Happy Wars on Xbox Live Arcade may be the cleverest and cutest game that you havenâ€™t tried with your gamer-kids. This review, like the game itself, will jump right into the middle of it: it is a game about constant battles of swords, axes, clubs and magic. Youâ€™ll be battling within a few seconds of the game starting and continue doing so until the timer ends. That may not sound like the description of a normal XboxDad Family-Friendly game, but this one really is.
Your character, as well as all of the other players, looks like a LittlePeopleâ„˘ or PlaySkoolâ„˘ figurine that your 4-7 year old might have played with. You will then dress them up in some basic armor, a helmet/hat, perhaps a shield, and then a weapon (sword, axe, club or magic staff). Some weapons look like fish or baseball bats, while the staffs/wands might be flowers, lollipops or plastic flamingos. The three character types (Warrior, Mage, and Cleric) allow for offensive fighting, zapping from a distance or healing/building others, respectively.
There are two main modes of play:
Story Mode (single player) â€“ somewhat similar to the cut scenes from Angry Birds or Lego games, as a way to create a narrative before playing a range of single-player stories. Youâ€™ll have a few AI players to help you, and battle numerous baddies as you progress through the story.
Quick/Co-Op Mode (multiplayer) â€“ provides two teams of up to 15 players (or AI) each; red and blue. Each side has a home base castle and seeks to take over the other teamâ€™s castle. Along the way, there are multiple â€śtowersâ€ť that can be claimed by either team. When you get killed, your character can re-spawn in your castle or from any tower that your team has claimed. Youâ€™ll spend a majority of each 12 minute battle round progressing across one of several colorful and interesting scenes, claiming towers and then defending them, while trying to take the towers from the opposing team. When you make it across the map, youâ€™ll try to knock down the other castleâ€™s gate or scales its walls, before finally winning the game. At which point, each player is rewarded, based on their contributions (see next section).
Either way, younger players might get along just fine by repeatedly mashing the (X) (A) and (B) buttons, while more mature players will appreciate the variety of attack styles and item customization.
Leveling Up and Item Progression
Like most battling games, your character will earn points based on how many people they defeated, as well as how many times they performed different tasks, helped others, etc. As they reach milestones, they will progress from Level 1 up to 50, gaining more life (health points) and magic, defensive resistance, etc. Youâ€™ll also earn the in-game currency, â€śHappy Stars,â€ť which allows you to purchase new and better equipment, as well as upgrade the items that you already have. You can also purchase items from the Xbox Marketplace, by first buying â€śHappy Ticketsâ€ť and then purchasing items from the in-game store.
The Happy Wars game itself is FREE on Xbox Live Arcade, but if you are willing to put even $5 of real money into Happy Tickets and then buying a few premium items (better weapon, stronger armor, etc.) then the first few hours of gaming will be even more exciting and rewarding. Frankly, most new players should just assume that the game costs $5 and then they are set. After 5+ hours of play, your higher-level characters will continue to earn ever improving gear and youâ€™ll eventually outgrow those starter weapons, but they do make the first few hours even more exciting, particularly against the rest of the players who started ahead of you.
If you follow XboxDadâ€™s blog, you know that I am most passionate about games that we can play together; and Happy Wars is a lot of fun as a family. Simply become an Xbox Live Party before starting the game (or within the main menu) and then youâ€™ll be playing together. In my family, all of the gamers can talk to each other through chat, while not hearing any banter or language from anyone else on our side or the other team. At the beginning, it is tempting to run around whacking other folks, and just laughing with your family or other Xbox Live Party members. But after a while, youâ€™ll see that the winning teams often have a few folks working together.
So, build a team with a Warrior (or two) who will battle out front, a Mage who throws fireballs or electricity from behind the front line, and a Cleric who will keep everyone amped up and healthy. And then, when you get to the enemy castle, donâ€™t waste time knocking on the front gate. Your cleric can build latters to scale the walls, your warriors will knock down whoever stayed behind (since most are out battling mindlessly) and your mage will zap the defending machinery from afar. If you do it right, the game will not only be hilarious fun, but also teach a little bit of strategy and teamwork that your kids and you can learn through.
Parents, this game is fun for the whole family. And if the T rating worries you, itâ€™s free. Play it by yourself on Friday night and I guarantee that you and the kids will be playing together on Saturday morning after breakfast.
