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Active Life: Magical Carnival

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: Ganbarion
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Party/ Family/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

The Active Life series returns with a new set of challenges themed around exploring a carnival. Not just any carnival, mind you, because this one's got magical properties. That means you can do things here that just don't happen in real life. With the reality-gloves off, Active Life: Magical Carnival is ready to rock your make-believe world. Kids will eat up the setting and the backdrop for each challenge. Pirate ships, haunted houses, a three-ring circus, and other virtual play-sets are draped with just enough detail to entertain onlookers and players alike. The graphics aren't pushing any envelope for the Wii, or even compared to the previous games in the franchise, but that shouldn't limit your enjoyment. Choosing from your stock of Mii avatars, and seeing others alongside you in the game strengthens the storytelling aspect of Active Life: Magical Carnival. The interface is uncluttered and contains just enough information to help you succeed and score well, showing you what moves you should be making on the play mat to control your on-screen character. We liked the little touches here, such as snapping "pictures" from your play session and including them in booklets provided to tourists for each ride at the carnival.

Gameplay:

Exploring a new world is always fun, and Active Life: Magical Carnival gets things right in this department. As you begin the game, only a few attractions are available. This means that the Free Play mode is pretty limited, but you can unlock new attractions by playing through the main story. There are up to four players supported at all times, making this a great party game. Active Life: Magical Carnival has all the right elements to while away an hour or so, in what will feel like the blink of an eye. Eventually, you'll exhaust all the options and open all the attractions, but the replay value kicks in as you attempt to improve your scores. Looking for differences between this and earlier games in the franchise, we'd say the control feels tighter and more responsive as you use the Active Life mat peripheral, and that the mini-games are better designed. An example you'll find early on is the simulated "Pirate's Life" attraction that puts you in the shoes of a junior sailor trying to learn his way around the ship. Within one mini-game you're tasked with climbing ropes, jumping barrels while navigating a wind-blown deck, and stomping the hands of skeletons as they attempt to board your ship. The blend of action in just one small segment of game extends out to most of the mini-challenges, making them more fun to replay with friends or alone for higher scores. As mentioned earlier, Free Play mode lets you skip the carnival tour and just dive into whatever individual challenges you've unlocked for play.

The essence of Active Life: Magical Carnival is its multiplayer features. There's some appeal to play through solo, but it's a bit like playing Twister alone... pretty sad image, right? The smartest idea ever for the Active Life games was using the mat peripheral in such a way that multiple players can compete simultaneously. Where you might stand in the center of the mat for a mini-game, you slide to the left or right when a second player joins. The ability to include more players gives this great party appeal, and amplifies replay since you can challenge new players as you master specific games. You can play with a Mii assigned from those already loaded in your system, or let Active Life: Magical Carnival choose one for you.


Difficulty:

There's no question that some challenges are harder than others here. Certain games are very forgiving, such as the Haunted House attraction. In this challenge, you just step gently to avoid waking up sleeping ghosts, and run fast on the mat to avoid being pelted by poltergeists or smacked by falling objects. This is simple enough that a three year-old can do it after watching an older sibling. To contrast, the pirate-boat challenges mentioned earlier involve a lot of shape matching that goes beyond what younger kids can handle. It also requires a bit more dexterity and quick timing than some of the parents or grandparents may tolerate. It's been said that comparing motion controls on the Wii and other systems makes it apparent that the Wii lets you "cheat" by waggling the controllers to simulate fast motion. We mostly agree, but the Active Life mat peripheral actually forces you to make contact in specific ways that can work up a sweat. The dirty little secret is that you can usually win without going as overboard as younger kids choose to in the heat of the moment. Certainly for kids age five to 10, Active Life: Magical Carnival is perfectly configured from a challenge standpoint. At the higher end of the spectrum, kids are likely to find the subject matter a bit syrupy, but Magic Carnival wisely includes some content (the Horror and Fantasy section, for example) that should appeal to all but the most jaded pre-teen. Moms and dads can play, but they'll definitely get some exercise in a few of the more frenetic mini-games!

Game Mechanics:

Much as the Move and Kinect peripherals made motion control the center of the universe for the games that supported them, Active Life: Magical Carnival takes full advantage of its mat. You can still hold a controller while playing, but the basic navigation around selecting mini-games and perusing menus can be done by selectively pressing buttons on the mat. The configuration, if you haven't seen the peripheral, is roughly in the shape of a plus (+) symbol, but imagine two sets of buttons going up and across the mat. There are additional controls at the top corners for options and menus, that you won't end up using during gameplay. The mat plugs into the Wii through one of the controller ports, and features a rather short cord. If we had to guess, the short cord is to avoid creating a trip-hazard, but it has the associated downside of putting kids a bit too close to the television. Packed in with the mat are some corner stickers that help anchor it on slick wood or tile floors.

If you held out on previous versions of Active Life, this entry is probably not enough to sway you, as it largely offers more of the same experience. If you purchased an earlier game and own the mat, you'll be very happy now to have Magical Carnival and its generous amount of new content. Families with both a Wii and a second console featuring Move or Kinect may see Active Life motion controls as antiquated, but Magical Carnival is extremely simple for kids to set up and master. It's also simple (and age appropriate) fun, in small doses, that makes for a great feature at a birthday party or sleep-over.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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