2K’s Carnival Games franchise has a long and storied history. Don’t believe me? Check the books: The original Carnival Games title was released way back in 2007 for the Wii, followed quickly by a Nintendo DS version. The Wii and DS games alone sold more than 7 million copies. Since then, the franchise has grown to include seven games on a number of different systems, including last year’s Carnival Games VR, which was released for PS VR and Steam.
There has always seemed to be a disconnect between players perception of Carnival Games and critic’s response. While the original Carnival Games VR title is rocking a 58 on Metacritic, the more player driven Steam score is showing “Very Positive.” While critics seem to want something more from the experience, players seem to be pretty content with a giant pile of fun minigames. For our part, we rated the base game as “Above Average” upon its initial release.
I really enjoyed Carnival Games when I picked it up during a PlayStation Store sale a few months back. I was surprised at the amount of content included, and found the gameplay to be intuitive and addictive. Sure, not every minigame included is a winner (that climbing game is super frustrating), but with the sheer volume of stuff to do, I was happy to quickly move on if something didn’t grab me. And with the games that did grab me, I found myself standing for hours in my living room, refusing to give up the headgear to my kids, muttering, “One more time,” over and over again as I sought out a new high score.
2K has now released a DLC pack for Carnival Games VR, entitled Alley Adventure. There is quite a bit of content packed into this add-on, with two added alleys containing six new minigames and enhancements for all 12 of the original games. The newest versions of the original minigames are available for anyone that has the base game, having been patched in upon release of the DLC. The new minigames unlock with the purchase of Alley Adventure.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the enhancements, but when I dug into the new version of the base game, I found that most of the original minigames have been significantly reworked. There are all sorts of new features, and it was fun to go back and play around with the 12 original minigames just to see what changes have been made.
For example, the haunted house ride has made small changes that change the game just enough to make it new. Players ride through an amusement park funhouse, duel wielding Nerf-style weapons and shooting at targets. The enhancements add the ability for the player to trigger a rapid-fire mode, which can work for the player in that they can take down a ton of targets in a short time. However, if the rapid-fire triggers at an inopportune moment, the player will fire endlessly at nothing, losing their multiplier. At first, I found this dynamic irritating and distracting, until it fired at the right moment and I racked up a ton of points.
Each original minigame has changes of this nature that make the experiences slightly more strategic. The funnel cake stacking game now has a color-coded bonus system. The shooting gallery now occasionally reveals tokens that give the player a shotgun for a few shots. The fast-pitch game, which originally lobbed baseballs at the player, now fires a variety of different balls, each with their own patterns and trajectories. These changes make it well worth the time for players that have moved on from the base game to go back and revisit their favorites.
The two additional alleys each contain three new minigames, and much like the base title, they are wildly varied. Preferences will vary from player to player, but after taking the time to engage with each game booth in turn, I found something to enjoy in each of them.
Dino Stacker is probably my favorite of the new selections. Players are situated on a platform way up in the air, looking down on another platform far below. Randomized Tetris-style shapes are presented hovering before the player, who must drop them down onto the lower platform, attempting to balance them and stack their tower as tall as possible. One wrong move, and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Dinosaurs don’t really come into play here, they are just scenery for the very entertaining stacking game.
Gravity Match is a clever sci-fi game that could never exist in the real world, but is an absolute hoot. The player has two “gravity guns” which can suck objects in, then shoot them out again. The game rapid fires different colored objects in front of the player, who must grab them with the gravity guns, then shoot them at a bank of targets that are the same colors as the objects. The pacing is furious, and the player is forced to think fast and act faster to succeed. Where Dino Stacker is slow and deliberate, Gravity Match is fast and furious, testing your reflexes as it builds to a mad crescendo.
The rest of the games are less inspired than these first two, but there is still fun to be had with them.
Putting Green is a nine hole, sci-fi themed mini-golf course. There is the basis for a full game buried in here somewhere, but some serious work would have to be done on the controller tracking for this game to be ready for prime time. I found club handling to be a little glitchy, resulting in some missed strokes that felt a little unfair. After I spent some time adapting my playstyle to compensate for the unpredictable behavior, I was able to succeed, but when I achieved the score I was shooting for, I was happy to move away from this one.
Horseshoes is just what it sounds like. Throw horseshoes, try to hit the pole. The throwing physics are spot on, and the game works well. Not a lot of thrills here, but Horseshoes does what it is supposed to do. While this might not be my favorite of the new games, it did hold my attention while I attempted to master it.
Lucky Cups is a minigame for all the beer pong fans. Players toss ping pong balls into a grid of colored cups, with randomized colors representing different point values. A timer counts down while the player tries to rack up points as quickly as possible. I’m not a beer pong guy, so I found this game extremely difficult at first. Like the rest of Carnival Games VR, sticking with Lucky Cups pays off. Once the physics clicked for me, I found myself pulling off ridiculous scores that I had thought impossible just minutes before.
Trick Shot is the minigame that I initially liked the least, but it ended up being the one I spent the most time with. The game presents the player with a pool table that has been set up ahead of time, then asks the player to hit a certain ball into a specific hole in one shot. I’m not a pool player, and I found this to be a confusing and confounding addition to the game. Players shoot the cue ball by lining up their shot, then clicking a pulsing power meter. I had a difficult time figuring out what the game wanted me to do, after the first couple of simple shots. I kept leaving this game, then coming back to it, feeling like I was missing something. It was only after I started viewing Trick Shot as a puzzle game instead of a game of skill that it clicked with me. I realized that the game was delivering subtle hints as to how to place my shots, and once that registered with me, I became moderately successful. However, even after I settled into Trick Shot, the inclusion of this minigame still felt a little off. Its combination of puzzle solving and dexterity left it feeling like it was plucked from a different game and dropped into this one.
The presentation of these new games is very much in line with the existing base title. The park itself is bright and cheery, and a little creepy. The instructions are imparted to the player quickly and easily, and outside of the Putting Green (which forces you to play through), games are restarted quickly and easily. This encourages that “one more time” feeling that is so crucial to the game’s success. The carnival barker character still babbles at you incessantly, and I was relieved when I finally realized there was a setting to hush him up. I ended up turning him back on for certain games though, as some of his chatter actually informs you as to how you are performing.
The social aspects of Carnival Games suffered in the base game, and nothing changes in Alley Adventure that makes passing around a VR headset any more appealing or feasible. VR works great for online party games, but locally, not so much. This is just a restriction of the medium, and until the technology progresses to the point where multiple headsets can be used in the same room, Carnival Games should be considered a solo proposition. That said, competing for high scores over time is still engaging, just don’t expect to compete in the moment.
I enjoyed my time with Carnival Games VR: Alley Adventure. It is a solid and seamless expansion of the base game that also offers improvements to the existing product. In the PS VR landscape, where games see little change after release, it is surprising and welcome to see games maturing with DLC. While not every new game is a winner, there is still enough here that everyone should find something to enjoy.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile