Child of Eden Review
Back in the days of Sega Saturn, there was a great little game called Panzer Dragoon. This was a “rail” shooter, meaning the player essentially rode on a predetermined course, not unlike the rails of a rollercoaster. By reducing the complications of player movement---gaming consoles weren’t quite as powerful in those days---more resources could be devoted to frantic shooting action. Aside from the standard point-and-fire method, Panzer Dragoon boasted a very cool “lock on” firing feature, allowing multiple targets to be clicked before a wave of simultaneous devastation was unleashed. This seemingly simple touch caught on as the series continued to grow, and similar features were used in the “music” game Rez.
Rez was a great title, as well---no doubt about it. Of course, it also introduced a level of musical interactivity quite unlike any other game. This innovation, in conjunction with a highly stylized visual landscape, forms the framework of Rez’s successor, Child of Eden. Uninformed audiences might glance at the screenshots for CoE and write it off as some kind of puzzle game (as if that’s such a terrible notion anyway), but CoE feels closer to a shooter than anything else. Most shooters today don’t allow you to make music while blowing things up, and the result is quite a spectacle.
Child of Eden even goes so far as to offer a science-fiction narrative to bolster its techno-digital world. In the future’s blossoming space age, scientists have attempted to reconstruct Lumi, a waiflike being who essentially serves as the damsel in distress. Lumi’s world could be likened to a virtual database or cyberspace where all human knowledge is stored, but it comes under attack from an unknown virus, and it’s up to you to save the day. Who are you, exactly? CoE was perhaps wise to keep this vague. With all the armor-clad white males sprinting around video games, CoE has taken the classy route of placing the reticule in the player’s hands. You are purposefully blank, so that you can simply be … you. Despite how technical the story may appear---and the obvious expense of the introductory cinematic---it's not complicated. Shoot the baddies and enjoy yourself.
You have a variety of tools at your disposal for fighting enemies. With the Kinect, your right arm controls the lock-on weapon while the left controls your rapid-fire gun. The lock-on is essentially your slower powerhouse while the rapid-fire is preferable against incoming missiles and the like. Favoring one weapon too much over another can make your arms a bit sore, but the lock-on puts on the strain since you have to make fast flicking movements every time you fire. No shooter experience is complete without power-ups, and what’s more, CoE has found clever ways of using them. The Euphoria power-up is activated by raising both arms in the air. How cool is that?
One point of interest in rail-shooters is that the levels can open up in spectacular ways that would cause too much confusion in a typical shooter. CoE has levels based on human constructs and themes. Each one is fluid, constantly shifting in form and function---possibly even open to interpretation. The Evolution stage, for example, boasts an array of organic encounters. Cells divide and jellyfish float until you are eventually scouring the surface of a massive whale. These themes provide a nice sense of unity within each stage while maintaining an obvious purpose within the vast database of human knowledge. The interplay of light and music is quite memorable, as well. Firing a weapon at one target might bring the patter of drums while another may introduce a cascade of piano notes. They work well within the J-Pop soundtrack, which should at least be easier to bear for those strongly opposed to any techno beats.
Any problems presented by the Kinect interface can be ameliorated by adjusting the settings, altering reticule smoothness and speed, or just using the standard controller. CoE operates nicely with either peripheral, but Kinect owners will likely find themselves in an increasingly engrossing experience. What few issues emerge won’t bog things down too badly. The sensor will occasionally get your limbs confused, and that's problematic since different weapons are assigned to each appendage, but it doesn’t happen often if you keep your posture steady. You also have some degree of movement control. Lingering the cursor at the edge of the screen will cause the camera to pan in that direction. Arrows help you to keep track of priority targets that might be closing in from off camera. It can be a little discombobulating, but this is still one of the smoothest shooting experiences Kinect offers.
Child of Eden demands a good sense of concentration in each level. They are paced well enough but can certainly wear you out depending on how much dust your Kinect has been gathering. You will also need to mind your performance to some extent as your progress in the game is dependent upon it. CoE was clearly designed for multiple play-throughs, however. New objects for Lumi’s garden, levels, and concept art are available as rewards for thorough players. A bit more substance might help prolong replayability, but what stands is still a terrific way to play with the new hardware. This is easily one of the slickest apps for the Kinect so far, and there’s no telling how long it will be before something better comes along.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]