Inside Pulse 12

Review: Active Life: Magical Carnival (Nintendo Wii)

Active Life Magical Carnival
Genre: Party Game
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Bandai
Release Date: 10/25/2011

A few years ago I reviewed the first Active Life game, Outdoor Challenge, and since that time there have been multiple releases in the series (Extreme Challenge and Explorer), though while I have not played those titles I did get a chance to play the most recent release, Active Life: Magical Carnival. Outdoor Adventures provided an interesting way of encouraging exercise while offering a different spin on using a dance-pad like peripheral. Magic Carnival seems to focus less on trying to be an exercise game and more on trying to create another game that uses the pad to create a different input experience across several mini-games. Is this carnival really a magical experience?

Depending on your age, yes, it is.

When you boot up the game it gives you a couple of different options on how to play through the game. You can play Dream Attractions, which is essentially the single player career mode for this game. In it you play through the different minigames, and when completing the games it will take a picture of the character or Mii that you are playing as. These pictures get added to the attraction’s different brochures. Completing these brochures makes the park become more popular, as it gains more customers and “Ëœgrows’ more mini-games are unlocked. This can be played both single or multiplayer.

There’s also a Free Play mode where you can tackle the minigames in whatever order you want to want with multiple players. Then there’s a Party at the Park mode, which is different from Free Play in that it adds a versus style mode to playing the different games. You can choose Battle or Team Battle and play through different rounds of mini-games. Depending on how you do you get points, and the team or person with the most points wins.

Then, in a mode that kind of seems odd to me, there is the Let’s Go Out! mode, where you try to woo a different Mii character by taking them out on a date in the park. You can complete different “Ëœdates’ with some of the minigames and earn heart points. Gaining heart points unlocks other dating options. There aren’t really that many date simulator games in the States, and a mode for one in a game that seems so obviously meant for a younger age group is kind of odd. You can only take a Mii character on a date once per day, and I can’t see some younger players really enjoying a game mode that they can only use every 24 hours. But it isn’t a bad addition at all, there is no mature content about it, and if anything it’s a cute game mode that is there if anyone does want to play it.

Graphically it is hard to judge the game. The Wii has never been a graphical powerhouse, and now that it has been around for several years the dated hardware cannot really compete with a lot of modern titles. That said, the game has a specific cartoonish art style that works thematically with the game, and really, this game would not benefit from having super sharp HD graphics. Aesthetically the game looks pretty good with the art direction they went in. There are a lot of small details in the mini-games, despite the brevity of each individual game. Like with the Ghost Hunter minigame, there are a lot of objects in the background, and the park itself looks good. The game makes use of the Mii characters for your character and placing the Miis saved on your Wii in different minigames. This can be a neat effect sometimes – for example, I have a Johnny Depp Mii on my system, and in the Pirate area of the Carnival it matched me up with him in the Sword Battle minigame. Sword fighting a pirate Johnny Depp! The graphics work well for the game, but they will not blow you away or anything.

The audio is the same. It uses the Carnival theme to generate decent background music that works well with the game. However, it is neither memorable nor a pain on the ear drums. All of the speech is done through text-bubbles.

What sets Active Life as a series apart from other games is the use of the floor mat for the game. In Outdoor Adventures, it was used well for activities like rope jumping and running. Magical Kingdom is much more about enjoyable minigames, but the developers still manage to find a bunch of unique ways to use the floor mat to control different games. One of the minigames, Chase the Monkey, requires you to stand on the pad like you would normally and run after a monkey. Once you get close the game switches to a Quick Time Event, which requires you to stomp different directions as they are indicated on-screen. While an interesting use of the pad, it wasn’t too far off what you could find in Outdoor Adventures.

Thankfully most of the games use the pad in a variety of different ways. Some require you to get on your hands and knees and use your hand to just pound one of the squares on the pad. For example, the Frog Jump game is set up exactly like a booth game at any Carnival, and you slap the pad to flip a frog onto different targets. Another minigame might also use the same method of control, but will require you to hold the pad instead of slapping it at a certain moment. The Ghost Hunter game uses the pad and the Wii remote and is an obvious homage to Ghostbusters. You walk around on the pad and use the Wii remote to point at and shoot ghosts on the screen. The developers have really made it so that each minigame has a different way of using the pad as an input device, and that variety is what keeps the game fresh as you unlock other minigames.

This is a game that is meant for a younger audience, not only aesthetically but in terms of game difficulty. Even with the different ways of using the pad, no minigame is ever very complex in how you control it. The AI is very forgiving to the human players, even on the tougher difficulty settings. The game is obviously meant to target a young audience.

That is not a bad thing, though. I had a younger nephew come over and play the game with me, and he had an absolute blast playing it. There were minigames that I thought might not be very interesting, like one where a balloon inflates and you hold the pad, only lifting your hand before you think the balloon might overfill and pop. I played that alone and thought it too simple. He loved it and we played it several times together. The pad is a different enough experience that for younger players it is a novel idea and fun to stomp around on.

With many minigames to unlock and play through, the game can be replayed over and over again. There are in-game local leaderboards and multiple game modes. As it is with most minigame collections, the goal is to make something that people will want to play in brief spurts over and over again, and if my nephew is any indication they have succeeded here with doing so.

Since it is the fourth game in the series, you can’t really say it is the most original game, but the ways that they’ve managed to stretch out the use of the floor mat peripheral deserves to be applauded. Even though the game felt a little too easy for me, I think the younger players would really enjoy this title.

I should also mention that after years of abuse, storage, and then taking it out again and letting a younger family member stomp on it, and having my pets mess with it, the floor mat for the Active Life games still works. It really is a solid peripheral device and I’m glad to see that they are trying to get as much use out of it as possible. As I said in my last review, it is worth looking into solutions to get the mat to stick to the floor, whether that be Velcro strips or otherwise, since the mat tends to slide around a little. The mat is also not very large, and if you try to play multiplayer with adults be prepared to hip check and elbow each other (both intentionally and not).

The Scores
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Decent
Audio: Decent
Controls: Very Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Decent
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Decent Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
While this game might not interest an older demographic, if you have younger children and are looking for a fun and simple game for them to enjoy that requires them be slightly more active than your average game, Active Life: Magical Carnival is what you are looking for. But please, don’t buy this if you live in an apartment with thin floors unless you want your neighbor to hate you.