As always, thanks for reading â€¦ Have fun playing with your kids !
But my kids are getting older, and my oldest (now a teenager) is wanting to play the same shooters as his friends â€“ family friendly or not.
Let me be clear, there is a wide variety of amazing and immersive shooting games out there. And by 15-16, your kids may be playing them â€“ and certainly Dadâ€™s and Momâ€™s have lots of choices for themselves. The war-based games are well designed and can be a lot of fun for gamers who are emotionally and intellectually prepared for them. And you donâ€™t have to agree with me â€¦ so (teenagers) please donâ€™t spam me with why CoD is perfectly fine when you are 12. It isnâ€™t.
This blog isnâ€™t for Game Reviews in general. For those, I use GameInformer.com.
This site is from one dad, trying to help other parents learn more about gaming for and with their kids.
So, here is my opinion. In a pure and Norman Rockwell world, kids wouldnâ€™t play Rated M games until they were old enough to watch R Rated movies. It is amazing to me how many parents will let their 8-11 year old kids play shooters.
Most parents wouldnâ€™t take their 8-11 kid to R-rated movie, based on its graphical violence and language and themes.
Those movies only last 2 hours â€“ so, why would you let them play a game with the same criteria for 40-60 hours ?
And besides, if they are getting that kind of stimulation at 10, what will they look forward to at 13 or 15 or 17 ? Surprisingly, I often hear about younger kids playing shooters because they watch dad playing night after night, and eventually dad wants a playmate.
That being said, by the time that they are 12-14 â€¦ they are going to want to play, because their friends are. At that point, parents have to struggle with social connectedness and moral lessons â€“ and peer-pressure for acceptance. So, I would offer the following suggestions, based on my personal experience and beliefs (yours will vary):
Age is not a magic number. If you believe that your child gamer already has a solid moral compass and can differentiate between the fantasy in the game and reality, and that the language and activities in the game wonâ€™t affect their own personality and behavior â€“ then, 13 vs. 15 vs. 17 becomes more subjective.
Things to Consider
In our house, I personally prefer the Halo series over Call of Duty or Battlefield, mostly because it is much more visibly fantasy and less â€śrealâ€ť. I know itâ€™s a slippery slope, but most of parenting arguably is, as you lessen control while still offering guidance.
People shooting people
Somehow, I see a difference between shooting visibly artificial aliens (Halo) and shooting other humans (CoD). My hope is simply to defer the reinforcing of shooting other people for as long as possible, while I continue to reinforce the ethics and team play. Of course, at some point, they may want to play multiplayer with their friends (in a private match, not on the public system) â€“ and then, it will feel like playing paintball with their buddies. Again, yes, I know itâ€™s a slippery slope, but …
Kids know that they are not on another planet with laser guns (Halo) â€¦ or in 1940â€™s Germany (early CoDâ€™s) â€¦ so I believe that games set in non-current surroundings help them stay clear that it is only a game. Admittedly, the recent Modern Warfare or Battlefield games are near photo-realistic and look like they came off of CNN or the nightly news. To me, that puts even more "today" into the minds of younger shooters. My preference is that younger shooters have as many visual clues that the games are fantasy as possible.
One of the big draws of the shooter games is multi-player online. Unfortunately, with the CoD matchmaking system, you really have very little control who your kids will be playing with — including objectionable language and ideas. In addition, my experience is that CoD doesnâ€™t do a good job of matching newer players with other less-experienced players, so you may find yourself thrown in with experts … and essentially getting repetitively killed without enough time to really learn. (less fun). Some of the other game ecosystems (e.g. Halo) do a better job of matchmaking based on skill levels, and/or have options for only playing multiplayer with other already-established friends instead of the general public.
As I said, this is one dadâ€™s opinion â€“ thanks for considering it and I hope it helps you and yours.
One of my New Years Resolutions was to protect what my kids hear on TV â€¦ without being an ostrich in the sand and isolating them from the world.
I looked at TV Guardian a few years ago, with their embedded censoring technology within a DVD player — but they were limited to 480 (non-HD) resolutions.
Well, they finally released the TV Guardian HD and it is awesome!
The small black TVG box comes with two HDMI (and optical audio) inputs, along with one set of respective outputs, and a remote. The remote has literally five buttons and reminds me more of a car fob than something that belongs in my living room. With just a click, you can:
- Choose which of the two HDMI sources should be routed through the TVG before going to your television
- Determine what level of filtering should be applied, based on profiles like “Kids”, “Parents” and “Other”.
