There were few things that were as awkward -- and at the same time quite endearing -- as Microsoft’s on-stage demo for Frontier Developments’ Kinectimals. In front of a crowd of weary industry journalists and veteran, a young girl demonstrated the game, interacting controller-free with an on-screen tiger cub. She called out to it, stroked its fur by waving her hands in the air, and even at one point rolled over on the ground to make the cub “play dead.”
Kinectimals (Xbox 360)
The world of Kinectimals has you visiting Lemuria, a fictional island devoid of human life, and heavily populated by animals, including cuddly tiger cubs. How you arrived on the island is unclear and unaddressed (which is an even creepier proposition when you consider the player might be a young child), but it’s the perfect set up for going on an adventure, and that’s all that really matters.
That’s the set up, and already you can see that there’s more to Kinectimals that simply taking care of your little furry friend. Sure, you’ll name, pet, bathe, and play with your animal, but Kinectimals isn’t really a Nintendogs-like pet ownership simulation. Instead, it’s a deeper bonding experiencing, mixed with a series of gesture-based mini-games, some of which are surprisingly fun and oftentimes quite a work out.
Interacting with your animal is strangely compelling, and it’s not something you’ll really understand until you actually experience it. The idea of talking to and building a relationship with an on-screen pet is certainly a foreign concept, but Kinectimals proves that it can work if you’re open to the experience. You’ll find that even though there’s nothing physically in front of you, you’re going to want to instinctively reach out and touch the animal, On-screen hands appear to mirror your movement, and you’ll move left and right in front of the Kinect sensor to get a better look at the creature or scratch behinds its ears.
To spice things up, Kinectimals throws a series of challenges at you, many tied to the toys you’ll uncover and purchase to use with your animal. The games vary, from throwing or kicking a ball, tossing a Frisbee, and even navigating a small RC car that you pet will chase around. The items can be used on their own, and almost at any time, to “play” with your pet, but Kinectimals breaks everything down into scored (or timed) mini-games. An example would be tossing or kicking a ball to knock down objects, or racing the RC car (with your cub happily riding on top of it) around a track.
The mini-games are simple, but most of them are surprisingly enjoyable for what they are. The controller-free stuff really gives some of them a unique feel, particularly the soccer or volleyball games where you smack (or kick) the ball between you and your cub. Tossing a ball seems a bit odd at first, and requires a gentle underhand touch; because there’s no way to signal a “release,” it’s a matter of finding the sweet spot and timing for bringing your hand up. All in all, there are no mini-games here that you haven’t really seen before, it’s how you play them --without a controller in your hand -- that makes them feel fresh.
THE VERDICT - Kinectimals
Reviewed by Nick Chester
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