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Kinectimals review: Meet Dave

Justin McElroy

As we divided up the Kinect reviews, Kinectimals just sort of laid there, like the black jelly bean no one wants to take out of the dish. Soon though, it occurred to me that I wouldn't necessarily have to live with the shame of being a grown man who played with a pretend tiger. I snatched up Kinectimals, remembering that I have a Rileigh.

Rileigh is my 10-year-old sister-in-law, but that's not important. The important thing is that she loves the crap out of Kinectimals, and I'm betting your Rileigh will too.

Gallery: Kinectimals | 10 Photos

As a grown, adult man, just four days shy of 30, Kinectimals is nigh incomprehensible to me. You'll start off at ... I think it's called Fur Junction or something, where a leopard, a tiger and a panther (all babies, of course) wait for you to love them. After selecting one to love back, the others will scamper off all meows and smiles, though it's got to be a pretty frigging bitter pill, after standing there all day.

"I would just keep playing with him, I wouldn't get bored. Plus, when you don't have a controller, you don't have to worry about breaking the TV."

Rileigh couldn't be bothered with their plight though, she had some petting to do. As you and your new pet skip together to ... Smiling Meadow (I think?), the new addition to the family is going to need attention pretty much from the word "go." Rileigh's tiger (which she, naturally, named Dave) kicked things off by bringing her a whistle, which meant he wanted to learn to do some tricks. When she spun in circles, Dave did the same. When she lay on the floor, Dave played dead. Unfortunately, Dave didn't always follow commands to the letter, a complication that's tough to explain to a kid. I, of course, knew that Dave sometimes didn't do tricks because her skeleton wasn't in the right position, but I didn't want to freak the kid out about owning a tiger that could sense her bones. Either way, she didn't seem too bothered when she had to repeat tricks for Dave, so I let it go.

As she and Dave played, a bar at the top gradually filled, unlocking new items, toys, games and new areas of the island to explore. Oddly, the majority of these games didn't really involve Dave. You'll steer a car that Dave's on top of, you'll kick a soccer ball through bubbles, you'll throw a ball at stacks of statues while Dave kind of watches and gets in the way, but he's rarely very actively involved. It's as though someone decided to make a whole full-priced game about owning a pet, realized that would be very hard and added some mini-games in place of a meaningful relationship with your pet. In fact, it's exactly like that.

Oh, oh, but I should be very clear: Rileigh thought none of these things. These are the things I was thinking as I scribbled notes from my perch on a nearby couch and gnawed on Arby's curly fries. As near as I could tell, Rileigh was thinking "Yaaayyyy, I have a tiger! I'm driving a car! Wheeeee!" The only place I could tell we agreed was on the ball tossing, which just doesn't work well.

Dave is incredibly needy, pulling out a new toy to play with the moment that you finish with the last one. If Rileigh had one complaint, she exhaustedly admitted after playing non-stop with Dave for an hour, it was that he was constantly giving her something to do rather than just being with her. What I think she was saying was that Kinectimals breaks the spell of owning a digital animal by occasionally being too "gamey." But who knows with kids, right?

I asked her, as we wrapped up our time with Dave, if she would get bored of him eventually. I knew she would, since I'm 30 and she's 10, but I figured it was worth asking. She was, no exaggeration, shocked. "After I came home from school, I would keep playing with him," she said earnestly as she focused on pretending to steer Dave's car around, I don't know, Happiness Boulevard or something. "I would just keep playing with him, I wouldn't get bored. Plus, when you don't have a controller, you don't have to worry about breaking the TV."

As I left, she was already badgering my mother-in-law about conning Santa into leaving Kinect under the tree (Ed. note: Sorry, Mary!). And that's the point, isn't it? You can judge Kinectimals all you want, but are you going to be the one who tells the little girl she can't have her own imaginary tiger?

Thought not.

This review is based on the 360 retail version of Kinectimals provided by Microsoft.

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