- For each profile, you can define tolerance to Sexual references, Religious references and overall language to “Strict”, “Moderate” or “Unfiltered”
The device is most impressive in its elegance. Here is how it works:
- By co-connecting not only the HDMI connectors but also a standard video (yellow plug) connection, the TVG is able to read the Closed-Captioning associated with your TV or DVD feed (including most Cable and Satellite devices).
2.Â Â If an objectionable word is seen in the text, then the sound mutes out in its place – and the text phrase appears on the screen below to ensure you see the context.
3.Â Â That’s it — it really is just that simple!!
In the diagram above, pretend that the word “four” is a bad word. If an actor were counting out-loud, the audio would literally sound like “One â€¦ Two â€¦ Three â€¦ (silence) â€¦ Five” â€¦ with the same words (and blank) appearing below for just a second.
Currently, it appears that the only media types that TVG can’t support are Blu-Ray and Internet-Streaming. Coincidently, there is an online petition to include standardized Closed-Captioning within Internet Streaming as well, which would benefit families that want to use technologies like TVG but also our hearing impaired friends. Please click here, if you would like to add your voice to that petition.
Bottom Line on TV Guardian — There are several programs that I wouldnâ€™t mind my kids watching, but today’s actors and game participants just seem compelled to add expletives like they were any other part of speech. And since the FCC and network censors have lowered their standards so much, my family viewing is continually strict.
TV Guardian opens up new options in my house.
|This is a great co-op game for youth and a movie tie-in â€¦ with one exception, the language.In general, there appear to be four types of super-hero (with/without movie tie-ins) games:
Loosely based on the same premise and setting as last year’s Green Lantern movie, Hal Jordan is player 1 as a relatively new Green Lantern, still being coached by fellow lanterns Sinestro and Kilowog. Almost immediately upon starting the game, the lanterns’ headquarters planet of OA is attacked by Manhunter robots.
Over the next several levels, you will use your ring energy to create a range of weapons ranging from huge hammers to maces to a robotic mech-battle suit. There isnâ€™t any blood.Â The bad guys/robots disintegrate into energy — which not only charges your ring but also provides the currency for purchasing new ‘constructs’ (stuff to make with the ring) and upgrades to your existing ring powers.
The boss fights get progressively challenging, and the storyline and enemy scenarios vary enough to keep it interesting. And with up to 12 different ring constructs, along with various upgrades, gameplay will feel diverse enough to not be just another action button-masher and let each player beat up bad guys with whichever energy-formed weapons that they want. The constructs are chosen by mapping to each of the four buttons (A-B-X-Y) in combination with either the left or right triggers. Hence, up to eight constructs are available, along with immediate and charge-able regular (X) and strong (Y) attack buttons.
While Player 1 is the lead movie character, Hal Jordan of Earth; Player 2 is the equally capable Lantern, Sinestro. The folks at Double-Helix did a pretty good job of enabling a good co-op experience.
All of the energy points (currency) that are collected during game play by both players ends up being shared when purchasing upgrades and new constructs. In fact, once a construct is purchased by Player One, Player Two has full use as well. In fact, the eight construct buttons are separately map-able by Player One and Player Two. When my son and I played through the game, we chose different constructs so that each of us had unique capabilities and ways to participate in the game.
This is not to say that the Co-Op experience is perfect – it isn’t.
Player Two’s button mapping doesnâ€™t get saved – so each time that you start the game, or re-start a previously played level, player two will inherit player one’s buttons. Since my son and I played together, we eventually agreed that our right-trigger four would be consistent, so that he only had to re-map his left-trigger four, as needed. It’s a minor thing, but something that really ought to get addressed as a fix.
Player Two doesnâ€™t get achievement points. I understand that it is more work on developers to track two game save files and so some accumulation “Did <Something> X times” might be harder to track or “Completed whole game“. But, a lot of the GL achievements are “Finished Level X” type. The game knows that two players started the level, finished the level and neither left during the level — so why not give Player Two some of the credit? One of the differences between a good co-op game and a great one is giving both players their due acknowledgements, when reasonably possible.
