Did you know that the mountain lion is the largest member of the cat family that actually purrs? No? Neither did we, although thanks to Kinect Nat Geo TV, we do now.
With some games, you feel a bit of apprehension when it comes to loading them up for review. It has the be said that the prospect of finding out all about animals from a budget-priced videogame product whilst using Kinect as a control method wasn’t necessarily the most mouth-watering, but we were genuinely surprised here.
The reason for the surprise is that Kinect Nat Geo TV is superb.
For an RRP of just £19.99, the package contains the first “season” of Nat Geo-themed content for Kinect TV - spread across two discs - with the topic at hand being “America the Wild.” Hosted by the genuinely enthusiastic and affable Casey Anderson, each of the eight interactive episodes provide about 30 minutes of content, and two Kinect-controlled mini-games (and an extra one, which is a medley of the first two.) These work nicely, with the player transformed into a bear, lion, or whatever animal is being looked at in the current episode. Gameplay is relatively simple – wait for birds to settle in the trees, and then jump out of the bushes to nab them, for example – but it all works really nicely. Movement detection is spot on, and obtaining the highest awards is quite challenging, meaning that there’s good reason to play through multiple times.
Other little challenges are included in each show in order to keep the target audience involved. These challenges come in two forms. The first is simplicity itself, with Casey asking players to take photos of specific scenes by shouting “Snap!” when the picture is in view. After the fact, your photos are judged and you’re awarded accordingly. Following on from that, if you find a “Sidetrack” during the show (by bellowing “Tracks!” when a graphical pawprint appears over the video), you’ll be asked a couple of questions to prove your skills as a naturalist or tracker. In one episode, you’re asked whether – based on what you’ve been told so far – the Mountain Lion that you’re tracking would have gone up to the hills to stalk its prey, or whether it would have waited in a bush to attack. Raising your left or right hand selects an answer, and if you get it wrong, Anderson provides encouragement (“That one really was tricky! You’ll get the next one!”) before reminding you of why the right answer is indeed right. It all feels completely natural and even though there’s a whole heap of learning going on and some of the questions are indeed quite tricky, it really doesn't feel like an educational experience where you're being spoon-fed information. Even non-school age players will learn a thing or two. If there are any questions about Kodiak bears in the pub quiz, Team KINECTaku is a shoo-in for the big prize.
That’s a direct cause of the fact that being from Nat Geo, the video content is absolutely outstanding. Provided in razor-sharp HD, there are a fair few jaw-dropping moments to be had as you play through. This high production value makes you watch - and listen - intently, and that's generally a good way to learn things.
Were it not for some really confused product options, Kinect Nat Geo TV would be picking up a maximum score here. No, we’re not kidding – it’s THAT good. But when you buy the retail package, you get a Season Pass card that promises a bunch of cool content and – you assume – more interactive episodes throughout the year. That isn’t the case. Looking further into the smaller print, it turns out that the subscription provides a season’s worth of streamable NON-interactive Nat Geo Wild shows. That’s still great value though, as at the time of this review at least 30 episodes are available to stream. To view them, you - confusingly - have to download an heftily-sized 880MB app. Once you've done that, you can watch the season pass episodes or play the interactive episodes in streaming mode without needing the disc in the drive, which kind of makes you wonder why a disc was needed in the first place.
To sell a product, you have to tell the user what they’re getting, and it just isn’t clear here. You know that you’re getting the eight interactive episodes on the disc, but beyond that, you aren't sure. When you buy the disc you need to grab the downloadable app to stream the season pass content, but you can play the interactive content via the disc or via that new app, which ate the cat who killed the rat that lived in the house that Microsoft built. Confused? We were too. What makes things worse is that if you fire up that app (which you have to), you get two identical sets of achievements listed in your Xbox Live profile. One for the Kinect Nat Geo TV DVD, and another for the app. This means that in order to get maximum Gamerscore here, you'll need to obtain the achievements twice - which just makes no sense.
Utterly confusing sales tactics aside, Kinect Nat Geo TV is excellent. The astounding and well-produced video content, entertaining and accurate interactive sections, and hours upon hours of non-interactive Nat Geo Wild episodes means that those with youngsters that are interested in wildlife will get a heck of a lot of use out of this. You might even catch yourself watching a few shows when they’re not around, as well. At £19.99, this is an absolute steal.