The original Kinectimals was one of our favourite Kinect games – cute cats, masses of mini-games, and the added benefit of not having to stand halfway down the street to make it work. Me and 'I Think This One's Deaf' the tiger had quite a few adventures in our time together – falling off obstacle courses, scaring him with remote control cars and finally mastering the jump trick without landing in a crumpled heap of legs and fur on the floor.
Kinectimals: Now With Bears takes the first virtual pet-cum-minigame-collection, and, as you may have guessed from the title, adds a selection of bears. For those who already own the game, the 'Now With Bears' part is actually an expansion pack for the original game, called 'Bear Island' and will be available for 1200 Microsoft Points (about £10.20) from the Xbox Live Marketplace – but don't worry if you don't own the original, but still want to play with the bears, as a full retail disc version, with both the original Kinectimals game and it's new 'Now With Bears' expansion will be hitting stores at the same time for the normal RRP (so expect to pay around £40).
Like it's predecessor, Kinectimals: Now With Bears has you arriving on an island that no-one's set foot on for a good few years – an island just off the coast of Lemuria you explored in the first game. The original game had you and your furry cat cubs exploring the island in search of the treasure the kind and gentle Captain Blackwood never got a chance to find. On the new Bear Island, you and your new bear cub are at it again, this time searching for a “mysterious device buried underground” that Captain Blackwood had also been after. It's not just a simple case of throwing a bear-skin over the other game either, as there's new mini-games – like the fishing one we tried, as well as juggling and tree-climbing – and some new toys and tricks for your new bear buddy to learn.
You start with a choice of five different bear cubs – a Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Cinnamon Bear, Glacier Bear or Polar Bear, and unlock a further six as you play through the ten-hour long adventure, as you solve the mysterious Fiddler's quest. Add into this the original game, which was about the same length, and you're looking at quite a lengthy game.
Playing with the demo panda, first we taught it a few tricks – which involve you doing a specific action, which your Kinectimal then copies. For example, holding your arms up teaches him to beg, spinning on the spot teaches them to spin, and lying down on the floor shows him how to play dead – all of which work pretty much flawlessly. Until you get to teaching him the 'Kinectimal Shuffle', a little dance – here you need to go from the beg position, holding your arms up and then into a star jump, which is a lot harder than it seems. It's a problem we find with a lot of the Kinect games when they're looking for a very specific set of moves, and if you don't do it just right, it doesn't think you're doing it at all.
What do you automatically think of when you think about bears? If you answered fishing, then you're in luck – because that was the second activity we tried. Here you were stood in front of a pond, and your Kinectimal requested various objects it wanted you to attempt to pull out the water. Lazy thing. In order to fish, you have to look for little ripples in the water and aim your fishing rod there, by extending your right arm as if you were chucking a fishing rod, and keeping it out until you get a bite, before miming reeling the fish in with your left hand.
To finish off, we had a quick game of catch with a beach ball. Here you need to keep a rally going between you and your bear by reaching out and miming hitting the ball as it flies towards you – once you manage ten of them, you get a bonus ball which you need to hit back as well as the original ball. In typical Kinect style, you need to make sure you use your right hand/foot to hit back balls on the right hand side of the screen, and your left hand/foot for the left – but other than that, it's quite straightforward.
What they also showed us was the Kinectimals mobile game, for Windows Phone 7, which lets you take your Kinectimal with you rather than leaving it cooped up at home where it'll get bored and inevitably chew up the furniture. Using the Touch Screen of the phone, you can stroke your pet, much like Nintendogs on the DS – complete with sparkles if it's good, and glares from your pet if you pull it's tail or whatever. You can transfer your progress and Kinectimal from the phone to the Xbox 360 and back – using the appropriately-named Kinectivity option in the menu, which gives you a QR-type code, which once held up to the Kinect Sensor will import your Kinectimal, and any progress you made on the train that morning, into your Xbox 360 game. The phone version isn't just a portable tiger-stroking simulator either – it has it's own map with worlds to unlock and challenges to complete, much like it's console big brother.
Out this October, Kinectimals: Now With Bears will retail for about £39.99 on a disc which includes the original Kinectimals adventure, as well as the brand new bear-related game, or is available as a download on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points (about £10.20) for those who already own the original Kinectimals. It's a bear-gain!