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Kinectimals


The cuteness meter is now broken...
Kinectimals is a brilliant marketing concept for the launch of Microsoft's Kinect motion control device for the Xbox 360, specifically for new parents with young children. Offering players the ability to directly teach and interact with lovable tiger cubs is incredibly endearing as well as being a total viral sensation when parents start uploading videos of their 5 year old kids rolling around in front of the TV playing with their virtual cats. Obviously geared at a younger generation of player, the presentation in Kinectimals is almost overbearingly charming, mostly due to the cubs rolling around in the grass on screen. There's not much of a story behind Kinectimals beyond a story based on recovering a pirate's booty on the island of Lemuria (Caption Able Blackwood's treasure), but this type of narrative isn't really required for this type of game.

kinectimals big cats in grass

The player immediately chooses a feline to take under their wing choosing from panthers, leopards, tigers, lions and cheetahs. All of the little guys are intentionally cute, likely to make it tough to pick just one. The gameplay is split into two modes that compliment each other, free form and mini-games. As you play with your newly adopted animal, you can teach it tricks or use toys to entertain it. This typically launches a mini-game related to the trick or toy. Mini-games have a tendency to get repetitive at times though and you won't find much variety as newer areas are opened up on the island. As you complete the games, you earn experience points which ties directly into discovery of the island. It's somewhat similar to unlocking new items in Viva Piņata. The cat also has quite the personality and tries to convey what he / she wants to do by dragging toys to you or just being generally playful.

This really isn't a Sims type of experience that requires you to take care of the pet for it to live, but rather focusing on playing with the pet all the time. You can still do other things like give it a bath or just pet it, but it's not depending on your actions to live. The game also encourages you to explore the island and search for hidden objects with the Plunderscope. There's hidden items located all over the map, but you can also spend coins (the game's currency) on buying items in the game's store (mostly furniture).

kinectimals cheetah playing around

Regarding voice control, Kinect seemed to work very well with directing your tiger cub around. Yelling out "Play Dead!" teaches the kitten to fall over into the grass with a comical look on the cub's face (like it's acting). The motion control generally works, but it's definitely rife with precision problems. The majority of the mini-game rely on throwing an object like a ball or a ring. I found the tracking of the throwing motion to be all over the place and often led to repeating mini-games over and over until I got lucky. Other games, like the RC racing mode, was perfectly fine and the cars controlled perfectly on the track. Interacting with the cubs via motion control also works very well. Teaching them tricks by example is often some of the most accurate tracking via Kinect in the entire game (and really offers the best entertainment value for time spent in the game).

There's no multiplayer sharing options that comes with this game, odd considering kids would probably like to customize their pets, take photos / video and send to their friends. The bar on getting all the achievements is obviously a bit lower than games for older audiences, but there are definitely some creative ones in there. My favorites were spinning your pet around until he / she gets dizzy or getting my little tiger cub to clap five times in a row without falling over.

kinectimals big cats in grass

Graphics

The visuals are incredibly charming and the tiger character models are exceptionally detailed. The world is bright, island lush with heavy greenery as well as pretty flowers. Blades of grass drift from the wind effects and you can see branches on trees lurching to the left and right. Watching some of the facial expressions on the tiger cubs is pretty amazing and the developer did a great job of conveying real emotion from their faces. When a tiger gets dirty, you can see the tiny dirt particles all over the cub as well as watch them fly away while the tiger is being cleaned. The only thing I didn't like about the graphics engine is the overuse of menus in the game and how it effectively breaks you out of the experience of actually being on the island playing with cubs.

Audio

Bumble (the narrator) is definitely well voiced by Richard Horvitz, but the developer has a dependence to overuse him for the majority of the game which gets somewhat annoying. I'd rather not listen to a squeaky Bumble prattle on while trying to get my tiger cub to do tricks. The world, however, is beautifully populated with light, friendly music and sweet melodies as you wander around Lemuria island. The sound effects are equally as sweet and gives the presentaion an enchanting feel. It's impossible not to say "Awwwwww" when the cubs are purring away.

Conclusion

While the cute factor is off the charts, Kinectimals never really offers the addicting gameplay and depth of a game like Viva Pinata. The repetitive nature of the mini-games is going to bore younger players which makes the game more enjoyable in 30 minute spurts rather than hours at a time. That being said, children that love cats are going to adore playing with their "big kittens", especially kids under 8 years old. I got the chance to watch my 6 year old niece shout out voice commands at the screen and erupt in laughter every time her cheetah reacted. But the game feels very much like a sandbox rather than a complete game. It's incredibly successful at attracting players to interact with the cubs, just not great at keeping players for any great length of time with the repetitive, poorly controlled mini-games. Assuming you purchased a Kinect already, consider renting Kinectimals if you have very young kids and want to watch their entertaining reactions to the cuteness overload happening on the screen. While this isn't a killer launch title for Kinect, even Puss in Boots better watch out for these adorable cubs.



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