Imagine, if you will, an island filled with smiling animal cubs desperate for your affection, an island where pirates swapped scurvy and rum-based cocktails for cuddles and pet grooming. Imagine a Kinect game that incorporates most of the qualities available in other release titles into a sugar sweet – at times sickeningly so – cutesy pet simulator.
Say hello to Kinectimals.
But to pigeonhole this game simply as a pet simulator is unfair. By threading elements of exploration, adventure and mini games into the essential pet care formula, Kinectimals offers the most of any Kinect launch title.
Want to drive a car, as seen in Joy Ride, arms out holding a nonexistent steering wheel? Add an adorable baby animal balancing on top of the car and Kinectimals delivers. Play mini sports with flailing limbs used to kick, throw or hit? Easy – and you get to watch a cute baby animal play with you. Or do you simply want to explore a beautifully crafted island making animal friends along the way? Limber up your hugging muscles and get ready to wrap yourself around Kinectimals.
This game is stroke-inducing cute. As a manly man who enjoys the manly things that the Brut deodorant commercials tell me to, it was shocking how quickly I was reduced to cooing noises and doe-eyed, lip-bitingly affectionate expressions. When Malcolm - my new black panther cub - sneezed for the first time I went weak at the knees.
These cubs are animated so well that as they tumble round the screen chasing birds or items thrown for them, or as they rub up against the screen in the hope of gaining some attention, or even as they simply pant to express thirst, you can be forgiven for talking to them or holding them in higher regard than your actual pets.
You start the game as a new arrival on a sparsely inhabited island and are greeted by an eager-to-please and increasingly irritating guide and narrator in the form of an anthropomorphic creature by the name of Bumble. Bumble is, hands down, the worst thing about Kinectimals.
Your hand is held through the early parts and as you choose from one of five cubs Bumble tells long-winded stories of the last inhabitant, an animal-friendly pirate by the name of Captain Able Blackwood. The pirate was in search of a long-lost treasure map – a quest that now falls to you. These stories and the endemic tutorials cannot be skipped, and not having any buttons to mash (to demonstrate my impatience) was a new frustration.
The quest for the map sets the stage for Kinectimals, the idea being to explore the island in search of a map while playing and bonding with your new friend. In order to find new places to explore you will need to fill up an experience bar. This is easily done by interacting with your pet in almost any fashion, be it playing games, grooming or teaching it new tricks.
Interacting with your Kinectimal is generally very simple. Hand indicators appear when you reach out and you can see, with some slight lag, where you are scratching or brushing him. Step to the side and you get a new angle with which to scratch from.
Teaching your pet tricks also garners experience and helps you to unlock new areas. Raise your arms straight up and watch as your pet stands on hind legs, bowed like a little Rory Calhoun. Lie on the ground and they play dead, spin on the spot and they mimic your actions. There are tons of tricks to teach and most are discovered through experimentation.
Random game challenges happen often and usually involve throwing a favourite toy at targets or getting your pet to do a specific trick within a time limit. The completion of these earns experience and gold to spend on your pet, or refurbishing your house.
Once you have gained enough experience new areas on the island will become available for the two of you to explore. Though it will take an investment of hours to see them all, a new area also means a new mini-game, from throwing inflatable pigs at stacks of vases to racing a remote control car. The only disappointment here is that many of the games are rehash the same “throw an object at a target” blueprint and as such are of the “play once” variety. That said, a few of them will have you coming back for more.
If exploring isn’t for you, there are numerous toys to purchase or win from mini-games, and money earned through victories can be spent decorating your house.
The Plunderscope, once found, is used to find buried treasure. Once discovered, it must be unearthed using digging motions to help out your excitable cub. These treasures are usually more decorations or toys for your Kinectimal.
Kids should absolutely love Kinectimals. Once they master the occasionally strict positioning rules they will find themselves lost in a beautiful world with a new friend. Many of the flaws in this game, if looked at from a child’s point of view, will be quickly forgotten. Just make sure they have room to move as lying down, rolling over and spinning in the air are all going to be taking place in rapid succession.
Kinectimals takes aspects from many of the Kinect release titles and weaves them into a beautifully crafted world rich with life so cute all your neighbours will hear coming from your house is a steady “awww.”
Easily the most substantial of the early titles and one that is sure to enthral young players as well as the young at heart.