Written : Wednesday, November 03, 2010
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
As a studious and established – yes, I established my own establishment – reviewer of games of the video type, it’s important that when you’re on your next assignment, that you truly view the game from the perspective of its intended audience... It’s no use playing FIFA and moaning that no-one gets their head blown off – which incidentally is why I don’t review FIFA. So in order to get into the mind of the target audience of Kinectimals, I reverted to a child-like state, throwing food up the walls, rubbing chewing gum into the carpet and stamping up and down the stairs. “But Dan, it appeals to people of all ages, right?”... Hmmm, well there is a joke about playing with a big pussy in there somewhere... Yeah so, moving swiftly on...
"Awww. How frickin' adorable."
Kinectimals - as I quite crudely pointed out - is in fact a family title, aimed specifically at young children, and teaches valuable lessons about how a child can groom a tiger into their pet killing machine... no seriously, it’s a pet simulator that teaches children – and even parents – how to manage relationships and respond to outside stimuli. No, it’s not a psychological experiment, but it does stop them ripping the wallpaper off the walls while you go to the toilet.
Kinectimals takes you on a journey to the picturesque island of Lemuria, where you and your island guide, a flying rodent of some form called Mr Bumble, must explore the island to find its secrets. After being abandoned by the “kindest pirate who ever lived” – a Mr Captain Able Blackwood – you and the island’s cubs are encouraged to work together to find the missing bits of the map and bond to your heart’s content.
From the off you’ll be given the option to choose your initial island companion out of a series of cubs - ranging from a leopard and tiger, to a cheetah or panther - and from there, what you then do with your cub is entirely up to you.
Kinect works surprisingly well for the most part, with golden silhouettes of your hand indicating where your actual hand is in relation to on-screen button presses. For children – and even parents – the crux of the game will involve playing with your cubs, and that can mean searching for treasure using the unlockable Plunderscope, merely grooming or feeding your cub, simply teaching them poses or playing with them with the huge amount of toys on offer.
"I just wanna cuddle wuddle them to death!"
I can’t help but feel that for a young child, the menu mechanic could be a touch overwhelming for them from the off. Something as simple as holding your right arm out at a 45-degree angle to access your menu could seem like rocket science, so in truth, Kinectimals is probably best experienced with parental supervision. Thankfully, the cub will use his initiative every so often to fetch toys and such, so in a way, that can evolve the game naturally.
The name of the game is to earn enough points in the area to unlock the handful of mini-games, before being able to advance onto the next area. There are six areas in all, with a variety of different mini-games that range from RC car races and target practice, to a wide range of ball games and even obstacle courses. The mini-games in themselves have a great amount of diversity and ingenuity - something that Frontier Studios should be commended for - but the problem is that thanks to some awkward and oddly overly-sensitive throw and kick mechanics, it can make the learning curve on some of the later ones incredibly steep. In fact, after half an hour on one of the ones about mid-way through the game, I couldn’t even get a bronze medal. If I’m struggling as both a seasoned gamer and an adult, then what chance does a child have?
With your earnings from the mini-games, you can head to the lemur-run shop and purchase furniture for your house, which acts as your game hub storing your trophies and stats, or toys and accessories – like a collar – for your cubs. In fact, there are a ridiculous amount of unlockables for your cub that cannot only be bought, but unlocked by good performance in mini-games, including Halo Ghost RC cars that they can ride, Frisbees, balls of varying shape and size, and even skipping ropes. You can even head back to the opening section and switch between cubs if you feel like a change.
"Skittles trains for the London 2012 Olympics..."
Unfortunately, at times the device does struggle to pick up your movements, especially in terms of getting your cub to perform tricks, and on many occasions I found myself performing perfect poses for my cub, just to have them ignored. Thankfully though, the voice technology can assist with that problem, as many of the major tricks can be commanded by voice – as can your cub, but after naming him Steve at the beginning, I never used his name again. It should be noted though, that some of the more complex poses – which involve combo-mixing different poses in a sort of chain – definitely seem a little too advanced for children.
Considering who the title is aimed at, the achievements seem to involve far too much grinding and could have been used as a reward mechanic if they hadn’t been a little less forthcoming. So achievements like getting all the toys, teaching the cub all the tricks, getting all golds and so on, definitely feel out of place. For the most part though, Kinectimals' achievements get it right, but I just feel that they don't really cater too much towards their intended audience. My niece would have the patience to sit there and get all golds, especially when her uncle can’t... what’s all that about?
In Kinectimals, Frontier Studios has created a title that is not just incredibly adorable, but one that is also hugely engaging. If Kinectimals can’t shift Microsoft a few Kinect units this fall to families looking for the next big thing, the truth is, nothing will. Unfortunately, beneath the surface, Kinectimals contains some bizarrely steep difficulty spikes, an extremely awkward throwing mechanic and I fear that the menus may be a touch too complicated for much younger children. When played with a parent, Kinectimals can not only educate the kids with its fun dialogue and playful cutscenes, but surely it’ll capture their hearts as well. There was nothing like this when I was a kid and if I wanted to pet a cute cub, I had to make do with the next best thing and brave the wild, travelling to India to hug a fully-grown Bengal Tiger. Kinectimals is much safer.
With Bumble as your guide and a playful score to accompany it, Kinectimals’ audio does exactly what you’d want from a family title such as this... and that’s keep it fun and quirky.
The fur on the cubs and watching your virtual hand stroke your cub is possibly the most impressive thing we’ve seen Kinect do to date. It’s at the very top end of the market in regards to individual animals, and even the vibrant environments compliment that perfectly. It’s all about the cubs though.
Kinectimals and Kinect work in tandem like a well-oiled machine for the most part, but as you get into it, the cracks begin to show. An otherwise excellent mechanic is spoiled by some sloppily implemented throwing mechanics and an awkward pose system that likes to ignore you all too frequently.
Aside from the odd difficulty spike here and there, the potential in Kinectimals for your kids to get mesmerised for hours on end is very much a reality. Whether they want to do mini-games, explore, teach the cub new tricks or play with the toys, there’s always something to do. The menu system could have been simplified a little though.
Decent? yes. A little too much in the way of grinding? Definitely. Has Frontier got its audience a little wrong with regards to these? Almost certainly.
Kinectimals is a great start for Microsoft’s more family friendly orientated Kinect catalogue and if this can’t entice parents to part with their cash, then nothing will. It’s adorable, engaging, fun, and really utilises the full potential of the device. If only the experience wasn’t marred by a few oversights; such as the odd random spike in the learning curve, a complicated menu-system (for kids) and a terrible throwing mechanic. Otherwise, get this for your kids or you’ll get a lump of coal for Christmas.