So here we are; another Kinect title reviewed by your friendly neighborhood casual videogame connoisseur. I can hear the snickers already. While some of the lesser titles available for Microsoft’s stab at motion gaming may be rightfully open to ridicule, Child of Eden is true vindication of what honestly is a damn fine device and a sign of our high-technology future (woohoo, flying cars!). I’d also wager that you wouldn’t see too much moaning if there were more games such as this being released for it.
For those not in the know, Child of Eden comes with pedigree oozing out its pores. A spiritual successor to the brilliant Rez, the game shares a lot of gameplay characteristics with its decade old forefather. Conceptualized and designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Q Entertainment, Child of Eden starts off slightly heavy on the fluff. Centered on Lumi, the first human born in space, the back story details her life in awe of Earth, her eventual passing, and the uploading of her consciousness to the Internet (now known as Eden, and which has now spread beyond our planet). However, it seems as if the threat of a virus attack hasn’t escaped us in the far future either, and Lumi’s total subsumption into the Web is threatened as a result. You’re tasked with preventing her destruction corruption as well as wiping the virus from Eden.
While this may seem like a lot of new age mumbo jumbo, there isn’t too much to the story aside from the snippets of text that you’re occasionally fed. The game, for all practical intents and purposes, boils down to an on-rails shooter spread across five stages. The differentiator with Child of Eden, as with other Mizuguchi games, is that the gameplay is heavily reliant on music. You guide your reticule across the screen, tagging objects to shoot at, and each shot you make dynamically alters the soundtrack. You have the option of either using the standard Xbox 360 controller or the Kinect sensor to control the reticule on screen. Switching between the two is easy enough, but you’ll find yourself (oddly at first and much unlike other games with motion control options) preferring the Kinect to the standard controls. The motion detection tech has obviously come some way from last year’s games, with everything from menu navigation to in-game controls feeling silky smooth and responsive. Playing with a standard controller is a perfectly viable option, however, so don’t be put off if you haven’t bought yourself Kinect (yet). You move the reticule with the left stick and shoot using the face buttons or the triggers.
Even with the de-rigueur shooter controls, I’d recommend everyone at least try playing Child of Eden using the Kinect. This (quite like Dance Central) is a showcase title for the device. You’ll love how your hands move in time with the music, and the ease of painting targets when you’re using your hands. The controls are simple enough. You use your right hand to tag multiple targets followed by a slight forward thrust of your palm to let loose projectiles that hit said tagged targets. Your left hand acts as a rapid-fire weapon, especially useful for objects that come straight for you. Targets are colour-coded, making it easier to switch between the two attacks as required.
The game goes easy on you early on, but later stages demand a challenging degree of hand-eye coordination. It still isn’t as brutal as Rez though, and there’s also a freeplay mode that lets you enjoy the music and the visuals without worrying about hitting everything that comes your way. There’s also a scoring system that rewards shots timed perfectly with the music, a depleting health meter than you can top-up by collecting life orbs, and a bunch of concept art, audio/visual filters and previews of music videos to unlock. Full versions of these videos would have been nice to have since they’re really quite good. These stages, or Archives as Child of Eden likes to call them, will normally last you a little over a quarter of an hour each, putting theoretical game completion time at around the two-hour mark. Granted you’ll be playing through what’s on offer numerous times to clear and master them across multiple difficulties, but there’s no getting around the obvious elephant in the room.
You’ll feel the need for new stages and environments soon enough, more so because the five stages that come on the disc are so wonderfully realized. These on-rails shooter ‘journeys’ are set to the tune of original music by Mizuguchi’s band, The Genki Rockets. A pleasing enough blend of J-pop and electronica, these tracks are as much of a highlight as the visuals are. There’s an aurally (and might I add visually) pleasing songstress fronting the band, who also appears in the brilliant intro video playing Lumi. You’ll also see her appear as a video overlay within the game at opportune moments. The tracks in question are complex multi-tiered compositions that transition into themselves as you progress within a particular world. Also notable is how her vocals come to the fore at certain crescendo moments within each world. These moments are when the gameplay and the music coalesce to create something you wouldn’t normally feel with most videogames. It may sound kooky, but Mizuguchi’s formula most definitely works.
Stepping away from Rez’s vector graphic style, Child of Eden uses the horsepower of the current console generation to render graphically complex and wildly colorful environments that are based on certain themes. The second archive in particular stands out with its journey from the depths of the ocean all the way to outer space on the back of a flying whale that turns into a phoenix. Yeah, it’s that sort of game.
Child of Eden is brilliant because it aspires to be so much more than a thoroughly competent shooter (which it is). The visuals and the music come together to create a transcendent experience that is guaranteed to get you feeling all gooey on the inside. The only thing holding the game back and making it hard to recommend is the paucity of content. A few more worlds thrown in or making it a reasonably priced downloadable release would have tipped the boat in its favour. However if you’re a Mizuguchi fan and have spent the last decade yearning for a follow up to Rez, there’s good news. This is it.