Review | 1/11/2013 at 7:07 PM

Kinect Party Co-Op Review

Get up and get silly with Kinect

If there’s one developer gamers love to love, it’s Double Fine. Their reputation for cleverness, humor, and making irrefutably fun games is well-justified. Last year’s Happy Action Theater wasn’t exactly a traditional game, but that’s one reason why it succeeded with the Kinect’s non-traditional controls. Less than a year after the first installment, Double Fine returns with the more understandably titled Kinect Party. We can safely assume that just about every Kinect owner grabbed it for free over the holidays, so the question becomes: does Kinect Party provide a better co-op experience and improve on its predecessor’s handful of shortcomings?

First, let’s establish what Kinect Party is: a collection of motion-controlled minigames and visualizers, each of which we refer to as a channel. This sequel contains the entire game of Happy Action Theater (HAT as I’ll now call it), unaltered except for access to new photo sharing features. On top of that, Kinect Party offers just as many new channels as old ones – combined, the full package contains 35 channels in all. These channels can be purchased individually or in packages; check this article for pricing info.

Like the first game, channels automatically play in sequence – they might last from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes when played this way. Aptly named, humorous 'Shorts' (like the one pictured above) also pop up between every few channels. If your co-op crew/house guests want to stay on a proper channel for longer than its normal duration, just use the new voice commands or press A on a controller to “pause” the channel and keep it running indefinitely. Players can also access the channels of their choosing via voice or the controller menu, which sadly remains as clunky as last year’s.

My previous wish of customizable playlists didn’t make the cut, but one important feature did: photo sharing! At any time during gameplay, press the X button or use your voice to take a picture of the action. Pictures can be immediately shared to Facebook – the only way to keep them permanently. Or hop over to the editing room and add some silly borders first, though again with the clunkiest of interfaces. At least half the fun of Kinect Party comes from looking silly in front of your friends and vice versa, so the ability to share the shenanigans in picture form adds real value to the package – and this review!

Pirate's Treasure actually makes my living room look cleaner than normal.

Kinect Party’s channels on the whole show a lot of improvement over HAT’s thanks to their extensive use of augmented reality. Several minigames superimpose bits of clothing and accessories over players. The ‘Costume Party’ channel revolves entirely around grabbing silly costume pieces as they float by, including a Minecraft head and pickaxe; ‘Pirate’s Treasure’ dresses participants up as pirates while they dig through sand for treasure; and more. Not only are these elements totally silly; they truly bring the imaginative playing of childhood to life for everyone to see.

As with HAT, several retro gaming-themed activities will warm older gamers’ icy hearts. ‘Hyperspace’ puts players in the background of a 3D hallway as they aim cursors at enemies and even bosses in the foreground; ‘Voxel Runner’ turns players into blocky voxel men as they dash through a canyon à la Temple Run; and ‘Sweet Tooth’ is a simplistic platformer in which eating sweet fattens up players’ images while slowing them down. These channels are the most structured and any one of them could easily be expanded into a fine standalone XBLA game.

The path of sweets leads to fatness.

Just like the previous game, Kinect Party allows players to drop in and out of gameplay simply by entering or leaving the Kinect’s field of view. In the channels that display the players’ room as video with overlying augmented reality elements, up to six people can play along. Other channels like ‘Sweet Tooth’ that turn individual players into sprites work much better with just two or three players. Several channels like ‘Hyperspace’ and the Fruit Ninja-inspired ‘Chop Master’ involve actual cooperative goals like knocking out enemies and objects together. The visualizers just allow everyone to act silly without a concrete objective. All signed-in profiles unlock Achievements simultaneously. The game even has both a 2-player and a 6-player Achievement in store.

Kinect Party is tailor-made to get kids moving around and laughing together. Parents will have a blast playing along with their wee ones, and even the kidless will enjoy it in group settings. Kinect Party’s game design would still benefit from a better controller interface for those who want it and more control over the channel rotation – maybe we’ll get those things in another sequel. Regardless, Double Fine has created another party game mainstay and one of the best uses of the Kinect so far.