While not normally part of an Xbox Dad review — there was so much of it that it had to be added to the Green Lantern Review. In short:
Ryan Reynolds, from the movie, reprises his role for the game – and does some great work. Having the original actor definitely adds to movie tie-in games. But there enough Darns, Cruds, and Bugards (use your imagination) to really ruin the game for younger gamers and their parental co-players.Â The only words I donâ€™t recall were Fudge and Butch.Â GLâ€™s word choices add nothing to the story and therefore it is truly a shame that Warner Brothers Interactive and DC Comics allowed the game to be inappropriate for what will be their next generation of readers.
If you have a lower tolerance to dialog, or want to use it as a teaching moment (or twenty) — then Green Lantern is otherwise a great game to co-op through while saving the universe.
As always, thanks for reading â€¦ Have fun playing with your kids !
|Earlier this month, I reviewed what I think is one of the very best kid-friendly co-op games, and certainly one of the best movie-based titles (not including the Lego series) — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (CCM).
MegaMind: Ultimate Showdown reminds me of CCM in many ways because for everything CMM did right, MegaMind falls short.
On its own, as a single-player title, it is a mediocre button masher – meaning that you will spend nearly the entire game repeatedly tapping the (X) shoot button, with the only diversity being when you punch (A) to jump over something and then resume shooting.
You are MegaMind, the primary movie character, and you will go through roughly ten levels where you will find numerous goon henchmen that are themed after one of three villains â€“ Destruction Worker, Psycho-Delic and Hot Flash. For each of the three boss styles, the henchmen come in exactly two varieties and appear to bean endless number of clones — of either a wimpy baddie or a slightly-less wimpy/blimpy baddie. After three platforming levels of bad guys, with some very basic navigation, you’ll face that boss. Do that series three times and you’ll fight the final bad guy, which is loosely based on another character from the movie and has no other real tie-in to the story or the action.
MegaMind has four gadgets at his disposal:
There is some cool potential in the gadgets in that they are upgradable and have some different affects on the environment and the baddies. But THQ lets you down because you can only carry one at a time – and it is completely scripted. Right about when you need a different item (meaning you truly cannot progress further in the level), the item you need is floating right there in the path. Game play would have been sooooo much better (or at least seemed less monotonous) if all of the gadgets were available on the four-position D-pad or other menu.
Along the way, you’ll want to destroy everything in the area – since any destruction of people or items results in glowing ‘Blinky’ which is the currency of the game, to be spent on upgrading the various items. The upgrades do enhance gameplay slightly – but since you are stuck with whatever item the story gives you, it is negligible.
If you have a 6-8 year old who absolutely loves everything about the movie and must have/play with all MegaMind-themed item, then this game is for them. For almost everyone else, THQ disappoints.
MegaMind had a lot of potential for a solid co-op title. After all, in the movie, the primary character had a side-kick named Minion. Player 2 is not Minion. Minion appears via an off-screen voice and the occasional pop-up in the corner of the screen, constantly telling you what to do next or where to go. Instead, Player 2 who can drop in and out easily (one plus) is a nameless floating robotic fish.
The real disappointment comes in that Player 2 isn’t a legitimate partner player.
Again, this game had a great deal of potential for being a neat co-op title â€¦ but falls short due to what can only be described as poor design decisions by the developer.
If you have an game savvy player 1 (older sibling or parent) who wants to run a younger MegaMind fan (ages 6-8) through the game that you purchased in a bargain bin, preferably used at that, then play it for an easy set of achievement points and 4-5 hours of distraction. Otherwise, there are many better movie-related games available — most of which come from someplace other than THQ.
As always, thanks for reading â€¦ Have fun playing with your kids !
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (CCM) is officially one of my most favorite co-op games to play with younger kids — target age 6-9. It has several of my requirements for a family-friendly co-op daddy and kid game:
Youâ€™ll start out in Flint Lockwood (player 1)â€™s lab and receive requests for help, as the overgrown food continues to create havok on the town. There are several different tools (weapons) available, depending on which jobs that you do:
Throughout the game, as you gather gameplay points, you will have the option to upgrade each of these from rinky to cool! The tools are varied enough to add an extra dimension to gameplay, and yet intuitive enough for younger players.
As the levels progress, navigating some of the platforms to reach locations becomes more challenging. So, if your youngster is playing solo, a parent may want to jump in as player two on a few levels to help find the last food items.
Nothing gets killed, though you will dissolve, slice or punch a lot of stuff.
