Platforms: Xbox 360 (Kinect peripheral required)
Since launch, the Kinect peripheral has been going strong, breaking records and eclipsing sell-through volumes on other high profile gadgets. However, the software catalogue has been lacking. Given the development lead-in and the pulling power that Microsoft has to ensure the gadget is a success, it’s fair to have expected a range of titles with more depth in the first six months.
Carnival Games, while a refresh of an existing Wii title, does try to be different. As with most Kinect titles, it has to be played in concentrated doses, and the mini game approach tends to lend itself to this. The range of mini games are on the whole fun to engage and do contain a few new ideas. The games are themed by different areas of the carnival or fun fair and generally hit the target for what they want to achieve.
Some of the mechanics are diluted examples of systems seen in other titles; the star-collecting rollercoaster, for example, is pretty much a carbon copy of gameplay from the Sonic Freeriders title for Kinect. Then other mechanics, while showing some innovation, struggle to translate from controller to screen. I was very pleased to find out that the pig-racing mini-game was not controlled by running on the spot. But then the actual controls they put in place do not fare particularly well either, to the point that I never want to race pigs again, ever.
The main menu and user interface are functional, smooth, quick to select and do the job well, and there is not a lot on offer in terms of options or customisation. Boot the game up and you will be in the throes of it very quickly. It is also plainly obvious that some manner of DLC will soon be on the way, as navigating of the game areas is conducted by selecting each area on a signpost; the fifth area is on the back of the signpost along with three blank spaces that are aching for new destinations.
Graphically, the style of the game feels fairly dated. It is bright and colourful, but does not push itself. The backdrop of the carnival is nicely realised, and it is always fun to spot your friends’ Avatars wandering around a virtual environment or sitting alongside as NPC rivals in a mini game. Animation-wise, there is some repetition apparent after a couple of playthroughs.
The games in the carnival require the player to score well in a three-tier structure, offering the player five or 10 tickets based on performance that can be spent on prizes. This can be off putting, because to buy some of the high-value prizes will require plenty of replaying and practice before you can even consider shopping. I feel a wider-scale ratio of tickets to performance would have given the player more to aim for and kept the replay value high.
While the games themselves are mildly entertaining, it does not hold that urgency to build your score and compete; with no sign of leaderboards, the game is pretty much an offline experience. The skill required to succeed in each game is limited by the control set up for each game, and there will be ceilings that decent player will hit fairly early on. In some of the games, however, minor lag or just the conception will require some level of psychic ability from the player. For achievement hunters, some of the high-level achievements will require significant grinding to build up enough tickets, and I do not think even the promise of 75 Gamerscore points could tempt me to do that. Perhaps leaving the game running in the background of a party would snag you some extra tickets, but I’d rather play Kinect Sports.
Young gamer friendly? Yes, indeed, and that is probably part of the problem. However, if my boys were old enough to enjoy Carnival Games, I would encourage them to play something that felt more worthwhile and rewarding.
As with my review of Sonic Freeriders, I still believe in the technology. I’m still waiting for that killer app that will silence the critics and show Kinect is a valid method of integrating the player into a game without forcing a man that has no sense of rhythm to dance sober.
Lasting Appeal: 3.0