Kinect's already got a reputation for being home to some awful minigame compilations, with dross like Game Party in Motion and Deca Sports Freedom like a lead weight on the overall quality of the sensor's gaming catalogue. You'd be forgiven, then, for expecting Carnival Games: In Action (also known as Carnival Games: Monkey See, Monkey Do) to be another complete disaster, but we're relieved to report it's anything but.
Developer Cat Daddy Games is to be commended for avoiding many of the pitfalls that have plagued early Kinect software so far. Navigation is straightforward and responsive — whichever hand is nearer the sensor controls the cursor, players hold their left or right hand aloft to start a game and everything has a pleasingly chunky navigation style that avoids the twitchy up-a-bit, down-a-bit sessions we've all experienced with Kinect games so far. Likewise, we had no problems getting a second player into the game, and the game rarely — if ever — picked up the wrong player's movements.
With 20 games and attractions to take part in, there's a decent amount of content to get your teeth into. Passing point milestones in each game will grant 5 or 10 tickets to redeem against prizes, while achieving a top score will unlock a new costume or item for your Avatar to wear in-game. Purchasing and unlocking all the items — sadly only for use in-game, as we'd love our ninja pirate to carry over onto Xbox Live — will take countless hours, so dedicated gamers have plenty to aim for.
Naturally not all the games are stone-cold classics, but there's generally more good than bad. Among the highlights are the throwing games: Alley Ball and Ring Fling both excel at creating the sensation of actually throwing the object, with direction and power accurately modelled, and these admittedly simple games are addictive in their own right.
Probably the single most enjoyable minigame is Crash Test Dummy, a slightly different take on bizarre TV game show Hole in the Wall. The idea is to replicate the on-screen pose as accurately as possible, covering gold bricks while avoiding black ones. It's unashamedly silly, made more so by the constant on-screen presence of a video of the player getting into all sorts of ridiculous poses.
The minigame called Monkey See, Monkey Do is another bizarre one, having you dance along to Cotton Eye Joe before mimicking a monkey's pose, with photos at the end to show exactly how stupid you looked. Dance Central it ain't, but it's fun.
In fact, there's not much here that isn't fun, though the low points are generally games that rely on reflexes: Strength Test and Shark Tank rely on you hitting your marks with accuracy, and although there's only a little input delay there's still enough to make you miss your shot. This problem is exacerbated by the fact you can't wait for another chance to come around — if you miss your opportunity you fail the round, so you're almost encouraged to make rash shots, which doesn't make for good games.
Other games you'll likely fire up just once are the Pig Race, where you lean side-to-side while slapping an imaginary hog for extra speed, and Rocket to Mars, a minigame so simple we were amazed to finish it on our first try with 100% success. It's fair to say that the disc contains a real mix of good games and mediocre ones, but the highlights are enough to paper over the cracks of the poor ones.
Should you wish to cash in your tickets for something other than Avatar costumes, you can either take a spin on the Wheel of Chance or talk to Wodin the Wizard, a Zoltar-like attraction that uses voice recognition to ask you riddles or grant you a wizard name. The voice recognition works surprisingly well — it responded well to our answers to the devious riddles — and receiving a daft wizard name may cause some sniggers in a party situation, but it won't likely bring you back for more.
That really is the crux of Carnival Games on Kinect: longevity. Activities have just one difficulty and one level, and while achieving top scores on all attractions will take inhuman gaming skills you can't help but wish there were more to see. Many of the good games are just short enough to have you wanting one more go, but after a while you'll feel you've seen it all before, and the feeling wanes. It's a real shame, as the mechanics here are undeniably solid but there's not always the depth of content to back it up.
Carnival Games: In Action is a surprisingly enjoyable compilation of activities and games that is almost as much fun on your own as it is with a friend. The controls are solid, the menu navigation actually works and there's a stack of stuff to unlock, but it should be noted you'll be earning most of it by repeating the same games over and over. If you're not afraid of repetition this is a worthwhile addition to your Kinect collection.