Player 1 is the lead character, Flint Lockwood â€¦ Player 2 can join as his faithful monkey friend from the movie. When my daughter and I played through, she was my monkey â€¦ and we both had a great time. Player 2 can use all of the same items, independent of the primary player. This works out well, so that each player can take on specific â€śjobsâ€ť and directly contribute to the teamâ€™s success.
Points accrued during the game are scored separately during gameplay, but combined at the end of the level. Any weapon upgrade purchases apply to both players without distinction.
My only co-op disappointment, and it is a fairly common one, is that Player 2 does not receive Achievement Points for their contributions. Come on developers â€“ even my 7 year old notices when the achievements pop-up, but she doesnâ€™t get them! Other than the recognition, gameplay is nearly identical for both players and therefore is a great co-op title for kids!
As always, thanks for reading â€¦ Have fun playing with your kids !
This week, Microsoft is releasing it newest system update for the Xbox 360, which is something of an annual event to add new capabilities and such. Over the next several weeks, Xbox consoles will be able to gain access to a broader range of TV services (depending on where you are in the world), tighter integration and manageability with Kinect and Bing, etc.
But my favorite feature, by far, is â€śCloud Storageâ€ť.
Until now, youâ€™ve had local hard drives, sometimes internal memory, proprietary memory cartridges and some USB sticks. The Cloud Storage feature is a 512MB repository per gamer, that is cached locally on the Xbox console hard drive and automatically syncâ€™s with XboxLive in the background.
No More Cartridges or USBs
(slight exaggeration, but still)
My house has more than one Xbox. So, in my family, we each have our own memory stick â€“ some using the proprietary cartridges and others with USB. We have both formats because the older consoles only offered two cartridge slots, and the current OS only supports 2 USB sticks (even with a USB hub). And when we want to play family four-player games, someone inevitably has to copy their profile from one place to another so we can co-exist. Think â€śsneaker-netâ€ť for gamers.
That all goes away, because each player has their own storage, you can each save your game saves and profile in the Cloud. (read on)
No more â€śRecover Profileâ€ť
My nephew, Matthew, is the quintessential gaming teen, having grown up on game consoles and has certainly schooled his Uncle more than once in Halo. I imagine that that over the years, he has often visited buddiesâ€™ houses with either a memory stick in hand or needed to â€śRecover GamerTagâ€ť. The (RG) feature was a way to recreate your gamer profile on a console, when you donâ€™t have it with you. But in the process, it invalidated the old profile. So, if you retrieved it while at your friendâ€™s house, the original at home was no longer valid. So, when you got home, you would have to recover it again, to bring it back where it belonged.
Instead, the â€śRecover Profileâ€ť has been replaced with â€śDownload Profileâ€ť.
The primary difference, other then being light-years faster, is that you can leave your profile on more than one Xbox.
Why this is Cool
For roaming gamers like my nephew, there is the default option to â€śrequire passwordâ€ť, so that the profile isnâ€™t used by anyone other than him.
For families like mine, with more than one console, we can turn off this feature and now happily roam from the family room to a bedroom, as our game choices vary.
In my day job, I am a backup/disaster-recovery guy (my other blog is http://CentralizedBackup.com). So, every few months, I would browse my Xbox360 USB memory stick and selectively copy my most recent game saves to a separate memory stick. Why? Because I didnâ€™t want to lose 100â€™s of hours of game progress to a faulty bit on a flash-drive. But now, I donâ€™t have to because the cloud-storage is stored locally on the console and then automatically synchronizes with the XboxLive cloud service, and then to any other console, when I log on.
Once, my wife swore off gaming for about six months, because the game save that she had worked on became corrupt. Every time she thought about playing, she got so angry thinking of the lost time, that she just avoided it for a while.
To turn it on, go to System Properties > Storage > Cloud Storage. Click the radio-button to â€śEnable Cloud Storageâ€ť and you are good to go.
When you first log-in with an Xbox Live Gold Subscribing ID, Xbox Live will check which console you most recently logged in from. If it was from another console, it will notify you as a security precaution, which also lets your new console know that it needs to sync your cloud-based data down to this console. Okay, now it has a local copy, which in technology terms, we call the cache. The cache enables games to play with the local copy of the data, instead of waiting on the slightly slower XboxLive copy. It also ensures that if your Xbox Live Internet connection were to break, you still have your game saves to play from locally. Note, you may need to temporarily copy them from the local Cloud cache to the hard drive or USB stick for offline play.
