Carnival Island: review


As the name suggests, Carnival Island is a minigame collection. Don’t pull that face. To be more specific, it’s a PlayStation Move minigame collection. No, wait, come back! It was with a healthy dose of cynicism and a proverbial heavy heart that we approached this game, putting the disc into our PS3 with great reluctance. Long story short: We were pleasantly surprised.

Despite being little more than a carnival simulator, this game has a story mode. Yes, a story mode. Wander therein and, after choosing your avatar from an intimidatingly wide choice of two (Generic White Boy or Generic White Girl) and your animal companion from a choice of several (we went for Curtis the giant Panda, of course), you’ll find yourself watching the intro. Said intro is a fully animated cartoon, which came as a surprise considering the current trend amongst developers to tell stories via a cheap and nasty sequence of static comic strip-style shots.

The island (oh yes, no lies in the title of this game) is split into four areas, all immediately accessible via the map. Each area contains two carnival stalls, a balloon stall, and a gift stall. At the balloon stall you can buy… a balloon… which you can’t choose… and serves no purpose other than to give your boy/girl something to hold. Um, yeah, okay. The gift stalls are also crammed full of things for your character to hold, as well as a few mildly diverting surprises. Now, onto the games themselves.

There are a total of seven game types,each with five varieties (which, via the power of advanced mathematics, we say amounts to a total of 35 games). While it’s hard to avoid thinking some of the game names sound dirty when you first hear them (“Ringers”? Really?), they’ve all been done extremely well – which includes making the game types sufficiently different. For example, the basketball games include one mode where you’re simply throwing balls to score baskets, and one where the baskets are constantly moving on three different levels but each stops temporarily when you score, encouraging you to line them up to score multiple baskets with one ball. One shooting game requires you to shoot as many targets of your colour as possible within a time limit, and another requires you to knock down as many bottles as possible with only limited ammo. One minibowl game is a simple case of aiming for the holes worth the most points, while another combines the idea with coloured targets in columns that control a fruit machine, with bonus points for a ‘jackpot’; and so on.

Just like the hoop-throwing games at the fair, only with more rocket launches and (much) less expense.

As for the controls… they’ve been done pretty much perfectly, taking full advantage of Move’s accuracy. The intricacies of something as deceptively simple as tossing a coin have been reproduced wonderfully, and it’s as embarrassingly easy to just miss your target when throwing a hoop as it is in real life. The realistic physics applied to everything is the icing on the accuracy cake. Shooting games utilise a reticule, rendering them a little too easy; but that does at least stop frustration setting in.

In terms of the story, the basic idea is that you restore the travelling island (yes) to its former glory by reinvigorating each area, which basically means unlocking all the minigames. This is achieved by meeting the requirements for at least two challenges in each game in turn. Many of these challenges actually require a decent level of skill to beat; but hitting the minimum to unlock all the games is fairly simple. Go on; there’s more of those cartoon story sequences in it for ya.

Special mention must go to the writing. Yes, really. Mostly, it’s exactly the kind of light hearted and forgettable filler you’d expect. Now and again however, it seems that somebody with an… interesting sense of humour – or possibly a secret stash of alcohol at work – got bored and threw in some unexpected surrealist humour. This is usually seen when a new animal (animals are also unlocked through challenges, but serve no obvious purpose) is introduced, and we only wish that we’d written down the exact words for posterity. This animal once got a cork stuck in her ear – what? He loves bacon – eh? This triceratops insists that he existed?!

Um, okay, you had to be there.

Use the hammer to launch the frog into the air. We know what you're thinking and no, you can't. That would be cruel.

Wander over to multiplayer mode, and you’ll find that you can play with one Move per person simultaneously – or do it the old fashioned way, by taking turns and passing the controller. We applaud Carnival Island for this, which makes it one of the very few Move games which allows friends and family to play together without shelling out for extra motion controllers. The games themselves, with their wonderful controls and simple premises, are perfect for pick-up-and-play sessions even for people unfamiliar with videogames, and are actually fun to play.

Presentation in the multiplayer menus is dull and uninspired, particularly when compared to the effort put into story mode; and the Magic Mirror – where you can manipulate your on-screen image with three different effects and save photos to the hard drive – is bafflingly absent. In fact, the Magic Mirror highlights Carnival Island’s biggest failing; its lack of ambition.

The mirror is just for fun, with no points to be scored or challenges to be met. Why not have more distractions like this; isn’t that in keeping with the idea of a carnival atmosphere? Why not, in fact, allow the mirror’s three effects to be combined? What this game does it does very well; but despite dressing up prosaic activities in imaginative clothing, it rarely offers the player anything above and beyond what it has to. As a result, despite being ideal for family play, it isn’t the fascinating tour of fun it could have been.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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