It’s appropriate that Carnival Games: Monkey See Monkey Do shipped for Xbox Kinect less than six months after the gesture-sensing peripheral’s release. The original Carnival Games released when the gaming masses were still getting their arms around (or shall I say “moving with”) the Nintendo Wii and its then-new motion controls. The game hinged on players making simple motions to achieve a variety of equally simple objectives, and by and large the result was fun. With the Xbox Kinect, however, 2K Play had a bit more latitude in terms of gameplay nuances and graphical horsepower, making Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do superior to its predecessor in every way.
Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do consists of 20 mini games inspired by the activities you’d see at any traveling carnival. Things like the ring toss, pop-a-shot, skee ball and the test-your-strength hammer game are here in full effect, each controlled by acting out the appropriate motion in front of the Xbox 360’s Kinect sensor. Because this is a videogame rather than a real-world outing, though, you’ll see plenty of other activities that most folks wouldn’t normally engage in, such as a pig race and a basketball game where you toss 16-pound bowling balls toward a decrepit apple basket.
The game is unabashedly geared toward a younger crowd, so the humor is almost exclusively of the slapstick type, and the controls are kept very basic with only a few exceptions. The ring toss and skee ball activities, for instance, are controlled by reaching in front of you to grab the on-screen ball, then either giving the toss motion or the bowling motion to make the ball go in the proper direction. Because the Kinect is so sensitive to small gestures, even the slightest twist of the body or flick of the wrist has an impact on the ball’s trajectory, which can be frustratingly realistic for older gamers and parents but doesn’t seem to bother the younger ones. The pig race, meanwhile, shows your Xbox Avatar riding on the back of a pig, and gamers must pretend to slap the swine’s backside to make it run faster while leaning left and right to steer it around obstacles including hay bales and exploding barrels.
Yes, exploding barrels. Like Warner Bros. did with its classic Looney Tunes cartoons, 2K Play makes some references that only the older crowd will “get” and enjoy.
Some of the mini games in Monkey See, Monkey Do are a bit more obscure, drawing attention to the fact that this is after all a game and not a real-world carnival game. For instance, one rocket ship game has players leaning left and right to maneuver their spacecraft to the moon, while a Monkey See, Monkey Do game has players imitating the poses of an organ-grinder monkey. The more closely their arms and legs look like the monkey’s on-screen pose, the more points earned for that round. There’s also a hot-air balloon game in which players exhaust themselves using an invisible bike pump to determine the speed of the balloon’s ascent up the hazard-laden course.
Some of the games in Carnival Games: Monkey See Monkey Do control better than others, with the most-accurate gesture mapping seeming to be associated with the “traditional” games. Slapping a pig and pumping the bike pump, for instance, only seem to register the player’s movement about half of the time, while the skee ball and ring toss games are almost perfect in their registration. The only fault with the skee ball game — as is the case with any “tossing” game such as the ring toss and pop-a-shot — is that it’s challenging to determine strength and trajectory. The Kinect may be good at picking up those things, but in the vacuum of a living room rather than the tangible world of a carnival or basketball court, players easily under- or over-throw the target, and it’s challenging to correct the behavior based on visual cues alone.
Now, there’s nothing the game or developers can do to solve the problem; the Kinect, Move and Wii all exist in a virtual plane with no weight or tangible objects. But it’s important to understand that aspect so you don’t get frustrated with five of the included mini games. It’s no fault of Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do itself; it’s the fault of the medium’s virtual reality.
In spite of those few frustrations, the jump from Wii to Xbox Kinect afforded some significant upgrades from the original, and 2K Play maximized the new platform’s capabilities. For instance, the Kinect can sense depth in addition to lateral movement, and several games utilize that functionality, even if just to “reach forward” and grab a ball. The Kinect also picks up audio, and one of the mini games uses the Kinect’s microphone to let players interact with a fake wizard by telling jokes, solving riddles or hearing their fortune.
The biggest upgrade, at least superficially, is the high-definition graphics. Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do has a visual style all its own, with bright colors, hard lines and cartoon-looking characters, and every single pixel looks great in HD. The games are also simple enough that the developers didn’t have to worry about draw distances or bump mapping, so the images are all pretty polished. You will encounter occasional tearing and collision issues, but nothing so major that it gets in the way, and certainly nothing that the targeted younger gamer will even notice.
In fact, one of the only things the young gamer in your house will notice is that he or she isn’t playing the game. My young son has asked to play Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do at least daily, and it’s quickly become his favorite Xbox Kinect title. Some of the mini games are a bit beyond him, such as one where you box with a robotic punching bag, but he’s perfectly content playing one-fourth of the mini games over and over. And if it passes his litmus test, it’s safe to say Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do will pass your young gamers’ sniff test as well.
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Score: 8.4 — Some of the games seem similar to one another, and occasionally you’ll find yourself frustrated at a performance, but the younger gamers to whom this is geared will almost assuredly have a blast.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360