Let's get something straightened out right at the start. This is not Nintendogs. In no way should you draw that conclusion, while you wash your cub, play ball with it, teach it tricks, earn money to buy food and drink... this is not Nintendogs. After all, in Kinectimals you're training your cubs so you can open up new areas on the island of Lemuria to explore - you've nothing like that in the puppy simulator for the DS. Oh no. Completely different....
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
In Kinectimals, you are tasked with taking care of some feline cubs - not of the cat/kitten variety, but lions, tigers, cheetahs and other big cats in Africa. If you can hear Andy Williams singing "Born Free" in the background, then you're almost there. Pick a cub, give it a name, and then interact with it for experience points, money and opening up other areas of Kinectimals.
You can do this in three main areas - playing games with your cub, such as throwing a ball so he can pounce on it, or helping the cub get their timing right to jump over a skipping rope; you can train them to do special trick moves; and you can spend the money you "win" doing these tasks in the game store, buying food and drink, toys, collars and other accessories to keep your cub happy.
It's all a bit of a grind to be honest - once you master the little games and can perform them at will then you're simply working up experience to open up new areas of the game, the ability to choose different breeds of cubs, and thus get even more experience. The balance point between fun and grind is a tricky one, and for me Kinectimals strays a bit too much towards grind.
Of course, Kinectimals does not exist in a vacuum, there is a version of this game on the Xbox 360. It's important to point out that Kinectimals on Windows Phone is a standalone game, and you do not need the home console version to enjoy it. Yes, there are advantages to owning both (mostly in moving over the cubs you have trained on the console to your Windows Phone, and using the phone to unlock new breeds on the console), but in terms of connecting Xbox Live games to Xbox games this is a step of baby proportions.
The graphics look wonderful - there's a certain solidity to the cubs, even though it's a bundle of triangles and texture mapping, it's all smooth fur on show, with a variety of facial expressions getting over the simulated mood of your cub. There are clear differences in the breeds as well, between Tigers, Lions, Pumas and Cheetahs. When you move into teaching the cubs tricks like back-flips and rolls, or playing skip and throwing a ball to catch there's no stutter, it all moves as required, and there's no wait for any animation - from a technical point of view, it's very well done.
But as a game, I'm not so sure.
The interface feels a bit clunky and slow to be honest. There's no feel of fluidity between the different styles of interactions you can enjoy with your cubs. Yes, they are different sections of code, but if you are programming a virtual pet then you need to make everything work seamlessly. I can see the joins here, and it doesn't help my experience feel immersive. One of Windows Phone's strengths is moving between different views in different applications, and that's not present in Kinectimals. Going between "practice a trick" and "playing catch" feels like working through a regimented menu structure.
It's also one of the first Xbox Live games where the Achievements feel horribly out of place. 10g (gamer points) for buying a collar? When it takes hours to get "three propeller hats" in Doodle Jump and that's worth just 3g?
There's also the tiny voice of my conscience nagging at the back of my head - it's fine to have some puppies on the DS, but these are wild animals, being made to do tricks. Yes it's on a phone, but do we want to be encouraging that, as opposed to preserving their habitats and keeping them as wild animals? It's a strange reaction to a game, but one that makes me feel Kinectimals is a bit... wrong?
Perhaps all that doesn't matter, because Kinectimals is the sort of game that the younger generation will love - one of the advantages of having an older Windows Phone device kicking around the AAWP office is that Brian the Tiger Cub can happily be playing catch all day while Dad carries on writing up the review. It does lead to the interesting question of "how can Brian move to the other phone?" Phone to 360 works, 360 back to phone works - but if you don't have an Xbox 360, you end up with a disappointed daughter.
Wrapping it up, Kinectimals feels not quite right for a simple reason. If you've ever lived with a cat, they never stay still long enough, they never listen to what you want them to do, and there's no way that a mere human could ever be the master of them.
Put that aside and you have a graphically sumptuous game that's geared towards the younger player and puts some Xbox 360 connectivity out there in the wild. There's a lot going on with Kinectimals that makes it a wonderful tech demo, it just feels a little bit lacking as a piece of leisure software.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at