launch of NASA’s Curiosity rover on the title screen.

The second mini-game is all about timing. Charges on the base of the craft have to be detonated in order for the rover’s protective shell to be removed. This entails putting your arms up just as a moving spark enters one of the four boxes on the screen. The Kinect controls are very precise throughout, so if you put your hand up too early or too late it’s always down to your own failings rather than that of the Kinect.

The third and final mini-game is easily the best: it’s incredibly tense as there’s no leeway for error. The aim here is to land the rover inside the target area by holding your arms out and moving them left and right to control the jets of the rover’s capsule. Bring it down to the surface too quickly and it’ll end up nothing but a pile of scrap. Spend too long and you’ll run out of fuel. This is exactly what we’d imagine a Kinect version of Pilotwings to be like, not that we’d ever see such a thing. The first time you manage to land the rover directly inside the crater feels like a genuine achievement, and not just because one pops up on the screen.

Your performance during each mini-game is rated at the end, and then once the rover has successfully landed an overall rating appears. Points are deducted for any retries. For our first few attempts our scores were around the 40/100 mark, but once we got the hang of the few nuances that there are to learn our scores eventually entered the 90s. The achievements aren’t that hard to unlock – apart from the aforementioned – but to access the avatar items you’ll need to put a fair bit of time in as they require you to perform five perfect landings and other similar tasks. Those determined to unlock everything should get two or three hours of play out of this, which is pretty good going considering it’s a freebie.

Also for a free download the graphics are surprisingly detailed while the narration – provided by an actual NASA employee – and music both give the game a cinematic feel. There’s some educational stuff included too, such as still images and a video explaining the ins and outs of a rover landing in great detail.

Mars Rover Landing has raised the bar for what the type of thing we now expect to see released on the Kinect Fun Labs app. That bar may not have been very high in the first place, but it’s immeasurably better than the other downloads available on there.

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