Kinectimals (XBOX 360) Review

If you’ve seen any of the promotional material, you already know that Kinectimals is insidiously – even scarily – cute, like a modern-day version of Gremlins. Sadly, the actual game doesn’t have anywhere near that level of cunning. Kinectimals incessantly reminds you that you’re having fun, but if you take the time to play it you’ll realize that the claims are a little disingenuous.

Kinectimals is essentially Microsoft’s answer to Nintendogs. It’s a pet simulator that allows you to play mini-games with dangerously adorable big game kittens (read: baby tigers), and therein lays the entire basis of the game’s appeal.

Despite having a decent amount of stuff to do – there are a couple dozen areas to explore and hundreds of collectable knick-knacks – Kinectimals has some extremely shallow gameplay that quickly saps any interest in the title. Virtually all of the mini-games involve hitting targets with projectiles, and there’s just not enough diversity to break up the tedium.

The strange thing is that the developers seem to be aware of the problem, so they’re constantly trying to obscure the lack of depth. You’ll receive a new item every few minutes and your pet will always force the issue after ten seconds of downtime, like a puppy dropping a tennis ball at your feet.

The “play with me” feature is helpful because it saves you the trouble of navigating the messy inventory screens, but no tricks can cover up the fact that the gameplay never develops beyond repetition. You’ll visit an area, do some target practice, unlock a new mini-game, give your pet a bath, and then do it again. The many toys seldom expand on the throw-and-fetch theme, and every time you get something moderately interesting – like a Frisbee or a jump rope – you’ll immediately receive a functionally identical toy with different decorations.

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Kinectimals admittedly isn’t awful – it’s at least functional, which is more than I can say for Kinect Joy Ride – even if the accuracy and responsiveness leaves a lot to be desired. The game is highly endearing in an “Aww…lookit the pwitty kitty!” kind of way and it scores relatively high marks for its implementation of the Kinect technology. The voice recognition absolutely shines, as phrases like “Lie down” or “Play dead” will reliably coax appropriate reactions out of the various animals.

I just don’t know whether or not that translates to a purchase. Kinectimals is obviously targeted at children and cuteness alone may be enough to occupy a nine year old. Unfortunately, anybody with even modest demands for challenging gameplay will become bored and see through the façade.

Kinectimals ultimately feels like an IP designed to sell toys rather than entertain – you can purchase items a real-world mall and then scan them into the game – so if you’re OK with Microsoft marketing directly to your children, I suppose you could do worse. It’s not so bad that you need to stay away, but I’d say you’re better off with Kirby’s Epic Yarn.