Kinectimals is one of the Kinect launch games and was well received at its introduction during the E3 of 2010. The demo there showed the unique capabilities of the Kinect sensor and how the player can be totally immersed in the game by means of body tracking. Now the game has been released, and we have taken the time to play through the entire game and share our opinion of it with you. Is Kinectimals just as great as the e3 demo made it out to be? Find out in this review!
If you just want to know how what I thought about the “Now with Bears!” DLC, then scroll down to the last paragraph!
Once I arrived on the island Lemuria, the environment where Kinectimals takes place, I was immediately absorbed in the impressing beauty of all the flora and fauna that decorated the starting area of this very charming game. The glade and surrounding forest I was looking at were covered in fine details: the grass and trees were moving in the wind, rabbits were hopping by while the occasional butterfly landed on one of the many plants. Relaxing ambient music and perfectly matching sound effects complete the experience and gave me this ‘vacation’ feeling. Not only the starting area is detailed like this, each consecutive area you’ll visit is decorated with equal detail as the first and each area has its own unique setting and feel to it.
The whole game is also narrated by a flying ferret of some sorts. This creature will explain the game to you and will also talk you through the story (which is not worth mentioning). The voice acting of the flying ferret is very well done. All these elements together make Kinectimals simply a beautiful and very charming game.
The centerpieces of Kinectimals are the cubs, young animals from the cat family that come in different colors and with various facial features. When you first play the game you’ll have to select one of five different cubs which are all slightly different from each other.
The cubs look absolutely amazing: their fur is hard to distinguish from the real thing, their faces look cute like kittens and the best thing of all: the animation is absolutely staggering realistic. The cubs run, jump, crawl and swim like the real thing! This especially gets amazing once two cubs get together, the interaction with each other looks true to life and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch.
Another point that really stands out is the facial expressions of the cubs. These are very well done and this really helps in making the cubs look believable and, more importantly, being able to bond with your cub.
Discover and play
Now that you know that both the world of Kinectimals and its inhabitants (the cubs) look absolutely great it’s time to tell you a bit more about the actual gameplay and the aim of the game.
Kinectimals is, in a sense, a bit of crossover between one of those virtual caretaker games and a mini-game collection. There are basically two distinctive elements to the game: The first is to play with your cub and obtain points, and by doing that to unlock the second element in the game, the mini games.
Playing with your cub is done with a very wide array of toys. There are small balls and Frisbees with which you can play fetch, big balls that can be used to play soccer and volleyball, water guns to spray your cub, lures to tease your cub and even a jumping rope. Other than play with toys you can also feed, cuddle and wash your cub or make him/her do tricks. While you are playing with your cub certain challenges pop up that will allow you to earn extra points if completed successfully. These challenges are based on the current toy you are playing with and are surprisingly numerous and divers. For instance, if you are playing with a volley ball the game will give you a challenge to keep the ball in the air for a certain time, or if you are playing with the water gun you are given a challenge to shoot down targets. You will earn point by winning challenges and just by playing with your cub. Rack up enough point and a new mini-game will be unlocked or a new part of the island will open up.
The mini-games are the meat of the game, there are a lot of them and each will record your high-score and allow you to win a bronze, silver or gold medal. You will spend a lot of time playing these trying to beat your high score or finally getting that gold medal. The mini games itself all have to do with accuracy and speed. You will be throwing balls or discusses to break various objects, you will be guiding your cub through obstacle courses, you will be driving RC cars around tracks and you’ll be making you pub do tricks. Every mini game will have a timer running and each will reward you for being accurate. The mini-games do repeat themselves as you get further into the game, but they also get increasingly hard, keeping them interesting and challenging.
What I really liked about Kinectimals is that is doesn’t throw all its content at you at once, like some other mini-game collections do. In Kinectimals there is always a sense of progression and you will spend hours unlocking all of the mini-games. Each mini-game is unlocked separately and each will require you to play a bit with your cub before unlocking. The pace of the game is to play a bit with your cub, play a new mini-game, play a bit more with your cub and unlock the next mini-game. This rhythm makes sure that the game stays interesting and always gives you that sense of progressing.
By playing with your cub and winning mini-game you won’t just get point, you will also earn hard cash! This money can then be used to buy more toys to play with or to buy furniture for your house. The amount of decorative items you can buy is actually pretty insane; there is just so much to choose from. The whole house is customizable, including the walls, beams, doors and floor, and the items you can buy are in various themes (such as Western or Inca).
Although the options are pretty much endless as to how you can decorate your house I didn’t really see the point in doing this. Your house is there to visit, but there really is no point in visiting it, thus for me I didn’t really see the point of buying all these items to decorate it. This is especially true after you know how painstakingly long it takes to buy stuff: the interface in which you do this is just terribly slow and not fun to use.
