I’m not a huge Kinect guy, but I am absolutely a true-believer when it comes to Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions. By extension, I am a Kinect Party convert, and so are my kids. A sequel to Happy Action Theater, which I reviewed together with my family earlier this year, Kinect Party successfully uses Microsoft’s super-duper techno Wall-E lookalike camera in the most sensible manner imaginable: as a portal into a virtual rumpus room.
Kinect Party features the smart and clean aesthetic and fun sort of sensibilities Double Fine has become known for. It’s cute, adorable, and has tons of visual character. Much like Happy Action Theater, it’s pretty much the easiest game to get into and play once you turn the thing on. There’s really no menu to fuss with; it just starts and, if you let it, Kinect Party just goes.
Leave it in Autoplay Mode and it will run through all 36 of its “channels”, so named as each event or stage is presented as a self-contained program of sorts. These events, stages, channels, toys, whatever you want to call them, are split between new and old; 18 of these are brand new, the other 18 come directly from the aforementioned Happy Action Theater.
You can quit out to a hub and pick specific events to play, or view and share photos. Getting to the hub is the only semi-fusty element in the game, as sometimes it’s hard to get Kinect to read your hand motion to quit. Otherwise, everything works smooth and easy as can be.
Each of Kinect Party’s channels is a little different from the next. In one, you’re running through a Minecraft-inspired canyon avoiding obstacles, in another you’re popping balloons, in still another shooting toilets in a Tempest-like neon grid, and in still another you’re a dubstep DJ – which, you know, we’ll give them a pass on this one time.
These channels aren’t “games” in the traditional sense of the word. You don’t really keep score, you can’t fail, and you’re not judged or tested. Instead, you simply play, the stage changes, and you play some more.
Though there’s plenty of variety, all of the games are tied together by a common through line of simple action fun. These basic acts – popping a balloon, dancing, posing, moving to avoid things – all teach players the rules with intuitive “learn as you go” prompts and direction, which you pick up in the first few seconds of playing. No tutorials, no interruptions, no prompts, no wasted time. Just play.
It’s because each event is so bite-sized, it can feel like you’re the leading star in a never-ending, constantly shifting stage production of the world’s craziest happenings, and just as you’ve got the hang of what you’re doing, everything changes. It sets up a curious rhythm of introduction, learning, mild mastery, and then switches, with each stage compelling you to move with it, laugh with it, and obey it.
Watching my kids play, or rather, watching it play my kids, it really becomes apparent that the Kinect can serve as the ultimate Simon Says simulator when paired with the appropriate software. Their collective reaction to the game is similar to Happy Action Theater.
Madison, my ten-year-old daughter, played it the most, flinging herself with abandon into the scenes, voguing and competing in the non-game games.
“I like how it just goes from thing to thing,” she volunteered, catching her breath.
“If you had to score it, 1 to 10, what would you give it?”
My eight year-old son Ryan was no less effusive when asked, “What’s your favorite part of the game?”
Mkay. Totally objective.
I asked my three-year-old cute girl, Harlow Grace, what she thought of it, because, you know, three-year-olds know their game criticism.
“Do you like playing this game, Harlow?”
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” she chirped while doing jumping jacks before freezing for the camera. I’ll take that as a yes.
The game actually supports pet play, meaning if you have a dog, he or she can jump right in and be transformed into a bearded robot or happy monster. I was unable to talk to a dog for this review by the time of publish. I’ll update if that changes.
That said, my chief criticism is the same that I hold for Happy Action Theater: like any toy that only does one thing – however well it does it – it can get old, and fast. Once my kids had played for a few hours, they got it, and would probably be fine not playing it again. When friends come over, it’s a great party game because no one has to learn any controls and there’s no setup, but, even then, once you play through all the channels, the shine wears off a bit. This would be much more objectionable if the game was pricey, but it’s not. In fact, for the first two weeks of its availability, from now until December 31, 2012, it’s free. Afterwards, it will cost $10 to unlock everything, or $5 to unlock everything for owners of Double Fine Happy Action Theater, or you can buy individual stages for $1. This is to say that it’s a cheap date, and compared to a trip to Chuck E. Cheese or some other pricey attraction, Kinect Party is an easy buy.
All of this is very, very fun. When done right, it’s amazing how happily you’ll want to just go right along, never questioning or caring why in one moment you’re playing dress up and the next you’re a winged dragon terrorizing a castle that needs stomping. This means it’s fun regardless of age. College students, friends, DINKs, parents, kids, everyone will smile – the game sort of dares you not to.
It is within these circumstances that Kinect Party can become magical, for anyone – young or old – but you have to let your guard down to really appreciate it. Scoffers will stay bored. But let Kinect Party run you through its paces, let it play you, and you’ll realize something much more special is at work behind the gesture-tracking tech and all the silly ones and zeros Double Fine has assembled here.
Other than Dance Central and The Gunstringer, there simply isn’t any other Kinect game that screams “must play”, but scream, bounce, roll and somersault Kinect Party does. And you will too.
Kinect Party is a great game that’s really fun to play. It doesn’t require much more than your attention and the permission to let your guard down. Once you buy in and let the grins come, you’ll be surprised at the trade off that occurs, you playing Kinect Party, and it playing you.