When it first launched, Microsoft’s high-tech Kinect motion sensing peripheral was the talk of the town. However, these days the seasoned gaming crowd has become quite vocal regarding its discovered flaws. Simply put, there haven’t been many noteworthy experiences for the older crowd to celebrate, with companies preferring to focus on the device’s main target audience: families. As a result, accessible games have started to pile up, with dancing titles leading the way, while releases mixing core genres with motion controls have been met with mostly negative feedback.
This fall, the computer giant has taken a different route with two new first-party offerings. Entitled Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV, the two DVD sets feature interactive television. Eight thirty minute, or so, long episodes are included in each package, though their target markets are slightly different. While the quality Sesame Street release is supposed to be played by young children, the National Geographic compilation is for those who are ten years of age or older. For the purposes of this review, we’ll be sticking with the latter set and its focus on the animal kingdom.
Like its peer, Kinect Nat Geo TV is more of a television experience than a video game. Each episode includes a lot of filmed footage, featuring a wilderness expert named Casey Anderson. Having spent his entire life around animals, including many wild species like wolves and bears, he’s an incredibly knowledgeable and seemingly down to earth guy who does a good job of presenting interesting information. Simply put, the majority of what you’ll find in this thirty dollar package focuses on Casey and his friends, although kids are regularly asked to interact with the show. What results is a relatively entertaining way to spend several hours, although boredom, occasional mechanical issues and repetition affected my enjoyment.
One must play this game, if you want to call it that, by using physical movements or by shouting at the Kinect sensor’s microphone. The first option is the most prevalent, as viewers must raise a hand in order to answer asked questions, and must try to become the animals through the use of arm swings, pretend biting actions and more. Shouting, on the other hand, is only used during photography sessions. Those are segmented occasions that factor into each episode more than once, complete with unique target requirements. Up to three pictures need to be snapped by the player in order to ensure a perfect score during those times and, as expected, doing well in an episode’s mini-games will help to net you a metallic badge in the gold and platinum range.
For the most part, the voice recognition software does a good job, although yelling is required. Going further, raised hands are picked up without issue whenever the player is standing. Sitting is a different story altogether, but it is possible to get it to work the odd time. However, it must be noted that sitting doesn’t really work at all during the interactive activities that come up throughout the filmed presentations. During those, standing is mandatory, meaning that kids must get up off of the couch and become active.
Although activity is a loosely utilized term when it comes to Kinect Nat Geo TV, as it’s nothing close to an exercise title, I did break a sweat on a few occasions. Some of the mini-games are much more engaging than others, though they’re all quite similar. You’ll need to ward off predators by hitting them, find food by swiping or clawing at environmental staples like rocks and tree branches, or pretend to eat things. As a result, previous gaming experience isn’t required for admission.
Generally speaking, the game’s movement sensing capabilities are solid. At times, the cameras would put me in the background as opposed to the foreground, which meant that my swipes wouldn’t register against predators. However, that issue was easily rectified by stepping forward or to the side a bit, in order to let the machine get a clear picture of my face and body. Frankly, that type of problem is to be expected with Kinect exclusives, as is the second issue I’m about to mention: infrequent movement detection problems. Unfortunately, Kinect is known to have tracking issues, and my Kinect Nat Geo TV experience was slightly marred by occasions where swipes and head bobs failed to result in attacks and bites.
The neat thing here is that all of the mini-games, which can be played during episodes or through a separate party mode, reflect the real-life tendencies of the featured animals. Although they’re a tad gimmicky, and end up becoming repetitive, some of them are fun due to their presented challenge levels. Getting three stars can be tough, even though you get to become majestic creatures including bears, owls and cougars. Unfortunately, the way that one transforms is rather forgettable, thanks to crudely animated and cheesy costumes. Kids will appreciate the added touch, but may become disenchanted by how basic the whole thing is.
Since Kinect Nat Geo TV is a DVD set at heart, don’t go in expecting Blu-ray quality visuals. The medium does a good job of displaying the captured footage with an impressive amount of detail, a lot of clarity and a stark colour palette; however, the aforementioned interactive activities look dated. Thankfully, the audio is of noticeable quality, making it easy to hear Casey and his animal friends, as well as their infrequent co-stars.
Overall, this mixture of informative television and gaming will appeal to inquisitive young minds and their wilderness loving friends. I learned quite a bit from the episodes, and was impressed by the fact that co-operative segments were made available, although the design’s repetition got to me a bit. For those reasons, along with this set’s lack of noteworthy replay value and the mechanical troubles mentioned above, it’s tough to recommend Kinect Nat Geo TV on the same level as Kinect Sesame Street TV. The latter release is quite a bit better, and it actually offers a chapter select option.
Notes: Those who would prefer to go the digital route can purchase this game through the Xbox LIVE Marketplace. Going further, it’s also worth noting that the set contains a Season Pass code, which offers access to even more National Geographic TV content.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.