One constant of the Carnival Games franchise is it embraces new methods of control. Carnival Games was there for the debut of Wii, Kinect and 3DS, the only new control scheme it shunned was the ill-fated Move. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Carnival Games leads the charge into virtual reality, but should it also be going back and embracing Sony’s motion control misstep six years later?
Carnival Games VR is if nothing else true to its source – little has changed in the last decade (or five). The aesthetic is still old fashioned, the minigames are still mostly based on throwing, rolling or shooting things and integration of modern features like leaderboards and challenges is limited. Virtual reality adds to some minigames more than others and those that take full advantage of it are undoubtedly the best in the package (when they aren’t making you ill).
Of the 12 minigames that make up Carnival Games VR there are plenty of duds both in terms of gameplay and their use of VR. The motion controls mostly hold up – in tracking and as intuitive and authentic to the games they recreate (there are some exceptions, Darts should never be attempted in VR again until the hardware can handle moving the controller in front of your headset). Rolling a wooden ball or tossing hoops feels great, it’s just those tasks themselves make for dull games, the type I bored of after a round or two when I was eight years old at real carnivals. Many of the mini games here didn’t outlast the carnival barkers limited repertoire of one liners in terms of entertainment value.
Most minigames focus on throwing, rolling, catching or shooting, with one notable exception. Alley Ball and Down the Stretch are as dull as rolling a ball into a hole sounds, with neither as accurate as you would like both by design and in tracking. Golden Arm, Shark Tank, Swish and Ring Toss are accurate in replicating throwing motions but only Golden Arm drew me in thanks to a light puzzle solving element of having to knock over certain bottles to continue. More than ten levels of this would be welcome.
Shooting Gallery is a single position, dual wielding shootout scene that is all too brief and could use some variety. It is outclassed by Haunted House, an Until Dawn: Rush of Blood style 360 degree on rails shooter with cutout ghosts and monsters instead of horrific nightmare creatures. If it doesn’t trigger motion sickness in you it is the pick of the bunch, taking full advantage of the VR range of movement by hiding targets in your peripheral vision. Unfortunately after a few games I could begin to feel the sickness creeping in but there is more replayability here than most games in the package provide.
Fast Pitch and Funnel Cake Stacker account for the catching element. Fast Pitch is a brutally unfair baseball catcher simulation to a pitcher who puts some serious funk on screwball, rollercoaster and whirlwind deliveries. It sucks. Funnel Cake Stacker hits the right mix of jank and skill, it is basically a game of ‘catch slippery pancakes on plates as somebody flips them over their shoulder’, but it both works well with the motion controls and is a fun, if novelty experience.
Then you have the most legitimate use of virtual reality: Climbing Wall. Without doubt the highlight of the package, you are challenged to climb a huge novelty wall of chains, ropes, rotating handles and traditional indoor climbing holds. Climbing Wall becomes a test of physical endurance as you scramble your arms around in front of you and curse a missed hold that sends you plummeting.
Sure it feels more like you are pulling the wall towards you rather than scaling it, but having to reach for ropes, quickly move from crumbling holds and time your movement to the disappearing handles makes for a tough challenge on both your reflexes and your arms. In my haste I knocked Move controllers into the headset several times and banged a few items on the coffee table, Climbing Wall is immersive and entertaining, if at times infuriatingly inconsistent.
Carnival Games VR is another game that doesn’t get leaderboard integration and the art of score chasing right, aspects that would dramatically increase its long term value. Leaderboards can only be viewed as either the overall top three scores or the scores nearest you, without a designation of exactly where you stand worldwide. The games aren’t created with score chasing in mind either, most have an artificial ceiling for how well you can score as they are limited to a certain number of rounds, targets or attempts; the main challenge is in meeting the often demanding three star score requirements if you can stand some of these games for long enough.
Beyond the minigames there isn’t a lot here. You have a playroom to store unlocked toys and throw them around a bit should you wish. It offers about three minutes of entertainment. The overworld carnival is populated by freakish bearded women and young children with supernatural reflexes, dodging every projectile you launch their way. The carnival barker attempts to be amusing, mostly without success, and will soon be repeating himself to the point you curse that he too has supernatural reflexes.
Rightly or wrongly, the Carnival Games name has come to represent the type of shovelware that shifted opinion on the Wii from revolutionary to revolting in record time. Carnival Games VR is inoffensively decent, controlling well and offering some moments of entertainment, but it doesn’t last and does little to reverse opinion on the series. It would be better for children, though kids aren’t supposed to be using VR so I don’t know who Carnival Games VR is for. There isn’t enough self awareness and too low a ceiling to mastery for it to be entertaining beyond a session or two, unless your true loves are minigames and motion controls you won’t find much in Carnival Games VR.
Carnival Games VR was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a download code provided by the publisher. It requires PlayStation VR and two Move controllers to play. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.