Kinectimals Review (Xbox360)

If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals, then I wouldn't need to play Kinectimals - but since this is not the case, we're just going to have to make do. Kinectimals has a rather misleading name, in that you don't actually have that big a variety of animals to play with. In fact, every single one is a type of cat, and they all generally look (and feel) the same.

Stroking your animal is oddly entertaining, possibly even arousing (ED: way to lower the tone there Mike...)
Fortunately, the sheer amount of variety packed into the rest of the game easily makes up for it, with lots to see and do all wrapped in a great sandbox packaging. Of course, it's all very kid-friendly, and if you're planning on giving it a go you'll probably want to wait until no-one else is around so that you don't feel so silly. If you've got kids, however, this is essential Kinect-ware for you to bond over.

The story goes that you have landed on a mysterious island, inhabited by a family of big cats and a strange flying meercat creature called Bumble, who is quick to take you under his wing (so to speak) and explain the history of the island. Apparently a captain and his crew used to live there, looking after the cats and giving them a good home, until one day he left the island and never came back.

He did, however, leave evidence that there is treasure to be found, and Bumble is very much interested in acquiring your help to find it. This is achieved, by playing a series of minigames and giving your feline friends a good old scratch behind the ears every now and again. Obviously.

While the story may be a little sketchy, the setup is incredibly sound. With one area available to begin with, you are given a series of exercises and games to play with your cat of choice, be it throwing him a Frisbee, kicking a football or driving an RC car around. There are so many different items to play with, and brilliantly you'll keep unlocking thing throughout your entire playthrough, rather than grabbing them all within the first hour or two, then playing with them on repeat for the rest.

Tricks can also be taught to your cubs via a training whistle, and there is a huge selection to find. As you move your body into different positions, your cat on screen will follow suit, standing on his hind legs or playing dead. You can also say tricks out loud to him if you don't feel like lying on your living room floor (aka looking like a tool). Discovering new moves by moving in different ways is surprisingly good fun.

There is also a great mix of linear gameplay and sandbox-style openness. At any point during play you can hold your arms out to the bottom-right and the toy box will open, allowing you to choose any item, toy, food or washing equipment you fancy. At the same time, Bumble and your cat will also suggest items that they would like you to play with next, but you can completely disregard this if you like. We found ourselves switching between the two scenarios, choosing our own tools one moment, and then thinking 'oh go on then' when our tiger strolled on screen carrying the fish on a stick in his mouth.
He's going to look silly if he doesn't make that jump...
Progression through Kinectimals is made via experience points. As you play with your animal, points are added to a progress bar at the top of the screen, and once enough XP has been collected, a new minigame will open. Once all five minigames in an area are available, a new part of the island will be unlocked. Play with the same item over and over again, however, and the XP earned will begin to diminish - hence, using a variety of different items is the best solution.

We did find that, over time, our enthusiasm began to dwindle. While there is plenty to do, a lot of the items are simply repeats of old toys, perhaps with different colours or slightly different feel. The various minigames do help to keep the action fresh, but by the time we'd hit the last area our relationship with the cats and Bumble was starting to grate.

Here's the big question then: How does Kinectimals feel to play? You oversee the action from a first-person perspective, and holding your hands out will show two ghostly hands on the screen which can be used to interact with toys, items and your cat. Stroking the cat feels very odd indeed - but in a good way. Holding your hands out and touching something that isn't there is a strange experience, but it works surprisingly well.

Playing with toys feels great too. Selecting the stick then give it a lob, and watch as it flies across the beach and hits the ground. Your cub will then fetch it and give you another go. This really is the closest we've ever come to actually playing with an animal in a game, although we're definitely a long way off from suggesting it feels like the real thing.

Apart from the items given to you throughout the game, coins can also be spent on buying new toys and such. There is a shop available via the map, although after a couple of visits we didn't find ourselves bothering anymore - most of the things on sale are simply items that you already have re-skinned with different colours or textures, and moving between places on the island is tedious thanks to long loading times.

We really enjoyed Kinectimals, suggesting that this is far more than a kiddie game, but we'd be lying if we said that there wasn't an awkward feeling throughout. The general atmosphere is understandably one aimed at children, and there were moments when we'd take a step back and think 'why are we playing this?'. Still, it's worth experiencing simply as a display of what the Kinect tech can do.
I'd say this is stupidly cute... but I'm far too manly for that

If you have young children, Kinectimals is a must - it will keep them entertained, and you'll secretly enjoy it too. For those who are possibly a bit too old to be cuddling cute tigers by yourself, however, you may want to give it a miss. Kinectimals is available for Xbox 360. You'll need the Kinect hardware too!

Top Game Moment: Playing fetch with a Frisbee is surprisingly entertaining.