Other Stuff to Note
With only 512MB (the size of the larger proprietary Xbox memory cartridges), you wonâ€™t be able to keep all of your downloadable content in the cloud. Instead, for add-on packs and multimedia, you will need to manually download those items to each console. You could admittedly keep them on a USB stick too, since they wonâ€™t change near as often. To re-download them, simply use your dashboard and go to Settings > Account > Download History and re-download the items to second console.
It is also important to note that this is a feature for Xbox Live Gold Subscribers only. While there will likely be some Silver (free) members who complain, this is just one more way that Microsoft is creating value for those that pay for their gaming service. Hey, how else do you pay for all of that extra storage and bandwidth that is about to be consumed in the Xbox datacenter? It wont be from the minor margins made off each console sold.
So, there you have it. Backups, Share-ability, and its too easy not to do. There are other cool things in the dashboard update, but hopefully, now you are as excited about Cloud Storage as I am.
As always, thanks for reading.
|This month, Kinectimals for Windows Phone 7 was released — with more great reasons to visit the island of Lemuria. Depending on how you count it, this is the third offering in the Kinectimals line, including:
In my opinion, the original Kinectimals was the best launch title from the original Kinect wave â€“ and it recently received new life with the Bears add-on pack.Â Kinectimals is a richly immersive experience where your Kinect actions were full motion and logical for the game, from running in place through challenge courses to broad gestures for training the cub to do new tricks.
Before getting into the K/WP7 game itself, let’s quickly celebrate another great integration between the Xbox360 & Windows Phone. With Xbox Live as the glue, along with achievements and the ability to transfer your cubs from your phone to your console and vice versa, this is why every gamer should carry a Windows Phone.
If you havenâ€™t already bought Kinectimals â€“ it now comes with Bears.Â (Amazon)
If you already have Kinectimals â€“ the Bears are an add-on.Â (Xbox Live)
Either way, now there is Kinectimals for Windows Phone.Â (Marketplace)
With all of that being said, let’s talk about the K/WP7 game itself.
In reality, K/WP7 is a revisit of the original game K/360, starting out with a cub and an empty map. Like in the original game, you can:
- Care for your cub with various foods and drinks
- Train your cub to sit, spin, jump and 20 something other tricks
- Play catch with balls
- Jump rope (instead of the kicking games)
- Adorn with collars and pendants
See original Kinectimals blog post for more detail on these.
For everything you do, you get training points which unlock additional cubs as well as new tricks, challenges, food items, and most importantly — unlock additional pieces of the map to continue your journey. In K/WP7, you’ll visit most of the same venues of the original K/360 game, including beaches, temple ruins, blossom orchards, etc.
In lieu of the full-body controls of using Kinect, K/WP7 does a great job of using finger gestures to control your cub — with precise flicks of your finger to toss balls (with varying speed for varying distance thrown) and motions to induce the myriad of trained tricks that your cub will learn. The mini-games (challenges) test your memory and precision, though some of them can be a little finicky with the gestures.Â And of course, it comes with Xbox Live achievements and gamerscore.
In my family, my seven-year-old daughter finds K/WP7 easier and more fun than full-fledged handheld pet games (e.g. Nintendogs), my wife is obsessively fixated on winning Gold in all of the challenges and I am happy to have another immersive WP7 game that yields some pleasant downtime and some achievement points. Being able to earn new animals and send them to my 360 game is yet another perk â€¦ which, to paraphrase PokĂ©mon, â€śya gotta get ‘em allâ€ť.
Hats off to the folks at Microsoft Game Studios for extending one of the best Kinect launch titles yet again — this time to Windows Phone.
If you haven’t gotten Kinectimals yet — go get it because you now have even more reasons to. It has Bears!
Kinectimals is back!
Nearly a year since the original release as a launch title for Kinect, the folks at Microsoft Game Studios and Frontier have released an expansion add-on for Kinectimals â€¦ "now with Bears".
In the original title, you visited the island of Lemuria where you, your guide and one of several very authentically rendered cubs would learn tricks, win challenges, and discover new areas of a treasure map. It turns out that just across the bay, covered in a shroud of fog is a second island of Mira, which instead of being inhabited by felines, is the home a many varieties of bear cubs. As revealed in the opening cut scenes, the original pirate and guide from Lemuria had a pirate friend who also had a side kick. As in the original adventure, the pirate has gone off in search of a mystical treasure, and the flying guide is here to help you discover the new island and hopefully find the treasure too.
