While developers seem to be moving ever farther away from Kinect in general, one developer seems to be most definitely leaning toward it, creating Kinect-specific digital experiences to keep fans of the device amused. That developer is Virtual Air Guitar Company - the team behind Boom Ball for Kinect – and they're back again with another interesting-looking proposition for Microsoft's motion control device.
Squid Hero for Kinect puts you in control of a squid, much as you'd expect. The squid floats up river with his on-screen position controlled by your body or by moving both of your arms in the same direction. The squid's own arms can stretch almost to the full width and height of the screen, allowing you to grab blocks of ice and use them to deal damage to things that are in your way. Five worlds are present, each consisting of four stages and a boss battle. Those four stages are split into several bite-size pieces that take one of six forms. You'll either be destroying lots of smaller ice blocks as fast as you can in a Mayhem section, leaning left and right to dodge obstacles in a Turbo section, saving frozen animals from plunging into a whirlpool, destroying similarly-coloured blocks of ice by throwing them into each other for a set amount of time, smashing larger pieces of ice with smaller ones whilst avoiding mines, or bashing a hole in a boat so that you can get through. In the last set of stages, you'll be tasked with dodging mines that are dotted along your path in a slower and more dastardly take on the aforementioned Turbo sections.
Initially, everything seems to work well and is enjoyable enough. You control the squid's arms directly and can strike blocks of ice in different ways to propel them in different directions. Alternatively, moving your arms slightly more slowly towards a block allows you to grab it, so that you can take aim and throw it. Early on, it's clear to see that your inputs are all being picked up well enough, but as the difficulty level increases and you find yourself needing more fidelity and precision in your moves, how they're actually translated on screen can be a bit of a problem. At times, you'll want to grab a block to put in a more accurate throw and the game will just bat it away as if you intended to hit it. At other times – although less frequently – you'll go to strike a block and end up grabbing it.
This can prove to be frustrating and can genuinely lead to you needing to restart sections. The somewhat strange difficulty curve – which looks more like a map of the Andes than a smooth line – means that when you're playing an animal rescue section, one or two misplaced inputs will cause you to have to begin again as the poor pets head to their doom. Fortunately, if things become too frustrating, the developer has included the option to skip a section without any real penalty, should you fail it three times in a row. Considering that you'll probably be facing off against the final boss within just a couple of hours, something that trims that game time down further isn't ideal but on the flipside, given the exceedingly difficult animal rescue portions of the game that turn up later on, it's a bit of a lifesaver to have the option. There are times when you can hit the mark with every possible ice block in one of those sections and still fail.
Elsewhere, Squid Hero for Kinect is relatively average fayre. The Turbo sections – whilst requiring a surprisingly large amount of room to enable you to play through them properly – are fun and challenging and the other individual sections are generally enjoyable enough. The way the sections are mixed together at times is a bit of a bear, though. There's a distinct feeling of boredom that creeps in when you complete on large ice-breaking section, only to be presented with a second, then a third, then a fourth. If you've got six different section types on hand, it's probably a good idea to not just use the same one repeatedly when the alternative is to mix it up.
We've mentioned the longevity of the game and it must be said that unless you really, really get addicted to throwing ice blocks – to the point that you want to go in and get all of the achievements – there's not a great deal of content here. Playing through those 25 stages awards you with coins, which allows you to purchase comedy hats for the squid, plus an additional life to use throughout the game. But, that's it. Once you've seen the credits roll after a couple of hours, there's co-op multiplayer on hand which might keep younger players entertained for a few hours, but most older gamers will put it to one side and never give it a second thought.
Squid Hero for Kinect is a game that can be immensely enjoyable. The problem is that even if you do absolutely fall in love with it – the chances of which are lessened thanks to some inconsistent input recognition, strange level design and a bizarre difficulty curve – it doesn't stick around for anything near long enough for you to feel suitably entertained.