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Carnival Island – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Monday, 19 December 20116 Comments

It’s easy to be sniffy about Magic Pixel Games’ Move-using Carnival Island. Hey, I like to play hardcore games aimed at adults, and this is clearly not one of those. It’s also been so long since I was of the age that would — in theory — appreciate this, it’s hard to give a proper judgement without sounding patronising. So, now we’ve got that disclaimer out the way, let’s get on with the review.

Carnival Island puts players on a Skies of Arcadia-style floating island, where you will find the world’s friendliest carnival. It’s packed with loveable characters, like Curtis the Panda and Gabby the Jerboa (who “once got a cork stuck in her ear” — aww). It’s a place that couldn’t be any more inoffensive and saccharin, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In singleplayer mode, the player will work through 35 mini-games and attractions, unlocking them as they go until they’ve played them all and brought the magic back to the carnival. The player will be rewarded with a cutscene every time they complete a section and get a big cheerful one (with credits to boot) at the end. The cutscenes are lovingly drawn in an old-fashioned style which is very nice on the eye.

You are free to move between the stalls in just about any order you wish and take the game at your own pace. You can also take a break from playing and spend your hard-earned points on balloons and other trinkets. Amongst other things, you can even unlock a fountain and play around with the colour of its water. It’s all very charming.

Charming is one of the in-vogue words of recent years, but it’s appropriate for Carnival Island. It’s without a doubt charmingly polite, friendly and welcoming, and it’s more than a bit twee — even the art style is on the calmer end of the cartoon spectrum. But that, I fear, is an issue.

I’m not confident its style will have enough bite for it to resonate with the overstimulated kids of today, and I’m  even less confident about how well its gameplay will connect. It’s played at a leisurely pace with the player moving  between stalls and having lots of brief introductions. The gameplay is constantly being broken up and as a result it never manages to generate much momentum, and it definitely negatively impacts on the enjoyment.

The choice of mini-games, while mostly all enjoyable in their own right, can also get repetitive. Many are variations of the same concept and almost all of them are technique based — a few whack-a-mole style games, to allow for some spontaneous arm swinging, would have been appreciated to mix things up.

However, despite there being a limited selection, the mini-games are not necessarily the big problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re tossing rings, shooting hoops, swinging balls, firing a rifle or flipping some coins, you always feel in control and confident that your skills are being measured. It’s one of the most finely tuned uses of Move yet. No, its main issue is how you are (not) led from one game to the next. It simply lacks direction.

Carnival Island is being pushed as a family game, presumably to attract the party game buyers who come out in force at Christmas, but this isn’t a fair reflection of the game. There is multiplayer with up to four players, but it is simply a playthrough of a playlist of either pre-selected or randomly picked games. There is no structure to it, unlike many family games out there, and as a result it doesn’t have much longevity.

There is also the issue of its style. While it is completely pleasant and welcoming, it will quickly become tedious for most teenagers or adults. At best, it might keep you entertained for a couple of hours on Christmas afternoon. But maybe that’s fine, considering some of the low prices we’ve seen it going for online.

The best situation I can imagine for Carnival Island is that of a parent bonding with their child, using its accessibility to introduce their boy or girl to the medium. As I said earlier, it would be easy for me to be snooty about this, but Carnival Island will be a success if it can allow a parent and their child to have a wonderfully charming time together. I wouldn’t bet on it livening up your Christmas party though.

If there are any parents out there reading this — especially any who have played Carnival Island — drop us a comment below and share your experiences of the game.