Child of Eden (XBOX 360)
When Microsoft launched Kinect last year the initial games were a collection of fun titles which gave a feel for the technology (such as Sports and Adventures) and then mixed in there were some interesting glimpses of how the gaming experience for kids would and could change. Since then the add-on has been waiting for that must have title which draws the hard-core gamer into the technology. While many gamers are waiting to see how Kinect Star Wars will turn out, and it could be an essential purchase, one game which has been building momentum over the last while is Child of Eden.
Originally designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the creator of Rez, Child of Eden has a similar concept to that 2001 game updated for a 2011 audience who of course have access to Kinect. Since launch we have been delving into Eden in both standard and Kinect mode in the hope that it would provide the first must have Kinect experience… read on to find out if it achieved that goal and why it is the first game we have ever decided not to rate.
As we play through Child of Eden we find that the game is split into five levels (archives – Matrix, Evolution, Beauty, Passion and Journey) and within each we are essentially on rails as we follow the flow of the level, attacking various creatures which are visual interpretations of the virus. Some are small, some larger and then in true shooter fashion we have mid and end of level bosses to dispatch.
As we progress we gain points for dispatching enemies and increase various stats by completing the level in a particular time, or for better accuracy etc. Our performance is then translated into stars with new levels being unlocked after the required star amount has been earned. For those with a competitive streak the option is available to view our score in an online leader board and we can gain unlockable items as we progress, such as artwork and difficulty settings.
This all sounds like pretty standard fare for now, the difference is however very much down to the visual, aural and physical experience that the game offers.
Fort those who don’t have Kinect we get the same visual and aural experience where each level has a specific and very artistic style varying from space based to water and so on. Within this we have an electronic, dance/pop soundtrack which accompanies our play and this is added to by the fact that our weapons, of which there are three, each have their own sound when activated.
Because this is an on rails shooter we control our target with the left stick on our controller and with the X, A and B buttons we can fire our weapons. The majority of the time it is A (which has an auto lock function for up to 8 targets) however enemy fire and some items themselves are killed via X when our target changes to purple and finally we have a smart bomb-esq weapon called Euphoria on B which will often kill all of the onscreen foes. These "bombs" like health points are dropped by enemies randomly and we pick them up by targeting and shooting them. All of this is of course accompanied by vibration feedback from our 360 controller.
Kinect players get something quite different… we are expected (as normal) to stand when playing and we control our main weapon aim with our right hand, flicking forward to fire. For the secondary fire it is left arm and finally for euphoria we raise our arms in the air. This of course creates a hugely immersive experience, especially if playing on a large TV with some decent volume and the lights off.
One other point of note is that we are required to replay levels to progress. For example it takes 8 stars to unlock archive 3 and completing 1+2 will normally give players 4 stars but this repetitive nature is reduced somewhat by the fact that the levels change each time we play them, not in structure or key points but in terms of the enemy patterns.
Graphics and Sound
There is no doubting that the game has its impressive moments within this art style however there are also moments where extra time could have been spent taking things to the next level in quality. Beauty for example has water backdrops in places however the water isn’t particularly well created compared to some other titles. We also noted on a few occasions that the game suffered framerate issues which on such a visual title really can draw the user back out of the experience.
Audio is of course a huge part of Child of Eden as everything we do creates a new sound within the game. Turn of the electronic soundtrack for example, leaving just the weapon/environmental effects and the game is still absolutely packed with sound.
To explain a little bit about why think back to the original Tetris on the Gameboy. At its core we have a game where monochrome shapes fall towards the base of the screen, we move them with the d-pad, rotate with a button and as we progress they get faster. Now we all know that this is a classic title, one of the best ever released and one of the most addictive. It has its own specific visual style and audio type too… try to tell someone who hasn’t played it that the game is worth 90%+ and they will look at the reviewer like they are mad. Falling blocks, minimal input… a classic???
In many ways Child of Eden is in the same boat but before we discuss that a few other thoughts.
The same can be said of the first level which until completed features tutorial steps which rip the player out of the main game interface to tell them about the weapons, gameplay etc. This is fine the first time round but if we are to die any time during the 10minute duration of that first level we are taken back to the beginning (via the main menu) and are made to see the tutorial steps as we play and there is no options menu item to turn of the tutorial, only a chance to view it outside the main game.
A little bit more thought, care and attention in development would have resolved these issues completely.
So, the game itself…
Playing Child of Eden is a real mix of experiences. First and foremost it will be unique for most players, something they have not experienced before as the music and visuals blend in a way that few games manage. In addition to this new experience there are flashes of more traditional games along the way, the collect stars to unlock levels concept is taken from Mario (and others) the on rails "flight" through waves of enemies with mini and major bosses that have specific sections which must be hit is very reminiscent of Starfox (Lylatwars) as one example and as a result for those on controllers Child of Eden will feel reasonably natural and simple to pick up due to the limited buttons required and give or take a few mistakes each level will be easily completed for the first time in 1-2 attempts.
For those on Kinect things are a little different though, it is a much more challenging game. Part of this is down to the fact we have to adapt to an entirely new control experience but the game is also more difficult as we lose some of the precision and speed that a hand held controller offers.
Interestingly however the two methods do have one aspect in common, strain. Whether playing hand held or full bodied the constant firing of our weapons will result in finger or arm fatigue after some time playing and breaks will be required. This aspect actually highlights one of the issues that we found with Child of Eden, essentially it is a button masher. Players can fire up a level and other than a few sections which require precision aim (with failure resulting in health loss) the levels can be completed with minimal thought, just tap away on the two main weapons as much as possible. Considering some levels are more than 20 minutes of this near constant firing, it will be tiring for most players.
In addition to this weapon fatigue we also found that the game, being so visually and aurally intense, can cause a little bit of sensory overload, so once again breaks will be required so as to avoid headaches.
We also feel that the developer has missed an opportunity in terms of style by limiting the soundtrack to the electro-dance-pop used in Child of Eden. To many it is a style of music which will not appeal and the game would have benefited from additional genre options appealing to a wider group of people. Classical and soft rock being two which could have been ideal alternatives. In our case the soundtrack was a little too much and we ended up turning down the music and leaving the game to concentrate on the audio provided by our weapons.
Child of Eden also frustrates due to the developers decision not to offer save points, using the Evolution archive as an example, it will take approximately 20 minutes to play through. If we happen to die 19 minutes in we are sent back to the main menu and have to restart the level from scratch. No save points, no quick continue… this and the need to replay levels to get enough stars to open future archives feels a little like they are decisions taken to have the campaign feel longer than it actually should be.
So Child of Eden is not without its faults and it certainly won’t offer huge depth of gameplay or a lengthy "campaign" but it is a game that is very much worth playing and without doubt that is the case for those on Kinect.
In summary, Child of Eden will offer gameplay which is completely unique to each individual user and the success of the visual and aural approach will vary hugely from player to player which makes the game impossible to rate. The game does however offer a style of gameplay and overall experience which should be experienced by Kinect users and with those aspects comes a glimpse into what is possible with the technology.