Is there much crossover between Kinect-toting Xbox 360 owners and Windows Phone gamers? Sure, lots of people buy into more than one of Microsoft’s gaming platforms. And even smartphone users without a console could still have a heart, and thus love kitties. Surely developer Frontier Software and publisher Microsoft Studios banked on both of those points when deciding to bring Kinectimals to Windows Phone. It squeezes much of the console game’s fun into much smaller mobile devices.
Dash past the break for our full review.
Kitties coming home
Kinectimals is a streamlined adaptation of the Xbox 360 adventure/simulation game. At the outset, players choose one of several cat breeds to use as their new pet. You can name the cat if you want (and come on, you’re boring if you don’t), and then the game begins. The original version’s story, in which players follow in the shoes of a beloved pirate captain, searching the island for treasure, did not make the cut. While that cuts down on the portable game’s sense of adventure, it does come with a plus. The console game’s unabashedly annoying narrator, Bumble, is nowhere to found in the mobile game. Thank goodness.
Explorer, cat tamer
Instead of hunting for treasure, the goals here are to reach the highest rank of cat trainer and fully explore the island. To do those things, players will need to care for their cats and complete numerous challenges. As you earn experience points, your rank will increase and eventually new sections of the island open up.
Here kitty kitty
Kinectimals offers a fair number of ways to care for and interact with your cat. Touch the cat with your finger and you’ll be able to pet it. When it gets dirty, select a sponge from your inventory to clean it. In both cases, the cat moves through a series of three canned animations while its owner rubs at the screen. Finish rubbing and you’ll have a happy kitty, plus maybe some extra XP for your trouble (depending on whether the cat was actually lonely or dirty beforehand),
As you might expect, cats also need food and drink in order to be happy. I’d say survive, but like the original game (for better or worse) cats can’t be harmed or killed. Whenever the cat brings its food or water bowl, simply select something to give it from your inventory, and then the little guy will go to town on it. You can actually give it food or drinks at any time but doing so is wasteful as you only get XP when the animal actually needs those things. Higher quality consumables offer more experience, too. The game doesn’t teach any of those things, but most players will figure them out eventually.
Food stuffs come from the shop. There, players can buy a variety of additional items: collars, pendants, balls, jump ropes, and a single extra sponge. The collars and pendants are a fun way to outfit cats, though they serve no additional purpose. The toys and sponge each provide XP bonuses with their first use, so prioritize them if you’re playing to win.
To earn money for the shop, you’ll need to spend a lot of time completing challenges. These come in four different varieties:
- Tricks: Swipe-based cat tricks replace the Kinect version’s motion-based ones. Tutorials teach you how to make your feline jump, roll over, dance, and more. Trick challenges involve performing multiple tricks in a row, sometimes by name along. These are usually fun, but unfortunately the more complicated trick motions (Spinning Top, Ballerina) don’t consistently work, ruining the handful of challenges that hinge on them.
- Skipping: I guess skipping is how British people refer to jumping rope? The rope swings around at varying speeds, and players just need to swipe up at the right times to make their kitties jump. Skipping challenges get tough, but they work well overall.
- Catch: A girlfriend once had a cat who liked to fetch things. Apparently the designers knew of her cat and built the catch minigame around him. The kitty stands in different locations and you throw the ball to it with careful swipes. When the cat is far away, it’s tough to judge the exact angle for an accurate throw. Still, I enjoyed most of the Catch challenges.
- Photo Challenges: The mobile version of Kinectimals’ new augmented reality feature is possibly the best part of the game. Take a picture with your phone’s camera and then insert the cat into it, adjusting its size, pose, and position accordingly. Photo challenges reward players for taking photographs at various distances from their homes. They aren’t necessary for completing the game, but provide a great source of money if you take advantage of them.
Cats can be transferred back and forth between the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone versions of Kinectimals. Each version (particularly the 360 one) has exclusive breeds, and transferring unlocks those breeds in the sister version. Bears from the 360 game’s ‘Bear Island’ add-on can’t be transferred, however.
The transfer process is simple: visit the scanning stone in the Xbox 360 version. To send a 360 cat to the phone, the console game will display a QR code for your phone to photograph. Take the pic and the cat emerges on the phone. For the reverse process, the phone displays a specific pattern which the Kinect scans in real-time.
Transferring cats might not be worth your time, however. In either version of Kinectimals, the cats don’t actually exhibit unique personalities or abilities. Using one cat is the same experience as another. Younger players or people who really get into the cat simulation aspect may get more out of the connectivity feature, but most gamers won’t care for it.
Kinectimals’ Achievements provide an easy 200 GamerScore but they could be more creative. Starting out, you’ll earn lots of gimmes for feeding the cat, petting it, etc. Most of the others come from opening new parts of the island, with the final Achievement, ‘Wildlife Guru,’ tied to achieving the maximum player rank.
That leads to my only serious criticism of the game: reaching the higher ranks requires tons of grinding for experience. See, Challenges can’t be replayed for experience; once you earn a Gold medal in them, that’s it. Upon completing all 50 challenges, the next portion of your experience must come from buying and trying each ball and jump rope. After exhausting that avenue for experience, you’re left with feeding and watering the cat whenever it gets hungry in order to reach the last few ranks. Boring! If Kinectimals had only included more of the console version’s minigames (soccer, RC cars, obstacles courses), or at least more challenges for the existing minigames, then players wouldn’t run out of productive ways to earn experience.
Kinectimals may be a bit short on content to maintain player excitement until the end, but it’s still a great addition to the mobile Xbox Live lineup. Animal lovers of any age will enjoy the beautiful 3D cats and their antics. With the silliness potential of the photo challenges and some pretty easy Achievements, all cat-friendly gamers should get this title myeow.
Kinectimals costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Rescue it here from the Marketplace.
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