Carnival Island is light on story but the gist of it is that a brother and sister are standing around bored when the wind blows two carnival tickets to them. Brother and sister eagerly make their way to the carnival entrance where they are greeted by the cheerful owner Happy Jack and his panda bear assistant Curtis. The carnival hasnít had many visitors lately and all the colour has gone out of it as a result. Happy Jack tells the kids that it is up to them to bring magic (and colour) back to the carnival by winning games and exploring the park.
Carnival Island comprises of four areas, though only one area is unlocked to start off with. In the first area there are two sets of games to play as well as two shops where you can buy balloons or gifts with any tickets earned from the games. This basic structure applies to all four areas making a total of seven game types to play - Ringers, Mini-bowl, Hoops, Frog Bog, Coin Toss, Shooting Gallery and Perfect Pitch - as well as a magic mirror to play around with. There are five minigames of each game type (except Ringers which only has four) making a total of thirty-four minigames to play.
In the first mini-bowl game you roll balls up a ramp and into targets, and once again the highest score wins. In the second game the targets have been replaced by a 4x4 grid of face down cards. Hitting a card flips it over to reveal either grass or a snake part. Your task is to locate all three snakes in a limited number of attempts. The other three games are much the same, thereís a game of slots where you have hit colour-coded holes in sequence to score big and another where youíre in a race and by rolling your balls into higher-scoring targets you move faster in the race.
The name Hoops gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect from this game. Basically in each game you have to throw a ball into the hoop, though the rules of each game are different enough to keep them interesting in the short-term. In one game you hold onto a basket and catch balls being shot at you by a cannon, turning the tables temporarily.
The Coin Toss games are simple affairs and usually involve you flipping a coin onto the target areas. In one game you have to flick coins into cups with the cup rising each time you get a coin in there to reveal a score. Be careful of bombs though Ė they must be defused in short order or they will explode and the cups will drop down again. The coolest game (and also buggiest) is Gold Digger, in which you flip coins onto a pile of blocks. Whichever block the coin lands on is removed from the pile, revealing a hint of where some buried treasure is. Find the treasure before youíre out of coins to score big points.
Shooting Gallery is much as you would expect. You shoot your cork-gun at targets to rack up the points. In a couple of the games you have to shoot criminals, protecting your friends or your gold in the process. Shooting the bulls-eyes on a target earns you double points.
None of the games here are particularly challenging to learn so kids of all ages should be able to pick them up in just a couple of turns. Mastering the games is another matter though Ė for each game there are a number of challenges many of which are easy, but a few are genuinely tough. Trying to land all ten coins into a cup, or piloting a frog into each flower, or getting twenty bulls-eyes in a row will test even the most capable playersí skills. Happily the Move feels extremely accurate in all of the games, making it easy to learn from your mistakes and get closer to perfection.
Completing challenges unlocks cute little animals who then walk around the park and cheer you on during games. There are heaps of them to unlock, which should keep the kids busy and interested for a while. Also, youíre rewarded with tickets after every game and the tickets can be used to buy little toys like a foam sword, an ice-cream, a brush (hooray?) and a vast assortment of other stuff. Itís all a bit of fun and adds to the carnival atmosphere.
The gamesí story mode is single-player (unless you take turns), but there is also a party mode. Itís a bit limited but up to four people can play, with either one or two Move controllers. There are two party options; one where you play five random games against each other, or one where you pick up to five games to play against each other. Your finishing position determines how many points you earn for each game, and whoever has the most points at the end wins.
Visually the game wonít win any awards but itís all bright and colourful enough, not to mention cute enough to instantly appeal to younger kids. At the start of the story mode and every time you open up a new game area you get a short cartoon featuring the kids, Happy Jack and his panda helper Curtis. The cartoons have a Studio Ghibli-style and it works well. The carnival grounds are soon swarming with animals youíve unlocked, making it a fun place to walk around. Not that there is much walking to be done Ė you go from game to game via a menu Ė but after selecting a game you see your character walking to the games, and it all looks decent enough.
Carnival Island is a fun collection of minigames, that exudes colour and cuteness at every turn. With cheerful music, bright and pretty visuals and a series of fun but undemanding games itís sure to be a hit with younger kids. People of all ages can enjoy it, but the reality is older players wonít take long to unlock most of the content and tire of the simplistic games. So if you have young kids that you want to keep busy for a few hours or a couple of days these holidays, Carnival Island might be just the trick. At the reduced price of $49.95 it just may be worth bringing this carnival home with you.
Review By: Mike Allison