Wanna Play With Cute Kitties?

Over Looking Flaws To See The Good

January 17, 2011
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My kids are dying to have a pet. My parents have a dog and they smother it with love and affection whenever they’re around it. In fact, one evening when it was time to go to bed they came into the living room to say good night to that dog and then walked out with giving me a hug or anything. They just left me there with my empty arms wide open waiting for my goodnight hug. They want a pet bad, I badly do not. Pets are messy, they’re expensive, require time and attention and lot of responsibility. I just know the girls would love all the fun stuff of having a pet, and I’d be left with all of the not fun stuff. So no pets. However, the undeniably cute Kinectimals seemed like a nice compromise; cute animal for my girls to play with and no muss or fuss for me. Although it is fun and the girls do like it, there are some problems that keep it from really being any kind of substitute for the real things.

As I said, this game is extremely cute. The stars, little cubs of the tiger, leopard, panther, lion and cheetah variety, animate with enough realism to be believable but have enough personality and intelligence to make them really fun companions. There’s no denying they’re adorable, with their fuzzy fur, cute little tails, darling little faces and so on, but they aren’t the only part of the game exuding good looks and personality. The island of Lemuria, where your adventures with those cute kitties takes place, is a lush place of bright colors and picturesque landscapes. From beaches to wooded glades to green grasslands, there are plenty of differing locales for your furry little friends to romp, play and discover adventure in. Kinectimals is one of the best looking Kinect games available, and easily the cutest.

However, not everything is quite as kid friendly as it appears here. First there are some navigation issues. Doing certain actions aren’t quite intuitive as they could be, and actually getting to what you want to do may prove daunting for the young audience this game is obviously aiming for. For instance, if you want to simply pet your wild cat, you have to go through at least three menu selections before you can engage in that action. Other problems stem from Kinect’s ability to detect what you’re doing. Some challenges, especially those that require the precise toss of a ball or object, can be tricky; especially if you have a kid who doesn’t quite understand the subtle nuances of getting the game to do what you want. They will throw the ball, and then get frustrated when they can’t quite complete the challenge that requires them to throw the ball but with a little finesse. There were also some frustrations in teaching the cats tricks. Tricks like “play dead” don’t always register, and even the voice command can be a little iffy. So these issues make a game obviously aimed at kids a little less kid friendly, and while I enjoyed doing some of these activities, particularly some of the challenges because they were…uh, challenging, the kiddy veneer meant that this wasn’t a game that I wanted to play for extended lengths of time.

On the plus side, Kinectimals does have a nice sense of progression and discovery. You don’t just raise a virtual pet, you’re also looking to find pirate treasure and perhaps to solve an enduring mystery on the island of Lemuria. All of the activities you do help you progress towards these ends by unlocking new areas of the island and giving your cats new skills to help with discoveries, like learning how to dig up buried treasure. (My daughters often commented that these cats often behaved more like puppies, and you know, I believe they’re right.) This sense of purpose and direction gives a subtle structure to the game instead of it being an aimless diversion. It’s all paced nicely so it feels like you’re either discovering something new or that your cuddly little companion is growing in some fashion.

The problems and issues I’ve mentioned mar the experience in Kinectimals, but they certainly don’t break it. This game has an undeniable charm to it; a bright colorful attitude that shines through everything from the background to the characterization of the fuzzy stars in the foreground. This is one of those few games where style makes up for a lack of substance. Yeah the game as some issues, but those cats are just so darn cute and lovable, how can Kinectimals not bring a smile to someone’s face? It’s fast become a favorite for my girls, despite their frustrations with it at times. They’re ready to look past the flaws to enjoy the parts they really like. That’s very much like the way God in heaven looks at us. Yes we have flaws. Yes we all have sin in our lives. But when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, which covers our sins and replaces the dirt of our sin with purity of his righteousness, all God sees is the child he loves. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t love us if we don’t accept Christ, he does, but our sin will still separate us from him. In order for that to change, in order for that relationship to be restored, Jesus must be a part of our lives. I’m pretty sure my kids wouldn’t enjoy this game as much if it wasn’t for those fuzzy little wild kitties, it’s just too frustrating and challenging otherwise. Jesus serves a similar function in our flawed relationship with God.

The bottom line here is if you have kids who want pets but you don’t want to put with all the hassle, Kinectimals may be a good, virtual alternative. The flaws are easily overlooked by the inherent cuteness of the game, and the cats have enough personality to make one become attached to them…no matter how old you may be.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 6 – This is a gorgeous looking game. The fuzzy kitties look very life like, and all of the locals are bright, lush and colorful. There are a few times when the lighting and color seem almost over saturated, but that’s a minor distraction.

Sound: 6 – The sound perfectly matches the graphics; bright, happy, colorful. The cats all sound appropriately cute and adorable, and the voice work of your island guide is well done, if the dialogue is aimed a bit more at kids.

Gameplay: 5 – While playing with the cute cats is the main attracting here, there’s plenty to do. From treasure hunts to RC car races, mini-games and challenges and more. It’s all paced very well and keeps things from getting stale.

Control: 4 – The Kinect controls respond well for the most part, but actions that require fine adjustment and movement are hit or miss. Also, some of the require movements may be a bit precise for the target age group to really excel at. Still, it does a decent job overall and is fun for the most part.

Story: 4 – A simple set up for finding buried treasure and solving an island mystery to give you something more to do than play fetch with your cat. It adds a nice air of adventure to the proceedings.

Content: 6 – Cute, fuzzy, innocent fun.

Final: 4 – Kinectimals is a solid, fun concept that has a few key issues that hinder it. For a game so obviously aimed at young kids, it can be less intuitive and more challenging than it should be. For the challenges that are perhaps more fund for bigger kids like me, it’s all wrapped in too much cuteness and kiddieness to be really enjoyable for any length of time. So it’s kind of trapped between the two, appealing to both but not fully catering to either. Still, kids will love it and it’s enjoyable enough not to be annoying for parents to help out with it, and it’s far better than getting your kid a real tiger cub to play with.

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