If you own a Kinect, you’re certainly aware that Microsoft’s peripheral lacks a large selection of quality games that take good advantage of its three-dimensional, motion-sensitive camera system. This overall lack of utility is really unfortunate as the Kinect is an inarguably cool machine that just lacks a visionary developer capable of doing something novel with it. This is where, ostensibly, Double Fine Productions comes in, specifically with its latest release, the Xbox Live downloadable game, Kinect Party.
As a sequel to Double Fine Happy Action Theater, Kinect Party falls comfortably into the “casual games” genre, which is just as well because otherwise we wouldn’t have any idea how to describe it. See, Kinect Party isn’t really much of a game. We’ll explain what that means momentarily, and why it isn’t as much a problem as you’d imagine, but before you continue we need you all to ask yourselves one question which should be blatantly obvious: Do you have children?
If the answer is “no,” you may as well stop reading right here. If you have spawned however, read on. Kinect Party is going to be available as a free download from now until the end of the year, and in that light it may just be the best entertainment value to be found on the Xbox 360 this holiday season.
When you first fire up Kinect Party, you’re not met with a title screen, nor an options menu, nor even a single a line of text asking you to press “Start.” Instead, you’re thrown directly into the action with no explanation of what you’re supposed to be doing, or any rationale for doing it. Luckily, while that would be detrimental in almost any other video game, that’s not really a problem here. As we mentioned earlier, Kinect Party isn’t a game in the traditional sense. It has no win conditions, no huge boss battles, and no real plot to speak of. Instead, what you’re given is a series of largely similar tasks set on top of increasingly quirky backgrounds that eventually double as some kind of virtual analogue for the standard photo booth. That likely sounds confusing, so let’s break things down to a more granular level.
If you have yet to play Double Fine Happy Action Theater or Kinect Party, it’s helpful to think of both as large mini-game collections. It’s even more helpful to think of them as collections of mini-games that, mechanically speaking, are wholly identical. Take for instance the giant monster-themed Kinect Party game. In this diversion you and up to five friends (or, we suppose, as many as you could fit within the Kinect’s camera sensor) take on the role of classic movie monsters. On your television screen your appearance doesn’t change, but all around you the game places objects such as buildings and swooping airplanes. Though you’re never directly told to flail your arms to destroy the objects this action seems second nature and players will instantaneously start swiping at the various debris in an effort to revel in bombastic destruction. After a few minutes a dapper, cartoonish gentleman will appear toward the bottom of the screen and begin a short countdown. Once he hits zero the Kinect snaps a picture of whatever is in its sights, and you’re offered the chance to share the resulting image on Facebook.
Sounds like a neat, short diversion, right? It is, but in experiencing this mini-game, you’ve effectively seen the entire scope of Kinect Party’s gameplay. Every single mini-game contained in this title is best completed by waving your arms frantically at objects that only exist within the processor of your Xbox 360. Unfortunately — and this may be the fault of the Kinect’s photosensitivity, as opposed to any flaw in Kinect Party itself — the required amount of arm flailing is largely arbitrary. At times you’ll swing your arm sharply and pop a bubble, and other times the same bubble will require a broad, slow swipe. As I type these words the index finger on my left hand is bruised and swelling to twice its size thanks to an unfortunate incident in which a bubble was placed over the arm of my couch and I slapped a wooden edge with considerable force. Call it a flaw in motion sensitive gaming as a whole if you’d like, but whatever the reason I’m in pain and not at all pleased about it.
Not that I’m going to hold it against Kinect Party though. After that accident I quickly got the hang of staying within the safe confines of the Kinect sensor, and can happily report that it’s the only injury I’ve suffered. What pains me more at this point is the lack of true substance within Kinect Party. Beyond the repetitive gameplay the only real offerings the game has are a handful of minor photo editing tricks and the aforementioned Facebook connectivity. Seriously, that’s it.
Normally this would be the point where the review ends with an appallingly low score and a warning to avoid the title altogether, but if we went in that direction we’d be completely missing the point of Kinect Party. This is a game that’s not designed to appeal to me, or you, or even the Internet masses. Kinect Party is undoubtedly aimed at the younger set.
Remember when you were a kid, like five or six years old, and you’d run down the stairs on Christmas morning, rip open all of your presents and spend the rest of the day not only playing with your new toys, but also the awesome packaging they all came in? That’s the joy of being a kid: You’re so young and naive that anything can be an infinitely entertaining diversion. That’s the prime audience for Kinect Party. Kids don’t care about things like replayability or per dollar entertainment value. Instead, kids will jump in front of the Kinect, see that they somehow managed to pick up a rad-looking pirate hat, and start laughing uncontrollably. They’ll leap around, swing their arms and yell for hours, completely content with a game that offers no real objectives aside from leaping, swinging their arms and making a huge spectacle of themselves. To a kid that sounds like heaven, and it would be worryingly cynical to judge Kinect Party using the same metric we use to grade games like Halo 4 or The Walking Dead.
If you want a real, legitimate evaluation of Kinect Party, you won’t find it on the Internet. Nor will you find it in a gaming magazine, or by asking your coworkers. Instead, you’re going to have to set up a Kinect and plop a first grader in front of this title. They’ll tell you that the simple, instantly accessible gameplay Double Fine has infused Kinect Party with, coupled with the developer’s trademark whimsical, cartoonish art style makes Kinect Party an infinitely entertaining diversion. We have to assume that Double Fine realizes all of this, and has decided to offer Kinect Party as a free download from the Xbox Live Marketplace until the end of 2012 specifically so that parents who would otherwise be wary about blowing $60 on an untested franchise for their kids could instead feel good about giving their children a game that is both wholesome — you won’t find anything even remotely M-rated in Kinect Party — and witty, for the always attractive price of absolutely gratis.
I’d describe this as a canny marketing effort on the part of Double Fine, but in light of the game itself that seems way too cynical. Instead, this really feels like an effort by an established developer to simply do something nice for people. In that regard, we can’t not recommend Kinect Party. It’s not the best game you’ll play this year, and you may even injure yourself playing it, but if you’ve got rugrats running around, there are few video game offerings better suited for tuckering them out before bed time.
(This review was written using a downloadable Xbox 360 copy of Kinect Party provided by Double Fine Productions.)