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‘Kinectimals’ Review – Making Connections

Kinectimals on Kinect is an experiential game that does a solid job of luring its users into forming an emotional bond with its assortment of on-screen, rascally pets. As an adult, you see why the user’s relationship to the pet is so important: without one, the entire experience falls apart. If you aren’t clicking with your animal, you don’t want to pet it, you especially don’t want to get up and interact with it, and you sure as heck don’t want to do the game’s mindless assortment of mini-games alongside it.

Little ones, from what I understand, generally respond to its adorable baby cheetahs, its equally adorable Bengal tigers, and its other scarily expressive animals. When the game asks, kids enthusiastically move about and shout and jump, and reach to the TV.

That’s well and good, but now Kinectimals has made the jump to iOS. Obviously, the Kinect hook has been dropped with this particular version. So, this begs the question: does the game and its, er, magic still work?

I can’t give you a straight answer on that.

What I can say, though, is that a good chunk of the charm of the original has made the platform leap. Just as in the other game, you pick and name a gaggle of cats to directly interact with, each one as viscously adorable and playful as the next. Once you grab one you’ll be teleported to a field of sorts and given the opportunity to either pet, feed, instruct, or initiate tricks with the thing.

This initial screen, and the subsequent backgrounds you’ll move on to as you level up as a pet owner, is essentially a sandbox. The animal seemingly acts randomly, but you or a young one are ultimately always in control of what to do next. Usually, that Next Thing involves a good scratch behind the ears or a ball throw.

For what it’s worth, Kinectimals iOS is arguably on par or better-looking than its Xbox 360 counterpart. It also runs as smooth as butter, in our experience: the animations of the cats, which are surprisingly lifelike to begin with, are sharp, the menus load in a matter of a second or two, and even “level" transfers are nearly seamless. It’s nice.

The implementation of touch is good, too. The contextual gestures and swipes make sense, and the responsiveness is something other studios doing ports should study. I think the controls in particular are simple and intuitive enough for a young one to put its head around. Want a cat to jump? All it needs to do is swipe up. Want to pet it? Just toss down two fingers on the screen, wait for the camera to zoom, and then go to town.

That said, I think there is a layer or two of, let’s say immersion, lost in translation; since you aren’t directly pantomiming actions with your body and arms, the interaction doesn’t feel as substantial. The animal, on the other hand, is much more in your face with a tablet, and there’s something to that. Also, let’s not forget just how darn cute, bouncy, and willing to be interacted with these things are.

This all in mind, and the controls taken into account, I’d argue that the touch versions are as viable as the Kinect one. Sure, there’s some loss of weightiness, but overall the game still works thanks to some smart design / port decisions.

Actually, while we’re exploring some possible negatives, let’s talk about some concrete ones. This game’s UI is borderline terrible — it’s hard to navigate for one, but it’s also tough to see what’s important. Also, the game’s over-eager lemur that guides the experience isn’t in this version, so its up to the young ones to puzzle out how to play, how to progress and how to discover new levels.

The latter in particular is a big black eye. Just remember: the points you earn are like a level currency. At some point, you’ll earn enough for the game to invite you somewhere else.

The actual meat of the experience, or at least what I believe is supposed to be the main feature, the mini-games, are accounted for, too. These are definitely not for adults, as each are as mundane, easy, and almost job-like as possible. I’m thinking, though, that a kid will especially dig the monotonous jump-roping, ball throwing, and picture taking.

And that’s the rub; I’m not sure how to evaluate this game because I know what a tape deck is. I will say this, though. Most of the parts of the original game, which worked for kids apparently, is fairly well translated in this version. And even though it lacks 1:1 body-to-game interaction, I think a solid connection can still be formed between digital cat and real, whiny “Give Me A Pet" kid. Give it a look with him or her, but I’d advise to stay away if it’s just you looking for a game.

A couple of side-notes: If you buy this, you’ll get the ability to import your iOS Kinectimal to Kinectimals on Kinect via QR code and vice versa. You’ll also be able to unlock five new Kinectimals in the main game, just like owners of the Windows Phone 7 version were able to when this game debuted on that platform. Check out our discussion thread for more information.