In other words, itâ€™s the same set-up as the original game, with new characters and new activities, and that is definitely not a bad thing!
Frankly, I wish more games would do this — use the same game engine, perfect some of the gameplay and options, and then give it new life with an incremental release. MGS and Frontier did it exactly right. It is so similar to the original formula that it would be hard to justify $40-$50 dollars for a complete new game, but is easy to pay $15 (1200 Live Points) for the chance to play it again.
In my opinion, the original Kinectimals was the best launch title from the original Kinect wave. Instead of being gimmicky and cartoonish with the Kinect experience (read: Kinect Adventures), it was a richly immersive experience where your Kinect actions were full motion and logical for the game, from running in place through challenge courses to broad gestures for training the cub to do new tricks.
For those who are obsessive about collecting, the original game offered a wide variety of highly-detailed feline cubs — and the expansion pack delivers the same qualities of cuddly and endearing bear cubs to collect as well. These new bear cubs learn different tricks, such as climbing trees — and the island of Mira offers new venues to explore and challenges to overcome. And of course, the game comes with additional Xbox Live achievements.
Perhaps the coolest implementation feature is how the two games are interwoven. From the main actions menu (right-arm to the side), you used to have access to toys, pet care products, and the map. Now, there are simply two maps â€“ Lemuria and Mira. By clicking on the other map, you easily switch between islands of Bears and Cats. The result is that my family has rediscovered the cats and the undone challenges and locations. (read: renewed ROI in the original game).
One very clever commercial tie-in with the new Kinectimals Bears is with Build-a-Bear. There are four build-a-bear friends that you can make with your favorite kiddo (or wife) and then download those friends into your Kinectimals game.
Would I have preferred the game to come out earlier than a year after the original? Of course. But I am always glad when a game studio doesnâ€™t sacrifice quality for an early release of DLC or otherwise. And I am even more appreciative when DLC content renews my interest in the original game, instead of simply adding one more level to an otherwise finished storyline. In all of these things, the folks at Frontier did it right — and the result is a great reason to dust off that Kinectimals case, get some exercise and play with a bear or two or six.
If you havenâ€™t already bought Kinectimals â€“ it now comes with Bears. (Amazon)
If you already have Kinectimals â€“ the Bears are an add-on. (Xbox Live)
In my opinion, the range of motion-enabled Kinect titles fall into five distinct categories:
Kinectimals is that kind of game — a genuinely immersive game with a good premise and diverse activity that really gets and gives the most of out the Kinect.
The physical aspects of the challenges (especially the obstacle courses) are a refreshing bit of exercise that will get your heart rate moving, as well as the rest of you — especially if you are obsessive and want to earn a gold medal on each one. My kids also really got into the ball games, where you’ll play catch with your cub or some other device, being able to return balls from one of six positions on the screen — kicking (down) or hitting (up) from the left, center or right sides of the screen. Frankly, I found myself more often playing the physical challenges of Kinectimals than the pure ‘exercise’ games.
Graphically, the venues are colorful and very engaging — and the range of beautifully rendered cubs is amazing. For the obsessive collector, you will want to collect them all, from those found in the game to those scanned in. Scanned in? Yes, as an interesting though admittedly sparse execution, Microsoft is selling a line of stuffed toys with scanning tags. Put the tag in front of your Kinect, and that animal is imported into your game — similar to the widespread success of Webkins. The stuffed toys are just one of the nice twists for younger players.
My kids really enjoyed the petting and caring for the animals, where Kinect will digitize your hands and you can see your fingers running through the animals fur, scratching behind the ears, etc. As you walk to the side, your will ‘walk’ around your cub, and are able to scratch, pet, brush the rest of the cub for cleaning or play. While a reasonably healthy and somewhat coordinated adult will be challenged to master the challenges and gain the complete gamerscore, your kids will enjoy the interaction with the cubs and the discovery of a great adventure. And as a parent, you’ll appreciate your kids obsessively playing a game with their whole bodies and not just sitting on the couch and working their thumbs.
If you haven’t gotten Kinectimals yet — Go get it! If you have already, then you know why I like it so much.