Funfairs epitomise family fun, so it's no real surprise that carnival themed games have proved a huge hit on other motion controlled platforms. Carnival Island is Sony's attempt at capturing that audience for the PlayStation Move, and while it's not without its problems, it still offers a competent selection of enjoyable mini-games, fuelled by impressive motion control implementation and a surprisingly strong art direction.
The game's a huge departure for God Of War developer Sony Santa Monica, who worked alongside studio up-start Magic Pixel to produce the casual title. Packed with pretty colours and a Studio Ghibli inspired aesthetic, Carnival Island has a much stronger art direction than its casual intentions might lend you to believe. Its floating carnival hub-world might lack interaction, but it at least adds colourful context to the game's collection of activities.
Playing as a mute sibling duo, you happen upon two lost tickets and embark on an adventure that sees the magic returned to a run-down carnival and its collection of adorable mascots. There's a charm to the manner in which Carnival Island reveals its slightly sombre tale, and while the narrative is largely inconsequential, the game's stylish cut-scenes add a warmth to the package that isn't necessary but is entirely welcome.
Given the game's structure as a mini-game compilation, the narrative serves as little more than exposure for the activities within. The game's not particularly ambitious with its roster of funfair diversions, but it's hard to argue with the implementation. Mini-games such as Hoops, Ring-Toss and Coin Flip take full advantage of the PlayStation Move controller's unrivalled accuracy, and while the final experience is tuned for children, offer intuitive activities by virtue of the device's ability to react exactly as you'd expect it to.
Hoops is perhaps our favourite mini-game, a simple activity that tasks you to toss a basketball into a trio of moving hoops. The accuracy of the tracking is on par with the precision of banner titles such as Sports Champions, meaning the challenge of the mini-game depends on your own real-world skill level as opposed to mechanics within the game. The implementation simply works, with every toss landing exactly where you'd expect it to. It serves as a stark reminder of just how capable the Move technology is.
The intuitive nature of the Hoops stall is replicated across the entirety of Carnival Island's roster. Bowls — which sees you rolling balls into points pockets — and Pitch — which has you tossing balls at a stack of cans — all have a tangible connection to the real-world, meaning if you miss a throw by inches, you know exactly what to adjust in your throwing arc to correct the error in your second try. Other stalls such as the Shooting Gallery — largely what you'd expect — and Frog Bog — an unusual activity in which you hit pads with a hammer in order to fling rubber frogs onto lily pads — offer slightly more ambiguous inputs, but are no less precisely implemented.
Rounding out the package is Ring Toss, Coin Flip and Magic Mirror. The latter is more a toy than a mini-game, which uses the PlayStation Eye camera to take zany photographs which can be used to replace the game's bog-standard loading screens. It personalises the experience a bit, but is a stark reminder of just how much time Carnival Island spends loading.
Despite being designed as a casual pick-up-and-play mini-game compilation, Carnival Island is far from the most intuitive experience on the market. The game conceals information you wish it would be more open about, while constantly repeating information you understand: there's really no need for the game to explain each mini-game every time you play it. This is information that should appear once, and then be relegated to a button prompt should you need to revisit it again in the future.
But the game's biggest problem is how tiresome browsing through the mini-games becomes after just a couple of hours' play. The game's hub-world is divided into four districts, each including two activities. In order to switch between the activities you'll need to move into a different district, prompting awkward menu browsing and lengthy loading times. Furthermore, while you're constantly unlocking "alternative" versions of each of the title's mini-games — which are largely driven by the same input methods, but with different points scoring mechanisms — you'll need to quit back out to the menu and manually select which version of the game you want to play before you can participate in it. Load. Menu. Load. Play. Load. Menu. It all becomes a tedious after a while — and it's frustrating because it's easy to see how the whole experience could have been positively streamlined.
Thankfully the game's presentation is delightful throughout. Bright colours and lovable animal mascots — unlocked upon completing challenges in each mini-game — begin to populate the world as you progress, adding to the game's idea of a forgotten environment being awoken from its slumber.
The audio motifs are appropriate too, with chirpy melodies adding to the excitable atmosphere. It all gets a bit repetitive after a short amount of investment, but that's ultimately the hook of funfair music isn't it? Prepare to fight some seriously infectious bars of music.
While you'll have seen many of Carnival Island's mini-games within an hour or two, the game does offer some hooks to keep you playing. A Ribbons system rewards your progress, acting as an in-game currency with which you can purchase new activities and objects for your character to hold — such as ice creams, balloons and more. Each mini-game also offers a set of mini-achievements, which must be completed in order to "master" each game. There's some seriously devilish challenges in here — over 300 in total — so if you want the game's Platinum trophy you're really going to have to make a serious investment. By the time we'd reached the game's credits, we had about 120 challenges complete — so there's still plenty to do beyond the game's conclusion.
Of course the biggest draw for a game like Carnival Island is likely to be its multiplayer. Here everything is unlocked from the off-set, so you don't even need to touch the title's Story mode to get playing. Carnival Island is pretty accommodating, allowing you to play multiplayer with any number of PlayStation Move controllers and up to four players. The mini-games are appealing enough to prompt more than a few competitive games amongst family, and the likes of Hoops and Ring Toss could theoretically keep siblings hooked for hours.
But, as with most casual games, you'll definitely reach a point where you feel as though you've seen everything and are ready to move on. Despite the game's multitude of challenges and cosmetic unlocks, there's not enough depth to Carnival Island to keep you coming back for more outside of the odd party game. Developer Magic Pixel definitely deserves kudos for at least trying to add some longevity, but replayability continues to be an issue with games of this nature.
In all though, Carnival Island is an inviting mini-game compilation that gets a lot right. Its slick PlayStation Move implementation is a stark reminder of the device's potential, and the entire package is buoyed by a strong art direction and a good variety of activities. Sadly it's let down by a poorly thought out interface and some inexplicable loading issues.