Posted by Tony Hall
Follow that body
Leedmees can be compared in many ways to the classic puzzle game Lemmings. Your objective is to transport miniature beings from an entrance on one side of the map to an exit on the other. While Lemmings relied on clever positioning of ladders and digging in appropriate places, Leedmees is discernibly more unique: it grabs the gameplay mechanics of a strategic puzzle game like Lemmings and throws them into the modern motion gaming era.
Leedmees’ gameplay is very simple, though that is not to say it is easy. While it is truly a jump-in-and-play title that anyone can have a go with, later levels require a great deal of precision, timing and speed. The controls are intuitive as you simply move your body which the onscreen silhouette copies. The Leedmees walk in a straight line, oblivious to their surroundings, so you are in charge of their safety. The objective is to get the Leedmees from their blue entrance teleporter onto your arms. Then comes the hard part – just bend, crouch and rotate your body and arms around, under, and over various in-game obstacles to reach the red exit. As the game progressed we started to learn that speed and precision were key. Movements had to be snappy and fast but exact or you risk dropping Leedmees. We never found this learning process frustrating, though, and it was also interesting to experiment with different ideas.
Later stages introduce interesting environmental dangers that require more strategy. These puzzle mechanics are responsive and create a more engaging and interesting environment. For instance, spears are timed to drop down from the ceiling or poke up from the ground every few seconds to try to catch one of your Leedmees. There are also springs that you have to press up or down to allow the Leedmees to pass. They feel and respond as you would expect and flex accurately to the speed of your hand’s movement. The difficulty is balancing all Leedmees on one arm, while they are moving closer to the edge, as you press in the spring with the other hand. Simple? Not really. Fun? We'd say so.
The addition of stars adds a bit of depth to this simple gameplay formula. Each level has five stars on it for you to collect by directing your Leedmees to them, and nabbing them increases your level ranking. If you save all of the Leedmees in a level and collect all five stars, you’ll achieve an ‘S’ ranking. This adds a great deal of replayability to the game. We found it hard to get an ‘S’ ranking the first time round on most of the levels. You have to understand the layout of the levels well and figure out exactly how to precisely reposition your body to ensure you don’t drop Leedmees or accidentally impale any (we mercilessly lost countless Leedmees!).
The single-player portion of the game is made up of three different worlds, each with at least ten levels. This can be finished in several hours, but replaying through each level to try to get an ‘S’ ranking gives the game added playtime. The multiplayer component features three worlds with four levels. Each player has their own silhouette and the levels are decidedly more complex. This mode requires planning, communication, and teamwork; we found it a blast to play. We found that accidental poking and prodding of your team member was a regular occurrence, but it was worth it.
The story of Leedmees is fairly straightforward, and largely absent from the game. The short starting cutscene sets the atmosphere of the game’s environments well, though. You are dropped into a mysterious world, alone, with no knowledge of how you arrived. Your body is distorted into the shape of a tall stick-man. You feel compelled to help these little beings around you, they seem drawn to you. The cutscenes and the environments are simple dark paintings. There’s a haunting but loveable quality to both the beings and the graphics. Likewise the soundtrack of the game is evocative, mysterious and full of wonder.
Though we had a lot of fun playing Leedmees, there are various issues we found with the game. Its shortness may annoy some folks as it can be finished in a night (your body would hurt the next day, but it can be done!) We also found that sometimes the on-screen silhouette would not respond to our actions in sections that required you to crouch very low or reach high up with your hand. This was most likely due to the room we had to play with as we were positioned about 7 feet from the Kinect camera. We suspect if you had more space this issue would not arise. Still, we always found a way to work around the problem and get our ‘S’ ranking regardless.
Leedmees is an energetic and strategic game once you get the hang of it. You’ll be speedily moving your arms and entire body around trying to pivot and balance your little friends towards the exit. It is the sort of serious arcade puzzle game that Kinect needs.