by: Paul "EastX" Acevedo
When Kinectimals arrived on the scene as a Kinect launch title, it featured only one type of animal: kitties. Naturally that prompted some to wonder, why not put cats in the name instead of animals? Thanks to the recent ‘Bear Island’ downloadable expansion, you can no longer ask that question without looking silly. Kinectimals: Now with Bears! bundles the original game and the $15 ‘Bear Island’ expansion onto a single disc (no download tokens here), basically making it the Game of the Year edition.
The premise of Kinectimals is that you’ve landed on the mysterious island Lemuria, home to surprisingly friendly carnivorous animals. The island’s previous inhabitant, pirate captain Fiddler, has gone missing and it’s up to you and your non-aggressive kitties to look for him.
To explore new regions of Lemuria, you’ll first need to complete a variety of minigames and tasks. Kinectimals is a small part pet sim, with actions like petting, cleaning, feeding and watering the kittens, and teaching them tricks. The Kinect really enhances the feeling of interacting with your pet. Play activities and competitions are more exciting. You’ll toss flying discs, play volleyball, navigate through obstacle courses, and drive RC cars (even a Warthog!), all in the name of keeping your pet entertained and earning enough experience to move on to the next area.
‘Bear Island’ functions as a sequel to Kinectimals’ story, though you can jump between the new island, Mira, and Lemuria at any time. Mira is inhabited by non-man-eating bear cubs, and was once the home of the Fiddler’s best friend, Captain Blackwood. Both sailors went missing at the same time, and now you’re off to find out what happened to them.
The new bears are extremely cuddly and well-rendered, just like the cats. They are equally as interchangeable, for better or worse. The animals in Kinectimals don’t have their own personalities or abilities, so the choice of what cub to use and when is purely aesthetic. Kids and cat lovers probably won’t mind, but I’d like to see a more developed system should a true sequel ever roll around. Voice commands are another new feature, though they only control a few functions instead of everything – a missed opportunity.
Bear Island’s new activities include juggling, fishing, and tree climbing. Juggling objects back and forth with your bear is pretty fun once you get the hang of swiping your arms in the right direction and cadence. I like fishing even better; casting with one arm and reeling in with another feels incredibly natural. Too bad the bears throw the fish back after you catch them… I didn’t realize eating fish wasn’t a kid-friendly activity. Unlike its brethren, tree climbing stumbles and catches splinters. Stepping left and right to climb around obstacles and crouching to go back down the tree functioned erratically at best.
Therein lays one of my only real problems with Kinectimals: the inconsistent motion tracking. While many games (especially RC cars) play great, a few like throwing objects simply fail. The throwing minigames all involve hitting specific targets, which can be very frustrating when your ball flies off in random directions instead of the way you swing your arm. Throwing and climbing definitely could have used more playtesting before releasing them into the wild.
The other pockmark on an otherwise endearing game comes from the two narrators. They look like big-headed flying rats – not cute at all. And when they open their mouths… Actor Richard Steven Horvitz does a terrible job as Lemuria’s narrator, Bumble, and should be shamed into retirement. The female narrator in Mira sounds far less grating, though her unending false enthusiasm soon caused all my teeth to rot out. The dangers of reviewing games! Thankfully, you can switch off their voices in favor of subtitles.
Kinectimals: Now with Bears represents a great value for its price tag. I love the sense of adventure and variety of things to do, to say nothing of the lush environments and detailed animals. While the game is targeted towards the younger set, anyone who digs animals and minigames will enjoy this island adventure. Now that Frontier Software has honed their Kinect development skills with this and Kinect Disneyland Adventures, I hope they will revisit Kinectimals with a full-ledged sequel someday.