There is quite the stigma surrounding mini-game collections, with many immediately dismissing them as being nothing more than throwaway experiences aimed solely at children. The same could be levelled at Carnival Games from Magic Pixel Games / SCEA Santa Monica Studio, especially when the story mode kicks off with a cartoon-style effort.
When reaching the main menu, players are asked to select from one of nine different animals to represent their favourite pet (panda, fish, sheep, lizard, and so on). Following this it is straight to the action, accompanied by a considerably pleasant and gentile soundtrack that is surprisingly robust for what may come across as a budget release.
Story mode starts with a beautiful animated sequence featuring two children playing near the docks on the peer, finding two tickets and then handing them over to a strange aged man who transforms an old carnival area into something grandiose, before being welcomed in by a dancing panda called Curtis. This sets the scene for what is nothing more than a collection of small party games that, shockingly, prove to be rather enjoyable, in most cases. Sadly, the lovely hand-drawn cut-scenes are replaced in the main game by dated looking glossy 3D polygonal models, but once accustomed to the dip in visual class, the focus changes to how the Move’s motion capabilities are put to great use throughout the one-player story and the party side where two, three or four players can jump in on the fun.
After selecting the main boy or girl, it’s on to cracking the 315 in-game trophies, trying to unlock the five animated sequences hidden within the game and, more importantly, bring the carnival island back to life, with the older gentleman from the introductory section, Happy Jack, announcing that you should swiftly play the games and explore the island to bring the magic back to the carnival. To do this, there is a map at the lower part of the screen that can be clicked on with five main areas to move to, with over 35 mini-games to partake in. There is the lighthouse over at Shell Beach where Frog Bog and Hoops can be discovered, the Ferris Park that has Coin Toss and Magic Mirror, Tree House Way houses Perfect Pitch and Shooting Gallery, and the initial Boardwalk has Ringers and Mini-bowl. Each of the games listed are broken down into different parts, with a variety of play styles being unlocked as more progress is made.
There are also other attractions around the island, with players able to head over to Carnie and buy one of his special balloons, or hear one of his many rumours, such as the one about how a neighbouring island, Vegetable Museum Island, finally closed the year prior due to poor attendance. Granny’s Price Booth is another key hotspot, where you can check out any prizes in her magic cabinet. Playing through mini-games earns more tickets, and then it’s a simple case of spending said cash on the numerous toys, like a foam sword, brush, confetti cannon, sceptre and bubble wand, which are just a few tasters from the list of 20.
When visiting a new area for the first time there is the smart visual affect of the grey, drab land being washed over by heaps of colour that sadly wears thin after the second time it has been viewed, but is short-lived enough to avoid being too repetitious. As for the actual activities element, Hoops is easily one of the most enjoyable, with the Move controller used for throwing basketballs into hoops that move to alternate locations each time you score, ones that are constantly moving, or even try the reverse where you hold a net and must catch balls flying in your face. Hopper Boppers is a pretty smart one as well, firing frogs off a launch pad into lily pads or to knock over targets using a hammer, with the harder you hit, the further the frog flies. Mini-Bowl is another strong contender, with players rolling the ball up the alley, just like in regular bowling, but the aim here is to roll a ball as quickly as possible to make it flick off the ramp at the end and launch it into one of the point targets.
More points mean more tickets, and when enough tickets have been accrued, extra animals are woken up, such as Megan the Mammoth, the last magical one of her kind in the world or Hercules the Rabbit. The number of tickets gained is dependent on the amount of points scored in a round, so improving skill levels is highly recommended. When starting one of the rounds, pressing Triangle allows you to see the challenges available, and in completing enough in a particular mini-game, this will in turn open up another variation on the theme or wake a new animal up. For instance, in the ring toss mode there is the chance to throw rings onto rockets or the horns of Narwhals, or there is Snake in the Grass option on the bowling side, trying to slot balls into holes where snakes are hiding, avoiding sections of grass.
The biggest draw for Carnival Island is most certainly that age-old ‘just one more go’ attraction. With a silhouette of a character guiding how to carry out the required motions, everything is intuitive for any age range, meaning fun can be had in a few seconds without fear of an awkward control setting. However, what can start to prove frustrating is how there is no way to skip the end of mini-game sequence.
Should you wish to quickly finish up and delve back into a particular favourite to complete even more of the challenges, there is a slow wait whilst the child runs onto a stage with spotlights flying around and animals cheering in the background as the points are converted into tickets. These five-to-ten second periods really do build up and anyone wanting a swift continuation of the action will grow tired of the pointless, prolonged moments. Just imagine how much time is wasted when on the road to claiming all the trophies found in Carnival Island! Thankfully, for the developer and player alike, there is sufficient enjoyment to be found across the island, although a wider range of activities would have been preferable. For now, however, this is a strong start for family and children to try out, despite not quite having as many mini-games as required to maintain long-term attention.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PS3 Release Date: 18/11/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Carnival Island for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.