A World in Motion
Motion Control is the in-thing now, what with PS Move and Kinect treading firmly on the Wii's toes and putting their mark on the game space. The first batch of Kinect titles for the Xbox 360 are actually pretty impressive, especially games like Kinectimals - targeted both at youngsters and those who are young at heart.
Set on a lush island the gameplay of Kinectimals is simple and perfect for low-level interactions in a virtual environment. You have a variety of tasks to perform and doing well nets you points, points gets you further into the island and opens up new areas and challenges. It's gameplay at its simplest and most rewarding, if somewhat repetitious in the nature of the tasks. What's good about it is that it keeps you moving, since interactions with the various Kinectimals and toys aren't confined to standing around and just waggling a foot or waving an arm.
The Kinect is spot on and tracks your movement perfectly allowing for a nice layer of control over your chosen activity. Be it driving a buggy around to knock over various obstacles, or racing the course, you're making the shape of a steering wheel and turning, pushing forwards for acceleration and backwards for reverse - it's oddly fun. There are tonnes of toys to play with and a good spread of big cats to adopt and interact with, our favourite is definitely the Black Panther cub.
You can groom your chosen Kinectimal and this game is perfect for younger kids that can't own pets, due to allergies or other reasons. There's a solid level of personality to each one of these big cat cubs and they push the cute envelope just enough, so that it's fun but not overly cloying. You can give the cub a wash or play Frisbee (our favourite) for hours on end. It's basically a game that lets you play at your own pace.
When you're throwing an item, you have to take account the various properties of that item. Some objects will just drop short because they're quite heavy; some have unpredictable flight paths like the squeaky pig. The discs however are extremely fun to throw and some of them can be made to drop quickly by the action of you dropping to your hands and knees rapidly. You can also change the flight path of some of them with a wave of your hand.
Then there are various challenges, like the obstacle course where you have to jog on the spot, leap up in the air, duck down and get physical enough to realise that this is a good way to keep fit whilst having fun at the same time. That seems to be a knock-on effect of the Kinect regardless of the game that you're playing. Kinectimals will keep you throwing things, running around, jumping and teaching your pet animal new tricks for hours and hours all with simple gameplay mechanics that are fun and engaging.
There's also buried treasure to find, secrets to unlock, new animals to befriend and even a place where you can buy new objects and toys. So the developers haven't skimped on content.
Kinectimals isn't just a throw-away game in terms of graphics, there's a lot of detail here and the various pet animals look gorgeous, with various markings and expressive characteristics that set them apart from one another. They have fur which collects dirt and grime, sand and even gets wet. The developers have managed captured the essence of an animal in graphical form and given it a personality all of its own, from the waggle of the ears to the swish of the tail. The environments are also excellently done, ranging from deep forests to sandy beaches and hidden coves - there's always something new for the kids to look forwards to as they explore the new island with their pet.
The lighting effects and general polish of the graphics are great; shadows are used to convey a depth to some of the areas and a slight forbidden feeling. With the ever-present need to uncover the islands secrets driven home by glimpses now and then of other areas through cracks in rocks and so on. The water is also excellently done, with some nice physics and reaction effects.
The heart and soul of the game comes from the animations that are attached to the various Kinectimals, as well as your ever present guide to the Island. Everything is smooth and has a layer of fun, fun being important for much younger players. There's something to be said about a game that's cute enough to get away with big eyes and overly saccharine expressions, never once actually making you want to vomit. The developers have got this spot on and every animation in the game is smooth and fairly realistic, especially in terms of the cub's movement and interaction with the player.
The cub's AI is spot on as well. The Kinectimals have their own distinct personalities and they shine through at times, especially when they have a preference for toys and for various grooming equipment. If you ignore them they'll often pick their favourite toy out and bring it for you to play with, if you continue to ignore them then they'll use various AI tactics to get you to interact or go and do something themselves. This level of interactivity is solid enough to capture the hearts and minds of younger players, and even jaded gamers like me.
There's not much that can be said for the game's sound, all the sounds that you'd expect from a big cat cub are there. Purring, growls and various reaction sounds. This coupled with the ambient sounds of life on the Island and the gentle swoosh of waves on the shoreline combine to create a near-magical atmosphere.
The score to Kinectimals is great stuff, with various themed tunes matching their Island environments perfectly.
Your ever-present guide is voiced with a fun accent and is quite an engaging creature. There's no other voice in the game that we came across (but there could be something hidden, so we'll hedge our bets with that one).
Kinectimals is a good solid game that'll last you hours and hours, its fun for kids and for those big kids who haven't quite grown up. As Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor said): what's the point in being grown up, if you can't be a little childish? Not only that, this game is going to keep you fit and keep the kid's active. The motion control is nearly spot-on and the interaction between both the player and the Kinect is virtually flawless, there's a lot of responsiveness here and very little lag in terms of movement tracking. A truly excellent showcase and launch title then for the Kinect. It is only really let down by a layer of repetition in many of the mini-games and tasks... and of course targeted at younger audiences, it probably won't sit well with many of the hardcore gamer crowd.