The first time we ever saw Kinectimals in action was at this past year's E3 at the Microsoft Press Event. The second that little girl came on the stage and starting playing with "Skittles" we all knew what we were in for.
Kinectimals is of course another pet sim that's targeted at children, but this one is a little different from the stereotypical genre of games that involve looking after animals - because it relies entirely on motion controls. If you've got a little kid, or are a little kid, then this is a game that you'll need.
Now, if you're a little more mature and just want another title to play around with the Kinect technology then you may want to pay close attention, because Kinectimals is far from perfect, before committing to a purchase.
When starting the game the player is allowed to choose from several different cubs of the large cat variety. Tigers, Panthers, Cheetahs, and Jaguars are all available, but only one can be chosen to start with. All of the cubs look great running on the Xbox 360 and they are all extremely cute and loveable, so any child will have difficulty choosing just one to start with. Once the pet is chosen it must be named and this is done by saying the name picked for it out loud - so the pet will come when it's called.
When selecting my cat of choice I noticed there were wolf and bear statues, and then I realized that this game is called Kinectimals -- not Kinecticats -- so where are the other animals? There are none. That's a little bit of a bummer, but if those statues and the extra groups of huts (which are basically animal storage) are any indication, then more animals will become available via DLC or perhaps even available through retail purchased stuffed animals that can be scanned into the game with a special barcode. Whatever it is they better do it fast because, as cute as the cats are, they get a little boring and people are going to want some variety.
The narrator and only voice in Kinectimals is Bumble a lemur/cat hybrid fairy that is voiced by Richard Horvitz (well-known for characters such as Invader Zim and Dagget from Angry Beavers). It's a little odd hearing him speak so comfortingly towards the player after hearing him in those other roles, but he does a bang-up job of immersing you in the Kinectimals experience - although his character can also be annoying after a while. Bumble guides you through every mission and challenge and is actually pretty helpful for finding treasure - even if his sly remarks don't make you feel any better about yourself when you fail a challenge.
After you've established that you're on a magical island, with infant Tigers and such, Kinectimals then switches to a free roam philosophy. You can open up your toy box and play with your cub or you can give it a bath -- it's completely up to you. The best toys are probably the R.C. cars because of the accurate and fun controls, plus there are some Halo-themed R.C.s so any hardcore gamer will appreciate the Xbox-themed additions. Each toy offers up its own series of mini-games that you can partake in and will give you points to unlock areas and other games and toys.
This is where Kinectimals really shines, because, unlike other pet sims, there are actually goals to strive towards. You don't just have a cat that's given to you and the game becomes "Here's you're cat! Now, stare at it," because the title gives you goals - so you always have something to do. Completing challenges not only unlocks games, new toy, new areas, and new cubs but also earns the player money that they can spend on new furniture for their house and even more toys and food for their pet.
There is no need to feed your pet or clean up its droppings, because the only thing there is to do with your cub is have a good time. It won't run away due to your negligence and the thing is forced to always love you no matter how much you spray it with a hose or hit it with an RC Car. Kinectimals has taken everything that sucks about owning a real pet out of the equation and has left only the fun and games of being an actual pet owner.
Even though the continuous goals are awesome actually completing them can be a hassle. Mini-games that involve throwing balls or frisbees don't just have a learning curve - they have a learning 90 degree angle. This is due to some poor motion sensing controls that can really cut down on the overall joy throughout playing the Kinectimals experience. You can adapt to the controls, but it's going to take about half an hour of just throwing things before you've got a general idea of the gestures you need to make - and even then it'll still act up frequently.
Another problem with Kinectimals comes in the form of an abundance of menu options. If you want to do something as simple as petting your cub you can't just reach out and start stroking him. You first have to open up the menu, scroll over to the "Care Items," scroll over to pet, and then wait for the cub to step forward. It's time consuming and takes you right out of the experience - which no pet game should ever do.
The weak controls and abundance of menus cut down on what would have been an otherwise awesome Kinect game. While a variety of animals that aren't cats would have helped Kinectimals live up to its name a little better, there won't be any complaints from the satisfaction gained by playing with your hyperactive and adorable cub.
Overall, the game is still fun and younger children of any gender will find the title irresistable. Even though there a some noticeable problems, developer Frontier has managed to avoid a cat-astrophe and make a fun title that kids (and maybe some adults) will enjoy.
Check out our Microsoft Kinect Review and Game Guide for further Kinect-related info and reviews.
Kinectimals is available exclusively for Kinect on Xbox 360.