When the Kinect was unveiled, hardcore gamers correctly deduced that it wasn’t going to have many games that appeal to the traditional Xbox fan and their Gears of War style of gameplay. This was never Microsoft’s intent. With the other two consoles sporting motion-sensing controllers the Xbox would be at a loss on how to deal with simple casual games that use simple motion-based controls. True, dance games make up the bulk of Kinect must-haves, but there are also quite a few weird little games for it that add in some variety to the stable. The iPhone title Doodle Jump is based around the accelerometer in mobile phones, and while this could be controlled with the thumb stick, the developers at Smoking Gun Interactive have taken advantage of the Kinect to give the Xbox 360 port Doodle Jump Kinect a little more substance than its mobile counterpart.
On mobile devices the Doodle Jump series has players control a little creature named The Doodler as it jumps up through a series of infinite platforms. Players can tilt their phone to make The Doodler move left or right, but the critter automatically jumps upward at a steady pace on his own. The trick is to ensure that he always has a platform to land on, while avoiding the enemies that appear in his path. The basics of this remain in Doodle Jump Kinect, but now players move their own body around their living rooms to make the Doodler move along with them.
There are some other mechanics in play is well, players can point their arms to make The Doodler shoot enemies, and there are power-ups that require a special gesture to use. When all of these elements are combined together the experience becomes much more engaging and complex than just tilting a phone or wiggling a thumb stick.
This is both a strength for the game, and a source of frustration. Doodle Jump really wouldn’t interesting at all to play with a gamepad, but the energetic gameplay brought about by the Kinect makes it more exciting.
The game does require fast reflexes and precise movement which are hard to master with the Kinect. Often The Doodler will need to quickly move from one of the screen all the way over to the other and players will have a split second to physically leap to far side of their living room
In this regard, it has a bit in common with dance and rhythm games. The Doodler jumps at his own pace automatically, players will need to move in time to the Doodler’s steady pace, always making sure that their own body is at the right spot at the right moment. It lacks the grace and finesse of something like Dance Central, but players who can keep a beat and know how to move well will be better able to control their character.
Adding in further complexity is the use of firepower. Enemies appear in The Doodler’s path, and players can dispatch them in several ways. One is to jump past them and then land on top of them, but the easy way is to just blast the monsters. By pointing their arms, players can make The Doodler fire in any direction. While this makes combat relatively easy, it also becomes very difficult for the Player to aim their arms while simultaneously side-stepping around the room. This can reduce the levels to Trial and Error gaming in which players can’t react fast enough to new threats, and must instead memorize when a threat will come and have The Doodler already in position to jump around it.
The Doodler can also gain power-ups that provide weapons and movement abilities such as a jetpack that will send him rocketing straight up through most of a level, or a pair of wings that will allow a slower form of flight. Players will also gain access to powers that can destroy enemies too. These are all activated with a special gesture, like clapping to activate a bomb, or having players flap their arms to make The Doodler’s wings flap. These add yet more diversity to the side-stepping motion that makes up the bulk of gameplay, but they also pile on another set of gestures that need to be managed on the spur of the moment, and add to the frustration of trying to make it to the end of each level.
Players who are familiar with the mobile versions of Doodle Jump will note that having clearly defined levels is a new feature of Doodle Jump Kinect. The original games had players jumping up through infinite levels until The Doodler met his inevitable demise. With the Kinect edition, the game is divided into three worlds, each with ten levels. The levels are then broken up by checkpoints so that when players miss a jump they are sent back to the last checkpoint. This gives console players a greater sense of goals and accomplishment to keep them playing over long stretches of time, as opposed to the original design which was intended for short play-sessions on the go.
The worlds use the themes of Cave, Sky and Hive. Each new world introduces new power-ups and enemies, so there is a steady change to gameplay over the five or so hours it will take most players who make it through all 30 levels. Another new feature to Doodle Jump Kinect is the inclusion of boss fights. Each world concludes with a special bad guy to fight using the same jumping mechanics that are seen in Sonic the Hedgehog’s boss fights.
The developers of Doodle Jump Kinect deserve some kudos for doing more than just directly porting over a mobile game. This could have been a perfect example of why a can be a huge hit on one platform and a failure on another. The game does have some frustrations in terms of its controls, and good deal of repetitious play, but it’s much more than it could have been in the hands of a lazier dev team. Doodle Jump Kinect isn’t going to convince anyone to buy a Kinect just for this game, but it does provide Kinect owners an alternative to the typical crop of dance and party games.
Doodle Jump Kinect is out now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points (Five dollars).