The entire game is controlled with Kinect and this makes for intuitive and accessible gameplay. Most actions are done just as you would do them in real life, from throwing a ball to rotating a jumping rope to kicking a ball. Other actions are a little bit different, but still intuitive. For instance, driving the RC car is done by holding out your hands and moving them like you are moving a steering wheel. Accelerating is done by pushing the wheel out, while breaking is done by pulling the wheel back.
Accuracy of the Kinect sensor is good, but a lot of the games have a very simplified implementation. For instance, with volleyball you can’t control the speed or direction of the ball; you’ll just have to hold out your arm to the right, middle or left to volley it back. Same goes for soccer: no control over speed or direction. The game also heavily relies on auto-aim. In games where you have to hit targets the ball or discus you will just have to throw in the general direction of the target, and the game will make sure you’ll hit it. This oversimplified gameplay is great for kids, but might not appeal that much to an older gamer.
The obstacle courses require a special mention because this mini-game is by far the most physically exhausting to play. The obstacle course will require you to continually run on the spot while having to duck, jump and do other things at the right moment. These obstacle courses are a ton of fun to play and because of their intensity level also very healthy.
The Kinect implementation is taken the further when you are making your cub do tricks. The way to do is, is to either act out the trick or to say the name of the trick out loud. Acting out the trick can be as simple as jumping on the spot, or as complex as lying down for 3 seconds, then rolling on your back and finally jumping up with your hands in the air. There are tons of tricks your cub can do thus an equal amount of gestures that the Kinect sensor can pick up. The voice recognition also works pretty well and shows that microphones of the Kinect sensor must be top notch.
The tracking is however not always flawless. Throwing with a ball is something I personally had a lot of trouble with. When you throw a ball you extend your arm out and then bring it back in to prepare for the next throw. The game would often see my arm going back to my body as a throw as well, resulting in all these balls flying everywhere at random. The problem with this is that the game rewards you for getting consecutive hits, and some of the later mini-games require you to rack up massive combos. Because of this awkward tracking it was impossible for me to get gold medals in these games.
Just for kids?
One can argue that Kinectimals is a game solely for kids: it has cute pets, lots of oversimplified mini-games and dialog that is probably only funny to the youngest among us. Still I had a lot of fun with this game in the beginning, and I’m twenty-five years old. The production quality of the game is just very high, and the game keeps you motivated to go on.
I must however say that towards the end I was getting bored with the cycle of playing with the cub and unlocking slightly harder mini-games. Kids probably have a far longer attention span than I have and therefor I would say that the main audience for Kinectimals is kids, but it’s still, although to lesser extent, fun for adults.
There is also the thing that all animals are cat-like creatures. I’m a cat person so that is good, but I can’t image the game being equally enjoyable if you are a dog person. There is basically a cat on the screen for 99% of the game, so if you hate cats, that might be a problem.
Kinectimals is a charming game with superb graphics, animation and sound. The game is packed full of mini-games and toys for you and your cub to play with. All of these activities are playing with the Kinect sensor and the gestures are intuitive and accessible. However, there are occasions where the tracking is a bit awkward, resulting in a buggy gameplay. The game also got a bit repetitive to me towards the end. Still, for kids this game must be an absolute cracker, and for adults like me also enjoyable, just to lesser extent.
DLC: Now with Bears!
The first DLC for Kinectimals is out and is dubbed “Kinectimals, Now with Bears”. The DLC is exactly what the name implies: It’s Kinectimals, but then with Bears. This means that instead of playing with cute cats you’ll now instead be playing with cute bears! Unfortunately this also means that aside from the new bears there is not so much new. The DLC adds a new island that is split up into three parts, each with five ‘new’ challenges. I’m saying ‘new’ because some of these are simply recycled parts from the original Kinectimals, just with a slightly different feel to it. When it comes to real new challenges there are a few new things like ‘juggling’, ‘tree climbing’ and ‘fishing’, but none of these are really revolutionary.
Aside from the new Bears and the new island the games has a few other small improvements that are very welcome: For starters the game now implement better cursor smoothing so it’s a bit easier to select menu items. Voice recognition has also been implemented for some menus so speaking a simple “yes” or “no” will get you far faster through the menus. Then there is also a new talking flying ferret (this time female) with a far more pleasant sounding voice. Little improvements, but they go a long way in terms of gameplay enjoyment.
Because of the fact that there is not really any new stuff in the DLC I would recommend Now with Bears only to people (probably kids) that couldn’t get enough of the original Kinectimals, even after completing it. I played through the original Kinectimals completely and was getting bored at the end and the Now with Bears DLC really didn’t spark a newfound interest in Kinectimals. The DLC is however not bad or anything; it has the same great production quality of the original Kinectimals and plays great, it’s just that it is more of the same.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Kinectimals: Now with Bears!
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