If the Microsoft Kinect really is fated to spend its infancy as an engine for brisk gameplay experiences, mini-game collections and hugely embarrassing motion interactions, then Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do represents the zenith of those objectives. The 20 carny-folk-friendly games therein -- 10 of which are new to the franchise, and only possible on Kinect -- are expectedly short and unswervingly humiliating, particularly when executed on a show floor surrounded by thousands of strangers.
Unexpectedly, though, most of those games are also a hell of a lot of fun. The cartoonish, colorful series is one of the best-selling third-party franchises on the Wii; after spending 20 minutes with Monkey See, Monkey Do, the reasons for its success are as plain as day.
The games therein include your standard carnival fare -- Alley Ball (a copyright-friendly version of Skee-Ball), Milk Bottle Throw and The Wheel of Chance all make an appearance, for example. The former works well enough, though without the context of a hefty wooden ball in-hand, judging your shots takes some getting used to. Still, the Kinect tracks the strength and angle of each bowl fairly well; much like the game's real-world counterpart, Skee-ing accurately is an intricate science.
The real gems come in the form of the Kinect-centric games, which use the device to its maximum capacity for enjoyment and shame. One mini-game requires palyers to steer a rocket up a randomly-generated track, dodging obstacles by leaning side to side with arms extended. Another has players riding a rollercoaster, using their arms to collect coins while avoiding point-deducting stars -- a somewhat faster-paced version of Kinect Adventures' "Reflex Ridge."
A particularly bizarre game requires players to hold a virtual tray, with which they must catch funnel cakes that drop from the sky. Actually catching them is only half the game -- players only get points for the tallest stack of cakes they can balance on the plate at one time, resulting in surreal exclamations like "Oh, no, that was a load-bearing funnel cake."
The titular Monkey See, Monkey Do mini-game sees players freestyle dancing alongside an organ grinder chimp, earning points for their random flailings. At certain points during the song, however, the monkey freezes, and the player must match his position within a few seconds. Oh, don't worry -- the game makes sure to take plenty of blackmail-worthy images during your recital.
The entry that might just make Carnival Games worth the price of admission is a Hole In the Wall-esque game, where players have to contort their bodies to match rapidly-changing outlines. These designs are composed of gold bricks, which show the appropriate shape, a red border, and various black bricks, which deduct points if touched. Players only have a couple seconds once the design appears to get in position, leading to some pretty frantic human shapeshifting.
With enough patterns, this one mini-game could potentially sustain entire parties for hours on end. If there's an abundance of repeats -- well, we suspect that bending your body into the shape of a banana is really only hilarious the first few times you do it.
Like in the series' other outings, players collect tickets for outstanding performances in these games, which can be used to grab new gear for their Xbox Live Avatars, or can be redeemed to play certain mini-games. I didn't get to see any of these awards in action, but, for authenticity's sake, I sure hope there's plenty of Chinese Finger Traps, jawbreakers and temporary tattoos available for those poor in ticket.
Sure, plenty of you might balk at the idea of another mini-game collection on an already mini-game rich platform like Kinect. Original or not, Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do looks like it will fill that niche extremely well -- and, with the promise of additional downloadable mini-games on the horizon, it might make a sound investment for the more familial readers among you.
Though, to be honest, I'd be perfectly happy with an infinite supply of downloadable Hole In the Wall patterns.