Last year Kinectimals allowed you to fulfil your dream of having a big cat – as in a leopard or tiger, not a slightly obese housecat – as a pet, without the risk of demolished furnishings or legal problems. Now the Windows Phone version allows you to have one travel around in your pocket with you. You pocket-sized-big-cat fetishist, you.
So, yes, this is a portable virtual pet simulator. Like Nintendogs before it, and like Tamagotchis before that. Only rather than focussing on dogs or weird digital… things, it focuses on big cats. It’s also a markedly prettier game, with some gorgeous creatures on display. Furry and adorable, they’ll set off the part of your brain that makes you coo at kittens (even as you have that nagging warning sensation at the back of your head that this little animal might eat you).
There’s a more significant difference, however: this is a virtual pet simulator that isn’t too big on the ‘simulator’ part. There is no punishment for leaving your cats uncared for, and they never mature, staying as perpetual kittens. Assuming that kitten is the correct terminology when discussing a baby cheetah. No, instead of being punished for failing to care for your cat, the game rewards you for dealing with any issues that crop up: so while leaving your cat covered in mud will have no adverse effects on the game, cleaning it up will earn you points.
The more points you get, the higher your level – and the higher your level, the more items and activities you have access to, the more places to visit, and the more species of cat to play with. It’s a simple system, encouraging you to play with your cats in order to unlock more things to do with them. Similarly, the activities you unlock all have challenges associated with them – challenges which earn you points and money, allowing you to buy new toys and decorations for your cats, as well as food and water.
There are three core activities which you can engage in to earn money: skipping, ball catching, and doing tricks. The first is simply a case of tapping or swiping the screen in time with a skipping rope, having your cat jump over it at the right moment. The second involves swiping the screen in order to lob a ball in the direction of your cat, with good aim required. The third involves mimicking shapes with your finger in order to have your cat perform specific tricks, such as playing dead or leaping.
These activities have associated challenges, which actually become fairly difficult in later stages. Skipping requiring impressive degrees of concentration as the rounds get longer and longer, and the rope’s rhythm more erratic; ball catching becomes more punishing of your mistakes, forcing you to judge your strength as well as angle of throw; the sequences of tricks get longer and longer, begin to punish you more for mistakes, and have you input the correct shapes from memory. As minigames go, they aren’t too shabby.
A shame that the other interactions available to you are somewhat less inspired. First is the ability to take a photograph of your environment and have your cat appear in it. This ties in with challenges based on your location, asking you to take snapshots within a certain distance of your initial, ‘home’ photograph. Which works a little less well if you live in an area with reception so poor that your phone thinks you live over a mile west of your actual location, but never mind. The idea is amusing enough, but seems a missed opportunity – why you can’t have your photographs used as a background for general activities, rather than just for a static image, I don’t know – after all, the in-game environments are entirely flat, so it’s not as though your cat would end up trying to perch on invisible objects.
Beyond this, all you can do is stroke your pet and clean it – both being essentially the same action, only with one involving soap bubbles. Meanwhile, feeding or watering the cat consists of nothing more than tapping on a foodstuff or drink and watching your cat put its head into a bowl – the contents of which you never see – and apparently scarf the contents down. And if the interactions are limited, the animations are even more so. The first time you see your cat respond to being stroked or cleaned, it’s impressive. By the third time, you’ll have tired of it repeating the same movements in the same order. Even worse you soon realise that every breed in the game, from leopard to royal Bengal tiger, has exactly the same set of animations and sounds associated with them.
And that, well, is it. Your cat will do nothing if left to its own devices. It might occasionally walk off screen then return with something it wants – a ball or skipping rope for you to play with, or a bowl to fill with food or drink – but will indulge in no solo activities: this is not a pet you can watch for entertainment.
And then there’s the issue of the tricks that you can have your cat perform. Here the game takes a slightly sinister turn, with some of the tricks evoking nothing so much as a dancing bear, and all the cruelty that implies – seeing your cat forced onto its hind legs in order to dance is rather creepy, particularly when the trick ends with your cat falling over in a painful fashion.
Indeed, the messages being sent to any younger players seem questionable – aside from encouraging them to force cats to perform tricks for their entertainment, the game also encourages the player to feed their cats cow’s milk (you can tell it’s cow’s milk by the black and white patterning on the carton). Which is all well and good, until you realise that many cats already suffer from well-meaning owners who feed them milk, when of course most cats are lactose-intolerant. That’s certainly a habit which didn’t need reinforcing.
In short, the game sends some questionable messages to younger players about animal care, through both its lack of punishment for neglect and its encouraging of bad practice. It also wants for a little more variety – in activities, and in terms of animal behaviour. Even so, the game’s gorgeous graphics do count for a lot in this genre, and the mini-games are fun enough. The system of unlocks encourages extended play, and you get a fair amount of content for your money. There’s also some interesting cross-over potential with its bigger brother on Xbox 360, which I’ll be exploring in another feature (coming very soon – ed.).
Worth a try? Certainly. Just don’t expect too much virtual life in your pet, and make sure if you introduce children to the game that they understand the ways in which the game should not be emulated.
Kinectimals Xbox Live Achievements
- A Friend For Life (10 points): Choose a new animal.
- First Contact (10 points): Pet your animal for the first time.
- Catch Me If You Can (10 points): Get your animal to catch a ball for the first time.
- Animal Carer (10 points): Clean and feed your animal for the first time.
- A Great Start (10 points): Win your first medal.
- Pieces of Flair (10 points): Place your first collar on your animal.
- Hit The Surf (10 points): Visit Fiddler’s Beach for the first time.
- Archaeologist (10 points): Visit La Selva for the first time.
- Under The Falling Blossom (10 points): Visit Cherry Blossom Grove for the first time.
- The Hills Are Alive (10 points): Visit Suri Mountain for the first time.
- Mountaineer (10 points): Visit Celestial Glacier for the first time.
- Treasure Hunter (20 points): Complete the pirate map.
- Champion (30 points): Win gold medals in 25 challenges.
- The Ring Master (20 points): Perform all tricks.
- Wildlife Guru (20 points): Reach the rank of Wildlife Guru.
Kinectimals Gameplay Video
Version Under Review : 188.8.131.52
There is a trial version available and the full version is available for $2.99, we are not sure what the limitations of the trial version are.
Our Rating for Kinectimals