Do you remember that creepy footage of a kid playing with a virtual Tiger cub when Kinect was only just starting up it’s marketing campaign? I still have nightmares…
Welcome to the island of Lemuria, home to a collection of the world’s cuteist and fluffiest young cubs. These fun loving little guys have been waiting for a new playmate for a long time, by all accounts, and now that you have arrived, they will be expecting lots of attention and playtime.
The young gamer, as this title is aimed at the younger generation, will begin by choosing a companion for their time on the island, from the selection of different cats available. There is no need for the gamer to panic too much if they are having trouble choosing between the adorable balls of fluff, they will have the opportunity to discard their new best friend in favor of another species at various times in the game. Once the choice has been made, the game takes on the form of a collection of mini games with a virtual pet attached, just to make it special.
The big deal about Kinectimals is the way in which the player interacts with their virtual pet, and indeed the mini games, using the Kinect unit. With full body motion control, players are able to reach out and stroke their pet, throw Frisbees and balls, and even teach them tricks by using certain motion based commands, such as jumping to make the animal jump, or laying on the floor to have them play dead. It is this interaction that will appeal most to children of the pre-teen age, and likely appeal least to anyone who enjoys actually gaming.
The actual gaming side of Kinectimals is not so impressive. Players progress almost on a linear basis, unlocking new areas of the island to explore, new mini games to play and new ways to interact with their pet, either in the form of toys or new tricks for them to learn. Whilst the challenge level is set incredibly low, especially in the mini games, there is something compulsive about interacting with the on-screen animal that will have the player spending far more time than they realise, or want, with the game. This is at least in part due to the incredible job that the Kinect unit does in dealing with the controls. In some ways it is kind of mesmerizing in the way that it translates the player’s movements.
Another way that the game draws you in and tricks you into heavy playing sessions is the way it looks. The game is simply beautiful. The island itself, with all of the different areas to explore, is fully realised and finished to an incredibly high standard, giving a real sense of immersion. But the real stars are the cubs themselves. They are incredibly realistic, well as much as they can be without ripping out the throat of a Gazelle and covering themselves in blood, and look gorgeous.
The mini games, as already mentioned, are incredibly easy. But they offer a nice bit of variety to the gameplay. The games all seem to revolve around the use of motion control, giving a nice interactive feel and further showing off the capabilities of the Kinect unit. From throwing or kicking balls, to racing a remote vehicle around a track with your cat sitting on top, the games are easy to understand and will offer most younger players a good reason to keep coming back.
Which is one of the things that I cannot understand about the modern generation of virtual pets. Where has all of the risk gone? It used to be that if you neglected your pet for any amount of time, it would die or be buried under it’s own dung. Whilst potentially traumatic for a young child, it at least resulted in teaching them responsibility. But with Kinectimals there is no risk and no sense of urgency. If you leave your pet for too long on the screen without interacting, it will just go off and play by itself. In fact, it does this a lot even when you are trying to play with it. But they have been alone on the island for a long time, so I guess they are used to it.
After the initial few hours of playing Kinectimals, the novelty will wear off for most adult gamers and they will walk away. But that is fine, because then the kids in teh family will be able to get a go and they will likely be there for ages. I have already said that this game is aimed at kids and, in that respect, it does a great job. There is a lot about the game that, as a mature gamer, I find annoying and unfulfilling. But for an eight year old girl, this game is the ultimate in cuteness and interactivity. It allows the younger player to play with their pet in a realistic way that has never been seen before, and this will pull your youngster back for more, time and time again.
The point has been made. This game is not for adults. But for kids, Kinectimals is easily the best of the Kinect launch titles. If you have picked up a Kinect unit, then keep the little ones happy by getting this in for Christmas. If you do not yet have a Kinect unit, and you have young children, then this could be the excuse you were looking for. However you look at it, Kinectimals is a good looking example of what the Kinect is capable of, even if the gameplay is a little weak.