When the PlayStation Move launched a little over a year ago, it did so with a wide variety of genres. One of those was the minigame compilation, a genre that makes up a good chunk of the Nintendo Wii gaming library. Amazingly enough, despite the similar control schemes, the minigame/party genre hasn't become a bulk of the Move library, as some have feared. None of the minigame compilations released have done particularly well on the system. With no one else seemingly willing to try their hand at it, Sony decided to give it another go with Carnival Island, a game that seems like it's intended for gamers who were hoping 2K Games' Carnival Games series would make its way to the PS3. While the game may not exactly be ambitious, it's still good enough for those looking for a decent minigame collection on their console.
Surprisingly, there is an actual story line attached to the game. Long ago, Carnival Island was bristling with activity, as children from all over would come in and have fun with the games and animal mascots. Sadly, the island hasn't been visited in quite a while, leaving the park is disarray and sapping away the color in the process. You play either the brother or sister in a sibling duo that comes across two tickets to the park. Upon seeing the tickets handed over, the head of the carnival realizes that you two may be the ones to bring life back into the park. Thus begins your quest of exploring the island and returning the carnival to its former glory.
The island is split into four different areas, with two games located in each area. Each game has its own set of activities and challenges, such as hitting certain score milestones or hitting every scoring area in one game. The more activities you unlock and participate in, the better the chances are of the carnival regaining its former pizzazz. As you play each carnival game, you earn tickets that can be redeemed for balloons and prizes, which can unlock certain events in the area. You also awaken hibernating animals so they can roam around the carnival and cheer you on as you play.
There are seven different game types included in the title and one activity set as well. The minibowl games have you rolling balls up ramps and into special targeted areas. Variations of this include your standard skeeball lane, a racing game where different point targets determine how far your racer moves, and a slot machine-style game, where hitting colored targets determines which symbol shows up. Ringer games have you throwing rings toward several different targets, including rockets and bottles. Hoops is the popular carnival take on basketball and includes a few variations, such as moving baskets and standard shooting. Frog Bog games have you trying to launch frogs into lily pads or have them crash into objects. Perfect Pitch has you throwing balls at bottles, blocks, and even gophers. Coin Toss asks you to slide your coin or throw it into things or onto platforms. Finally, the Shooting Gallery features games where the object is to shoot down anything in your path under a time limit.
The Magic Mirror is less a game type and more an activity. Using the PS Eye, the screen emulates one of those funhouse mirrors that distorts your body. You can select any part of this mirror to distort as you see fit, take pictures and save it to the PS3. While the feature may seem like something you'd only check out once, kids (the intended audience for this game) may play with this feature more often.
Carnival Island falters because of some technical issues and design decisions. As you go through the game, you'll notice that there are tons of loading screens. Going in and out of each game produces a load screen, changing game types initiates one as well, and travelling to and from different parts of the carnival always ensures a load screen will show up. The load times aren't very long, but they aren't exactly short, either, so the frequency with which you see them starts to become rather annoying considering that the minigames don't last that long. The minigames are fine, but their variations start to wear on you after a while. Since the minigames take the same motions to execute, the feeling of wonder when discovering a new game wears off pretty quickly. The explanation of the rules at the beginning of each game becomes tedious since you know exactly what to do once you see the game.
The multiplayer is pretty accessible and fun under the right circumstances. You can pit up to four players against each other with either their own Move controller or by sharing a single controller. You can then choose up to five games to play, all of which are unlocked regardless of your story progress, and the scores for each game are translated into a circuit-style point system to determine the ultimate winner. There's also a mode that chooses the minigames if you're indecisive. However, during a few attempts to play it, the game seemed to favor one game type throughout the session instead of mixing up things between game types; this made for some boring matches.
Like several other minigame compilations before it, the controls in Carnival Island show off the Move's accuracy. Just about every game reacts to the sensitivity of the controller rather well, and slight changes to your pitch produces different results every time. Pointing also seems accurate enough in the shooting galleries, and the fact that either the Move button or the T trigger can be used for all actions ensures that none of the actions you perform will ever feel complicated.
The sound is neither spectacular nor off-putting. The music for the cut scenes provides an adventurous vibe while the score feels fitting for a carnival without being too cheesy. The voices are restricted to the carnies and shopkeepers, and their performances aren't too bad. The praise they give you for completing a game does get repetitive, but the clips are short enough. Meanwhile, your characters and the animals around you can only muster up grunts no matter how well you do, so while unlocking an animal is nice, don't expect to hear much from them at all.
Graphically, the game is good enough. The cut scenes come out with a soft anime style that almost looks like a Studio Ghibli production, and while the in-game graphics try to match that, it doesn't come very close. The environments are colorful and well detailed, and there's the sense that the booths are much more expansive than one thinks, since the game you're playing is repeated on either side. The human characters barely move, and when they do, it feels serviceable. The animals move more often as they cheer you on and sigh when you miss a target, but their animations seem the same. When introduced, for example, all of the birds go through the same routine while the four-legged animals do the same. Rarely do you see someone with an animation set that's unique. Those animals are rather well textured, but they give off a plastic sheen that makes them look like living toys instead of actual animals.
As it stands, Carnival Island isn't that bad of a minigame compilation. It looks and sounds fine, and the controls are exactly what one expects from a Move title. The ticket system and prizes serve as good incentives for players to keep playing long after the story has been completed, and the various challenges serves the same purpose. Still, the minigames can lose their charm since the variations aren't very different. The load times, coupled with a bland navigation system, reduce the fun one may have with the game. With that in mind, Carnival Island is a good rental for an afternoon or so, but it isn't worth owning unless you're constantly starved for minigames.
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