The Kinect has become more of an expensive hands free remote control rather than the next step in gaming controllers and whilst these two new releases will not stop me feeling any different (yeah I am still bitter about shelling out for it), Nat Geo TV: America the Wild and Sesame Street TV manage to strike a perfect balance, offering a unique set of interactive videos perfect for youngsters and another chance to dust of the old term, edutainment.
Both these separate releases offer eight episodes of either Nat Geo (National Geographic) or Sesame Street with 30 minute long episodes. At a RRP of a little more than a box set of DVDs this is actually a better way to get the kids moving around as not only do you get the high quality programs associated with these brands but also an assortment of minigames to play with solo or with a friend.
As with many other videos that use Kinect you have the ability to pause, rewind and jump forward with simple voice commands, allowing you to have breaks or skip to the good bits. However the usual DVD rules are quickly broken, with the ability to interact and appear in the show by way of some genius uses of the Kinect technology.
With the Sesame Street TV you get the high production, toddler friendly shows that we all know and love. The classic approaches to getting kids to interact is made even better with characters talking directly to you, with the main compare of the show Cooper Monster linking segments together and giving instructions whilst his friend Mirror, beams you directly into the game. The layout is just the same as the shows, with singing, dancing and lots of information for those young minds to take in, using characters like Elmo and Baby Bear to talk directly to you, getting you to throw and jump on command. Each episode will also have a "missing item" chapter, where kids can just sit and watch a short video from the street and shout and point when they spot the required items.
The eight episodes are just crammed with Sesame Street goodness, all spruced up with the power of the Kinect, with you being beamed into Elmo?s crayon world, joining Guy Smiley and The Letter of the Day Show and using a clap-o-meter to gauge which is the best letter and even watching and dancing with some famous cameos like Elvis Costello rocking out with a song about Cookie Monster eating his number 2 (dirty monster) and Bruno Mars singing about catching a ball and not giving up (some of his best work to date).
Nat Geo TV is for the slightly older age bracket, again using moments of interaction to deepen the experience. Each episode is hosted by Casey Anderson, an informative and hands on nature boy who explains the life and trails of many of Americas wild animals with episodes covering bears, mountain lions, wolverines and birds of prey to name a few. Similar to Sesame Street, Casey will talk directly to the viewer, hosting the show as usual until certain signs appear to interact. The idea of each episode is not only to enjoy and learn but to earn Adventure Badges and to do so you need to keep your eyes peeled, with animal tracks appearing on the screen inviting you to shout and bring up a Sidetrack moment. Here the video will pause and Casey will then go into more detail about a certain aspect, like how a mountain lion kitten learns to hunt. During these very informative moments Casey will throw quick questions at you with a split screen answer where you raise your left or right arm depending on your answer. There will also be plenty of photo opportunities where the game will challenge you to take certain pictures of animals in the wild, grading you with each successful photo.
Of course it would not be a Kinect title without some minigames and Nat Geo TV is no different, hosting plenty of simple yet fun and effective games that involve a bit of dressing up. Your image on the screen will be superimposed with the head and arms of an animal, making you act out certain parts of their day to day life?s like eating ants and hitting bee hives to gather honey as a bear, picking up cubs with your mouth and placing them into a den as mother mountain lion or feeding baby owls by eating worms and regurgitating them.
There is a great variety on offer here over the two separate games, offering fun and a little learning for a wide age group, with Sesame Street being ideal for the young under 5's and Nat Geo more suitable for 5-10's. Though 30 minutes an episode, add in the extras and it?s more like an hour, giving each game over eight hours of interactive playtime, that's more than just sitting them in front of COD.
What is most pleasing about these two games is that they have utilised on the Kinect strengths rather than try and make it compete with regular controller games and in turn makes these games a must have if you have kids and a Kinect, with it being very responsive and easy to use, allowing parents to let the kids just get on with it.
As well as the full seasons on disc, these shows are also available for download as single episodes in even more cost effective bundles. The DLC is available at a decent price, adding even more value to what is already a fairly decent, family friendly package.
Words by Ash Buchanan
Review Policy (Version tested: Xbox 360 / Kinect)