During visits to the zoo there's something irresistible about those bounding and tumbling tiger and lion cubs. But common sense—and a very wise desire to retain your fingers—keeps you from reaching through the bars to pet your favorites.
Microsoft Game Studios' Kinectimals removes the bars and the danger.
It lets you fly off to a lush island paradise where you can adopt an exotic cub and play with it for hours without the slightest fear of a scratch or nip. And though you won't really be running your fingers through the adorable beast's fluffy fur, Xbox 360's new Kinect system makes the fuzzy ear tousling look pretty real, and oh so charming.
Adopt and Explore
Once you set up the Kinect motion-control sensor strip (above or below your TV set) the laser-focused device self-calibrates its camera angle, measures your image in its viewfinder, tells you how far back you need to stand (about 6 to 10 feet) and quickly sends you off to the island of Lemuria for some controller-free adventure. You give the game instructions through verbal commands and by moving around and reaching out or pointing at the things you want. A little flying guy named Bumble—who looks like a cross between a meerkat and Tinkerbell—guides you along the way.
The first step is meeting the cubs. Choosing from several exotic breeds such as Black Panther or Royal Bengal, you point to the cub you want to interact with. Your virtual hand appears onscreen and pets the purring cutie in response to your every waving movement.
For the younger set, just adopting and brushing a cuter-than-possible bundle of fur, and watching it romp, play and nuzzle the screen, will be more than enough to keep them happy. For a while anyway. But there are plenty of other activities to enjoy when that wears thin. It seems there was once another human visitor to the island, a kindhearted pirate named Captain Blackwood who came looking for a fabulous treasure that he never found. Bumble leads you to the captain's former abode. And after settling you in, he promises that he and your cub buddy will be more than happy to help you explore the island and find map pieces that could lead to X-marks-the-spot. You then set out to "unlock" other sections of the island by earning experience points and filling a points bar.
How do you get those sought-after points? By playing with your cub, of course.
A Maximum of Minigames
You can teach your exotic feline pals tricks such as how to jump, roll over and play dead—each communicated through your own jumping and squatting movements or verbal statements. For example, if you flop down on the floor or say "play dead," your playful cub puts on a cross-eyed, tongue-protruding expression and falls over on its back (a ridiculously cute move guaranteed to produce a chorus of awwwws in the family room).
The cub will also find objects that the two of you can toss around and play with. An underhand motion throws a ball in any direction, a flick of the wrist flings out a Frisbee and a good swift kick (not at the cub, silly!) sends a soccer ball flying. Swing your arm and jump a rope. Knock over giant dominos with a stuffed pig. The romping action goes on and on.
There's also a fun little driving game that pops up along the way involving a remote-controlled car just big enough for your furry friend to zip around on. You hold your hands as if you're gripping a steering wheel and rotate them to turn. Pushing your hands forward accelerates, and pulling them back stops. And once you master the various moves, you can jump into over 30 different minigames and obstacle course challenges that earn points, medals and money, too. Then it's off to the island store—run by a business-savvy lemur—to buy snacks, toys and house decorations.
Select, Scan and Scurry
When you add it all up, you have a game that's part pet simulator, part minigame collection and part workout video. Believe me! All that kicking, waving, jumping and kneeling can really work up a sweat. It's a charming whole with only one interkinected drawback: The repetitious games and activities can feel a little young for the older players and the motion-sensing instructions can be a little old for the younger ones.
But as far as I'm concerned that just means young and old should play together. Isn't that the best way to experience a video game anyway? Oh, and one more bit of cheery charm. If someone also happens to go in for the game's surrounding marketing push and gets the youngsters a few Kinectimals plush toys, the kids can wave their toys' tags in front of the Kinect sensor and bring their real-world cuddle-kitty to life inside the game. That'll make both the kids and Microsoft purr all the harder.