So far the life of the Playstation Move accessory has been a relatively inauspicious one. Whilst the technology itself has proven to be very accurate and versatile, the accompanying software has failed to make it anything other than a curiosity, a situation not helped by the fact that its implementation into some of the big AAA titles has still felt somewhat shoehorned in this year. Carnival Island is the latest Move focused game from Sony that hopes to change this trend. Ostensibly a mini-game collection, Carnival Island is clearly aimed at the kids and family market, after all its relation (in name only) to the wildly successful Carnival Games series on the Wii is hardly accidental. Unfortunately whilst the package that Sony’s Santa Monica Studio (along with new developer Magic Pixel) have put together is aesthetically very pleasing, it masks a serious lack of ambition and depth that conspire to make the value proposition of the game a hard one to justify.
Set on a magical flying island, housing an old abandoned Carnival, the game charges you (as one of a pair of kids who happen across the island one day) with restoring each of the Carnival’s games and zones to its former glory. The slender story is nonetheless fairly well told through silent, Studio Ghibli-esque, cutscenes, making bold use of colourful and crisp animation. Once you reach the Carnival itself you play your way through seven stalls (technically eight, but one is merely a photo-booth style app for the Playstation eye) each comprising a number of related mini-games. Immediately it should become clear that there isn’t actually much to this package. Whilst each of the seven mini-games has several variants, they aren’t, on the whole, different enough to make up for a distinct lack of variety within each stall.
The core concepts for each of the stalls is based around a traditional Carnival game, however even within these little is done to invest these games with much creativity or invention. The ring-toss game is just that, a chance to throw virtual hoops over virtual prizes and pegs. By the time you reach your fifth variant on this style of game you’ll likely be somewhat tired of it. Similarly the coin toss has you flicking a coin onto a series of platform to score points, a basic premise that never alters throughout the six variants of this game that are available. Games like these are so slender as to be barely there and it seems unlikely after playing through all the games on offer that there will be many you feel the need to revisit.
It is a real shame that the strong visual look and nature of the story couldn’t have lead to more involving and interesting gameplay opportunities. A magical flying Carnival has already been established in the narrative, but it goes no further than window dressing and has no impact on the games themselves which seems like a wasted opportunity. By the time you have worked your way round to the last of the booths there are only a few mini-games that stand out, despite there being incentives to go back and complete challenges (some of which are fiendishly hard and require a commitment to each stall that few will be prepared to give). As you play you accumulate tickets, which in turn allow you to purchase balloons and items from nearby vendors, but neither really impacts the gameplay at all. Exploring each area is incredibly restrictive as well; with only the Move controller you are essentially clicking on areas of a map to move between stalls and there is no independent exploration available.
Despite their lack of creativity the one area that does impress in the game is the Move controls themselves. They feel responsive and accurate, with the shooting gallery games standing out and I Move’s accuracy and fidelity being impressive throughout. Similarly the games that involve throwing objects (which turns out to be most of them) respond well to the smallest changes in your action and the physics and behaviour of the objects in the world give you a very tangible and rewarding feeling. Unfortunately these feelings quickly fade as the novelty of each stall wears off and it’s even hard to picture kids getting too excited about the games included here. They all feel too dry and can be tricky at times as well, with the instructions on occasion being unclear as to what exactly you are trying to accomplish. As you play you do unlock companion characters who then inhabit the Carnival and cheer you on in games, but they are purely more window dressing in a game that desperately needs more content. The game is also beset by some annoying loading screens every time you need to move to a different area, or have to back out to access a new game; it’s a minor issue but one that stops the flow of the game too often.
The game supports multiplayer both through multiple Move controllers or allowing you to take turns. Helpfully the multiplayer mode is separate from the single player and has all the mini-games already unlocked from the start which is a nice touch. Otherwise the games remain the same as in the Story mode and the inclusion of playing with others isn’t really enough to make up for the fundamental problems with the mini-games as they are.
Overall Carnival Island is something of a disappointment. Its position as a budget game does go some way to excusing the rather thin content within, but its biggest problem is that the content that it does have just isn’t very compelling or interesting. The mini-games themselves are well put together, and the Move implementation is great, but they ultimately just aren’t that fun to play, alone or together. It’s a shame too as the game has a bright and attractive visual style and a number of things that set it above the usual kids fare, sadly the actual gameplay isn’t amongst them.
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