It's been far too easy to overlook Kinect as a valuable, or even viable, addition to traditional gaming in its first year of commercial life. Far too little of its catalogue so far has amounted to anything more than bite-sized experiences that only go to show that, why yes, you can kick an air football in your living room, without answering the question of why you would want to do so in the first place.
With Child of Eden, developer Q Entertainment not only shows that a shooter can work using Kinect, but also just how much more intriguing the genre can become by properly harnessing it.
Child of Eden is the latest brainchild of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mind behind Space Channel 5, Lumines and the similarly synesthetic Rez, to which Eden is a sequel in everything but name. The trippy techno-organic wizardry of the visuals is beefed up here thanks to the boost in power of the Xbox 360 over the Dreamcast original. The music and action sounds are equally interwoven to produce a truly remarkable sonic dance, and the core mechanic of lock-and-pop shooting is largely the same as Rez.
Boiled down, Child of Eden isn't terribly remarkable from a gameplay perspective — one might even call it sparse. What we have here is an on-rails shooter where you are given a limited degree of control over your view, with enemies and obstacles coming at you in a pre-defined manner that you do away with using either your purple rapid-fire blaster, eight-point lock-on launcher or a screen-filling bomb. But judging Child of Eden by bullet points fails to speak to the game's true strengths: its sense of freedom, overwhelming imagery and superb marriage of sound and action.
Eden is a beautiful place, and it's easy to let it envelope you in its off-the-wall wireframe constructs of shapes and lifeforms. Its vibrancy is unmatched, and the same can be said for the aural side of things. Every single action you take creates a blip of some sort that fits naturally into the soundtrack, lending a strong organic sense to it all and further pulling you in — in fact, there are gameplay rewards for playing to the beat.
You can do well for yourself with a standard controller, but Kinect is ideal for the full experience — not only did we find the motion controls more fluid, but also more liberating and open once you get used to them. Your right hand controls the octo-lock reticule that "paints" over targets and fires by pushing your hand forward, and your left handles the blaster. Fiendish enemy and obstacle placement necessitates switching between the two quite often, and Kinect does a rather good job of keeping up with which hand is intended as active in any given situation. And since you only use your arms, you can even play while sitting down. It's not all perfect, mind: minute precision isn't its strong suit, so high score-chasers may favour a controller, and when Kinect flounders it commits immersion's cardinal sin by pulling you out of the game world. Despite that, the extra fluidity afforded by this blend of natural movement and technology makes pushing a reticule around the screen with an analogue stick feel overly mechanical and cold in comparison.
It only takes five "archives" until you've rescued the princess from her corroding castle, and while the stages get progressively more challenging, they don't put up too much of a fight on the default Normal difficulty. Hard opens up once you complete the adventure as well as a post-game archive that feels more like a straight-up score attack than anything else. Coupled with the online leaderboards divided between controller and Kinect as well as artwork and other extras to collect, there is quite a bit to do if you don't mind replaying the, granted, limited number of archives. If you're not big on collecting or replaying, a stay in Eden can be over and done with in a little over an hour – though we expect you'll want to extend your stay for much longer than that.
In a way, Child of Eden isn't as much of a game as it is an experience, an experiment in synesthesia, and one that benefits in many aspects from Kinect's barrier-breaking controls. It may not be the most mechanically original piece of software, but it's unparalleled as a virtual rush, and it is very refreshing to see something take such bold leaps in crazy directions and nail the landing.