Carnies—now in videogame form!

When it comes to motion-controlled games, the experiences geared at casual audiences usually end up as the most polished, user-friendly products. Of course, you’ve also got the games you typically tire of quickly and don’t pull out again unless you’ve got company over and are looking to goof off—and Carnival Island is a perfect example.

This carnival-midway simulator sees you take control of a male or female avatar tasked with bringing color and life back to long-forgotten Carnival Island. As you play classic carnival and boardwalk offerings like skee-ball, coin toss, and ring toss, you’ll unlock various variations on these classic games. If you do well enough in each variation of the eight carnival contests—over 35 technically different games in all—around the island, you’ll succeed in bringing happiness and joy back to this carny paradise. OK, so the backstory isn’t the freshest idea—though, hey, how many games involving carnies have you ever seen?—but it works as an excuse to play these games without actually having to go to a carnival or boardwalk and drop hard-earned cash on rigged games that you’ll never win. Plus, each stuffed animal you win in Carnival Island will come to life and serve as a cheerleading sidekick. Try winning something like that down at the Jersey Shore!

But even though this one’s clearly targeted at a very casual audience, Carnival Island actually offers a surprising amount of polish. The anime-inspired cutscenes that play as you unlock various sections of the island are actually very pretty—and almost enough to keep you playing once the gimmick of the cheesy carnival games wears off, just so you can see the next one…almost. But, fittingly in a game clearly geared toward the casual audience and children, the bright colors and themes really shine through.

And although the controls are probably the simplest you’ll find in even most casual of casual titles—most of these carnival showdowns are all about flicking your wrist or moving one arm around—they do their job well enough. I mean, who ever broke a sweat playing ring toss? Still, it feels good when you start racking up 100 points per ball in skee-ball or flipping the coin in the cup perfectly each time in coin toss.

The big flaw of Carnival Island—like many of these minigame-based, motion-controlled, gimmick-driven, budget, soon-to-be-bargain-bin titles—is the fact there just isn’t enough replay value. In order to try to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the difficulty’s set to preschool levels, and the rewards are few and far between. So, after a few hours of skee-ball, you’re ready to either hang up your Move controller or move on to a real game. Hey, maybe that’s why the Move is so aptly named—because, after playing most of the games that require it, you want to MOVE on to regular games.

Carnival Island certainly isn’t a bad game, but it’s just not something you’ll end up devoting a ton of time to in the long run, especially if you’re a hardcore gamer. If you’ve got a kid or a niece or nephew who really likes casual games—or maybe a grandparent on the opposite end of the spectrum—well, they probably have a Wii. But if they do, for some reason, have a PS3 and a Move, this might be more their speed.

SUMMARY: This carny simulator’s as simple as can be—but it’s surprisingly fun and definitely helps bolster the Move’s casual appeal.

  • THE GOOD: Responsive controls and fun games
  • THE BAD: Simple—and can get tiresome quickly
  • THE UGLY: The handlebar mustaches of the carniefolk

SCORE: 7.0