Double Fine has distinguished itself as a studio that cares about making games as fun as profitable, and the past few years have seen them set their sights on Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral. With Happy Action Theater and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster the developers showed their pursuit of fun experiences for the whole family instead of mature, story-driven games.
Now with more games aimed at the older members of the family (dubstep anyone?) the team’s follow-up, Kinect Party, is looking to become the go-to video game for holiday gatherings. To make the offer even more enticing, it’s free until the new year. But does this collection of mini-games offer a must-have experience, or a brief thrill?
For those who may not know, Kinect Party is essentially a collection of mini-games, although the term ‘game’ is somewhat of a misnomer. Without any scoring, competition, or explicit instructions, the different interactions are based around one thing: getting the player(s) moving, jumping, and generally making a fool of themselves. And they’ll likely enjoy every minute of it.
Whether using your body to replicate constellations in the night sky, building medieval castles only to tear them to pieces in dragon costumes, or any of the dozens of mini-games, no Kinect title has more effortlessly induced players to get up and start moving, without any consideration for how ‘silly’ they might look. Much of that credit lies with the decisions made by the developer to reduce the amount of menus, loading screens, and actual interface required by those playing.
The menus and ability to choose specific mini-games are still present (regularly alluded to by on-screen prompts) but the experience out of the box can be likened to channel-surfing. The decision to move from one mini-game to another after a minute or two of each is a surprising one at first, but show a solid understanding of their target audience. The modes change so quickly that players are either left wanting more, or relieved that a less-enjoyable experience wasn’t drawn out.
The actual mechanics driving the experience also show just how much Double Fine grasps what other Kinect attempts have missed: the idea is putting the player inside the game, not just using their body to input controls as opposed to a gamepad. Whether it’s simple touches, like capturing the background of the play area so it’s completely visible through the player’s skeleton (induced by a strike of lightning), or erring on the side of fun, not precision when necessary, the result is an experience that clips along at its own pace in service to the player’s enjoyment.
Saying that a game’s main purpose is to be ‘fun’ may sound simple, but that places a massive amount of pressure on the mechanics driving the experience – they have to be so good, you don’t think about them. It’s here that Kinect Party shines when compared to other incredibly clunky tech demonstrations.
Players mostly familiar with the Kinect through games like Dance Central, Kinect Sports, or other titles that regularly call attention to how far the device is from tracking one-to-one motion (and blaming the player) have no need to worry. Able to track six players at once, the accuracy with which the player’s motions are matched with environmental constructs exceed expectations, even if it occasionally falls short of what the screenshots imply.
With many of the collection’s mini-games, the mechanics and tech do all the work, meaning families with special needs children, or simply youngsters easily intimidated or frustrated are in for as much of a treat as the most veteran gamers. For parents looking for a motion game to not only get their kids up and moving, but encourage some serious family fun, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game that will have you returning once the young ones are put to bed.
Double Fine is so convinced that Kinect Party will strike a chord with families of all ages (not to mention family gatherings over the holidays) that they’re offering it for free from now until December 31. That’s a marketing strategy we’d like to see more of, and there’s no better title to start that ball rolling. If you own a Kinect and the thought of laughing with friends doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, do yourself a favor: download Kinect Party immediately, and start sending out invitations.
The base version of Kinect Party is available now for Xbox 360 and Kinect for free until the end of the year, after which point it goes on sale for $5 with an extra $1 per add-on mini-game (pulled from previous title Happy Action Theater).
If you’ve still got any doubts, check out the game’s official trailer:
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.