To their credit, Microsoft are trying different ideas when it comes to titles for their Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360, the newest being in the form of a pair of “Interactive TV” titles in Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV. It’s certainly a step in the right direction. If you haven’t read Greg’s review for Sesame Street TV, go back and do it now, as it covers quite a few of the basics for Nat Geo TV as well.
Kinect Nat Geo TV: America the Wild, as you might expect, is intended for older children. Whereas my 3- and 5-year-olds are more the target audience for Sesame Street, my 9-year-old would enjoy Nat Geo more, which he certainly did. Through eight on-disc episodes, host Casey Anderson takes you on various expeditions through Yellowstone and Alaska as he tracks and observes animals in the wild, including bears, mountain lions, and wolves. As you would expect from National Geographic, the video and photography is breathtaking. If nothing else, Nat Geo TV will provide a great learning experience for kids (and some of us adults too) as you’ll get some great insight into the animal kingdom. Of course, Nat Geo TV aims to be more than that.
You can tell the idea of 2-way TV is still in its infancy, because each of the on-disc episodes are regular versions of the show with a few interactive elements tacked on. It’s not what I would call truly Interactive TV as that implies something built from the ground up which is totally driven by the watcher. Still, the interactive elements fit in pretty well and never feel like they were shoehorned in where they don’t really belong. Of course, they’re also formulaic. Episodes will have three sets of Sidetrack, Snapshot, and Go Wild segments, which constitute the “game” part of the package.
To activate Sidetracks, you have to yell out “tracks!” when you see animal tracks walk across the screen. It’s pretty much impossible to miss it, as the program gives you a very obvious warning when it’s coming. Once in a sidetrack, there are a couple of places where you have to make a choice of two options depending on what you learned in the episode so far. Right or wrong, the program will educate you on the proper answer and then move on. The same warning signals for the picture taking element. For this, you basically yell “snap!” to take the requested picture.
But it’s the Go Wild segments that are the most game-like parts of an episode. In here, one or two players participate in a somewhat relevant game based upon the animal being featured in the episode. Participants are even transformed into the animals on-screen. Well, their heads and forearms are at least. This is one of the places where the Kinect sensor works reasonably well compared to other games. A mountain lion may pounce at birds or gather up stray cubs with their mouth whereas a bear may dig up and eat moths or swat bees. The minigames are fun and provide a nice, active break from watching and learning.
In terms of scores, you get stars for correctly choosing the right answers in Sidetracks, taking the appropriate pictures, and scoring high in the Go Wild segments. More stars gets you a higher ranking for that show, on a bronze-silver-gold scale. We never had a chance to score higher than Gold to see if there was perhaps a Platinum award for a perfect score, but I would guess there might be something. This is the replayability portion of the title, as you can try an episode again to get a better score. Not sure I’d want to essentially watch a rerun to do that, though.
I’d mentioned before that older children (7 and up perhaps) are a better audience for this show. One of the reasons is that the Kinect sensor, at least for this game, seems to have trouble picking up smaller children. It basically refused to recognize my 5-year-old because he was too small. This limits any gesture-based gameplay, though they can still participate in voice-activated activities, and the sensor will even identify who yelled the command out first.
We’ve talked in the past about why you should avoid the 4 GB Kinect bundle whenever possible, and Kinect Nat Geo TV illustrates one of the reasons why. In addition to the 8 episodes on the two discs included, you also get a one year Season Pass which includes access to new monthly shows and unlimited access to Nat Geo Wild episodes on demand. Unfortunately, this requires a decent amount of on-board space and a hard drive is absolutely mandatory, even if you’re able to clear sufficient space. There’s a LOT of value to be had if you can use the one year subscription, but you’re shut out if you decided to go the 4 GB route.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Kinect Nat Geo TV: America the Wild is a tantalizing taste of what Interactive TV could be, but right now, it’s more of a proof of concept. If you have regular access to the shows, you might be a bit hard pressed to find as much value in this title as each interactive episode adds roughly 10 minutes of new content to the 30 minute shows. Still, the overall package is very well done, the transitions to interactive segments are done seamlessly, and when you add in the Season Pass, you’re looking at great value, especially if you don’t have regular access to the shows. And of course, whenever kids can learn something while having a fun time doing it, that’s always a winning combination.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: Everyone 10+
Content descriptors: Mild Blood, Mild Violence
Rating summary: This is an activity game in which players can interact with eight TV episodes from National Geographic’s Expedition Wild. Players can interact with various mini-games Interspersed throughout each episode: using visual cues to answer questions (e.g., “Which direction did Brutus [the bear] go?”); collecting wildlife snapshots; using body movements to slap coyotes or headbutt rams that dash across the screen. Some educational footage depicts predators hunting and feeding on other animals, with occasional images of bloodstained snow and/or prey.