Carnival Island

Step Right Up!

Sony heads into mini-game territory with Carnival Island, and delivers an entertaining set of challenges.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 27, 2011
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Traditional gamers have lamented the wave of simple, accessible experiences that the Wii ushered in this generation with more than a little whining. Offering a collection of mini-games, they claim, somehow undermines the idea of a full, proper game with plot and advancement and challenge... or something. Clearly these games are popular stuff; 2K launched an entire subdivision of their publishing wing with 2K Play dedicated to just such experiences, and the games have sold quite well.

Personally, I have absolutely zero problem with slapping together a group of activities that can be easily (and, most importantly, accurately) replicated with motion controls. Even here in the office, the news that Sony was publishing their own collection of carnival games was met with a few eye rolls and dismissive comments, but when done right, these kinds of experiences are wonderful ways to get the entire family involved. Don't get me wrong, I'll still happily rail against glorified screen savers masquerading as dance "games" and clunky, lazy collections of half-baked activities where skill isn't needed, but thankfully Carnival Island is neither of those things.

In truth, they're a surprisingly accurate representation of heading to the local carny attraction, minus the rigged games and cheap prizes, offering literally all the fun and challenge without a significant up-front cost. More to the point, they're a great way to see just how accurate the PlayStation Move (which is required, naturally) really is. The much-vaunted 1:1 motion controls have scarcely been used to this much effect outside of the pack-in Sports Champions, which got way more use when we first got our Moves than it had any right to be. There's a definite attempt to leverage not on the basic motion tracking of the Move, but the fidelity and 3D resolution of those movements.

The result is a game that plays almost exactly like it would during real-life attempts at things like skeeball, ring tosses, shooting galleries and any number of carnival activities that tempt those giving them a go into "just one more try". Spread out across various parts of a seemingly derelict carnival bathed in muted (or even greyscale) colors, Carnival Island wraps the most basic bits of a story involving a small boy and girl playing these games to breathe life back into the island around a genuinely engaging set of challenges.

There's really very little to the underpinning mechanics; by using the Move controller (just one) to scoot around a map, the boy/girl can participate in the events freely, earning tickets that can be used to purchase balloons they can carry around or unlock pets that tag along for the adventure. Each game has multiple challenges that range from simple points goals to absolutely evil highest-tier goals like never missing a shot or hitting seemingly impossible targets in, say, a coin toss. All the activities are based around a using the Move Button (you know, the big huge one in the middle of the controller) and can be groked by just looking at the loading screen info graphics.
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