Go on, admit it - you clicked on this review because you either saw the picture on the front page, and were overcome with a sudden rush of "Awwwwwww", or you've seen the adverts on TV, which have had much the same effect. Yes, as far as a gushing factor, that can turn a grown adult into a four year old child in the space of a few seconds goes, Kinectimals has it in bucketloads - it's a game that'll make you, and your children smile.
Entering the land of Lemuria, an island seemingly populated entirely by cats, lemurs, and rabbits, it's up to you, as the first human to set foot on the island in decades, to befriend its feline inhabitants. A virtual pet game in the vein of Nintendogs, Kinectimals will have you playing with your newly adopted pet, as you name, train, and basically have fun with the cubs on the island. Well, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.
A lot of Kinect's appeal lies in just how realistic the cubs movements and looks are. Their fur gives them that "fluffy kitten" look, and their animation alone never fails to raise a smile. For childs, particularly, the effect can be something enchanting, drawing them into a cute and cuddly world full of feline friends, that they'll rarely want to leave...
Arriving on the island, you'll first be greeted by Bumble, a strange, flying assitant, who'll guide you through the game. He's like the game's version of Jimminy Cricket, just a lot more useful. Helpfully reminding you of things you can do, explaining things when you're doing something for the first time, and even showing the actions you have to do, Bumble even says, if you're stuck, and don't know what to do, just watch him, and do as he does. It's a great helper for kids - and us, when we get stuck.
After the brief introduction, the game throws you in at the deep end, as you've then got the hardest decision you'll likely ever make - choosing your own cub. With six on offer, each as cuddly and fluffy as the last, we're not joking when we say it's a tough choice - and as every cub comes up to greet you as you scan over the list, smiling and rubbing its head playfully against the camera, you'll likely take as long as our own Sarah did, who insisted on stroking each of the cats for a good few minutes before eventually making her decision.
Then, it's time for the second most important decision you'll make when choosing a pet - what to name it. All you have to do is say the name out loud, several times, as the game tries to recognise what you're saying. We managed to get it to accept our name in four attempts, but Sarah wasn't quite so lucky. Deciding to call her Tiger Trevor, Sarah says out loud "Trevor", grinning from ear to ear. Apparently, she was being a bit quiet, as Kinect doesn't recognise it. "Trevor", she says again, but still no luck. Getting a bit confused, she turns around, and starts talking to me, apparently loud enough for Kinect to pick up, as it's started accepting the words she's saying as being names (it asks you to say it at least three times before it decides it's heard you correctly). Turning round, Sarah says "I think this one's deaf", only for the Tiger to suddenly look excited, as Bumble congratulates her on an amazing choice of name. "I think this one's deaf", the tiger.
Unlike Nintendogs, interacting with your cat of choice feels a lot more natural with Kinect. If you want to stroke it, all you have to do is reach your arms out, and stroke away. Moving from left to right will let you stroke its sides, and the cats are all incredibly receptive to fuss. A bit like a real cat.
But while games like Nintendogs got a bit old quite fast (after all, there's only so many times you can give a virtual dog a bath - unless your Sarah's four year old cousin, of course), Kinectimals has a lot more structure to it, and provides plenty of reasons to keep coming back. Your cub will constantly be bringing you new toys it wants to play with, deciding it wants to learn new tricks, or finding different areas of the island. New areas of the island bring with them new toys, or new mini games, which you can play together with your cub.
Whether it's driving a remote controller car around, terrorising your poor cub, or lobbing a virtual squeaky pig toy at a variety of statues, there's a wide range of mini games to play with your cub, and a high score board if you fancy taking it in turns with other players. Get a high score on each mini game, and you'll unlock a new item, whether it's a toy, something to decorate your house with, or an accessory for your cub.
It's this structure that gives you that extra reason to keep coming back, at least for a while - the same reason that wasn't really there with Nintendogs, unless you had a sudden urge to stroke your pet. With Kinectimals, you can see your relationship with your Tiger grow, both through how many tricks he/she can do, and in the shape of a bar, which shows your progress, and unlocks extra areas, and other goodies the more you play with your cub.
But is it a game for children only? No - in fact, it's anything but. While there's no doubting children with love Kinectimals, it's a game that goes down well with adults as well - just ask Sarah, who was trying to work out how she could rearrange her bedroom to fit Kinect in in order to play this. Unfortunately, she can't, as she'd never have room for it - but in terms of space, Kinectimals is one of the least demanding games in the entire launch line-up. We actually managed with slightly less than 6ft of space between us and the sensor - and children will need even less.
In fact, in terms of problems, there are few with Kinectimals. Other than the slightly dodgy voice detection, the only other problem we really had was with a minigame that asked you to kick a football, which kept, somehow, missing our kicks. It was enough of a problem that we gave up in frustration, and we can imagine many kids and adults doing the same thing.
On the whole, however, as a demonstration of Kinect, and as a launch game, Kinectimals is easily the pick of the bunch. Illustrating exactly how powerful a device Kinect can be - when it's used correctly - Kinectimals has laid down the gauntlet. Children will love it - and if Sarah's reaction is anything to go by, adults may like it even more...