Child of Eden
When Microsoft announced the Kinect, it looked like a cash-in gimmick to combat the blockbuster known as the Nintendo Wii. But hidden within the device was some powerful hardware, which has been exploited in many interesting and unique ways on the PC. On the Xbox, however, where Kinect was intended to be used, things looked less optimistic. Most of the games for the system were simplistic and family oriented, which is fine, but isn't going to satiate the appetite of the hardcore gamer. Enter Tetsuya Mizuguchi, mastermind behind the classic music-shooter Rez. His new game, Child of Eden, seeks to turn the Kinect from gimmick to an immersive, one of a kind gaming experience. And in many ways he suceeds, but not without caveats.
Child of Eden has a simple but evocative premise. In the future, the memories of the first girl born in space are maintained in an online database. This database is under attack. You have to go in, defeat the virus, and in the process wake the virtual girl up. Whether intentionally or not, the story feels like a throwback to Neuromancer, the classic cyberpunk novel that also featured a desperate gamble to wake an AI. The similarities strike a chord that enhance the game, making it feel more thematically engrossing than the actual story would suggest.
The visuals also feel like they were taken from Neuromancer's descriptions of the internet, full of geometric shapes that pulsate, glow, and change. If nothing else, Child of Eden is always beautiful, and features a hypnotic soundtrack. Mizuguchi must have known that gamers would want to explore this lush world, which is why you have the option to do just that without worrying about attacking enemies or scoring points.
The bulk of the game, though, is an on-rails shooter, with a twist. The twist is Kinect. You can play this game with a regular controller, which makes it feel like a short sequel to Rez. The controls are simple. You have two weapons, a missile that can lock on to up to eight targets at once, or a rapid fire weapon. The missiles are more powerful, but some enemies are impervious to it, forcing you to switch to the rapid fire. Similarly, some enemies are only vulnerable to the missiles after being hit by the rapid fire weapon and transformed. The strategy to defeating each enemy is told to you by its colors. Purple requires rapid fire, while other colors are susceptible to missiles. You also can find bombs scattered throughout each world that do major damage to every enemy. Sounds simple enough, and it is. And with a controller, it's nothing spectacular.
Switch to Kinect, however, and you get a whole other experience. You use your right arm for missiles (sweep over enemies to lock on, and push forward to fire), and the left becomes the rapid fire (simply point where you want to shoot and the game fires automatically). Raise both arms together to trigger a bomb. As simple as this sounds, it's not particularly easy. As the game progresses, it ramps up the difficulty very quickly, causing you to switch arms a lot, as well as move each one quickly but precisely. The problem here should be obvious: You arms are going to get tired very quickly. Perhaps this is why the game is so short, although each level feels long and there are no save points mid-level, which feels archaic and old-fashioned.
The other issues come from the Kinect itself. While the tech is good, and you can adjust the sensitivity, there will invariably be times where it gets confused, causing you to miss your shot or even making the camera go haywire. A game like this is not forgiving on this little twitches that every human has. A simple thing like scratching your face is interpreted as a potential input, and if your other arm is already out, the game doesn't know what to do. And heaven forbid you have a cat like I do that should stray across the path of your Kinect.
It's very easy to admire Child of Eden. The artistry of its sound and visuals, the simplicity of the gameplay, and the Kinect integration all combine to make a game that should be experienced by anyone who spent their hard earned cash on the device. However, its short length and various control snafus make it difficult for me to recommend it as a purchase. In truth, this feels like a very sharp, very polished Xbox Live Arcade game. If it had been $15-$20, it would be a no brainer. But at $50? Well, that's a tougher pill to swallow. And given how quickly the game is over, even with the addition of unlockables, there's no reason you couldn't explore most of Child of Eden's charms in a weekend.