Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
Only seconds in and I’m flying down a tube. Wireframe, flying spaceships are staring at me, goading me into opening fire on them, and I feel as though I’ve invested in a next-generation version of the classic shooter Tempest.
But as the world opens into an explosion of imaginative colours, shapes and objects, to pigeonhole Child of Eden as a mere shooter would do a disservice to Mizuguchi and the rest of his whacked-out bunch of hippy friends back at Q Entertainment. Your purpose may be to bring down the numerous waves of foes that wish you harm, but the weapons you possess are as much about making a musical lightshow as they are about bringing about destruction.
Flying through Eden, taking in the glorious visuals, each new target is an opportunity to create your own score. The Vulcan Cannon rapidly spits out pink lasers, accompanied by a tinny set of sixteenths; your missiles explode in time to the never-ending beat, with the destruction they wreak adding further layers to the soundtrack as their target explodes. Even firing when nothing is to be fired upon results in the smack of a snare, imitating the click of an empty chamber.
Each new area provides a new backing track for you to play along with, and at times it’s easy to get distracted as you discover different enemies offer new rhythm and sounds. Rattle your laser off an abstract clock and the tune will alter to frantic house, or target a series of strange sea creatures with your main weapon and the results could explode into a low bass riff. The intricacies involved in such sound production are highly impressive.
Not to be outdone, the art direction keeps to equally high standard, conjuring worlds up from what can only be described as either highly talented or highly disturbed minds. One of the tamer levels finds you flying about a pond, where oversized lilies spout forth flying insects whilst vast butterflies twirls overhead, all surrounded by glitter and emphasised in a riot of bright greens and blues. Tame doesn’t last though, and before long you flit between giant, glowing, space whales; huge, complex, rotating geometric constructs; a swift tour of mechanised transport from the twentieth century; and several tall and glowing men insistent on running forever more.
A couple levels in and I was disappointed when the standard of what was orbiting around me was simply surprising. Such is the wonder that is constantly thrown at you merely being “good” no longer seems good enough, but the constant variety and quality of surroundings can never be called into question.
At times, such is the wonderment of both audio and visual you forget there are actual beings on screen seeking to inflict pain upon you and bring your trip to an abrupt halt. Common baddies may pop the odd shot at you in the form of slow, meandering pulses but a quick squirt of your lasers will dispel the threat. The challenge comes when facing one of the numerous boss battles that have the potential to turn an otherwise comparatively sedate experience into a screen filled with particle effects, bullets and a general air of confusion until you can disseminate what the hell is going on. It may not be learn-by-death, but be prepared to think fast or prepare to start the lengthy levels over again.
Though not quite to the pain inducing levels of many a Bullet Hell game that escaped Japan, the test of one’s mettle is both a blessing and a curse. For the more experienced players it adds a level of challenge that otherwise may have seen them sneer at this beautiful, interactive screensaver. For those simply intent on taking part in the experience, it can be off putting. Child of Eden itself also seems confused as to just which demographic it targets for there is no sign of a score unless you ferret through the options menu to enable it.
Where Child of Eden soars to new heights however is when you pop down the controller and make use of Kinect, immersing yourself in the world you seek to protect. It may sound trite, but being such a sensory experience, standing up and involving yourself in such a way feels natural. Your right arm dictates the spread of your missiles, activated by a quick flick of the wrist, whilst your left controls your defensive Vulcan Cannon, and both work incredibly smoothly. Even the wrist-flick can be achieved with the subtlest of gestures leading to relaxed control even in the face of a screen full of potential death.
Waving your arms in front of you as if you were the Force endowed Emperor himself may not be everyone’s idea of fun but quickly switching between weapons, quite literally orchestrating the music as you progress is an experience everyone should try at least once. Painting the screen one minute with your right hand, flicking destruction at all in front of you, only to have to swiftly retreat to your left hand to remove a resultant barrage before returning to the onslaught brings a tactical edge to your flailing, and one played up by later scenarios which always favour keeping you on your toes. It almost makes a mockery of the comparatively callous controller interface, not unexpected by a studio infamous for trying to expand the user interaction beyond mere pictures.
To all intents and purposes this is the spiritual successor to the cult classic Rez, enhanced by Kinect with slight improvements to the formula, not to mention graphical fidelity. Very rarely does a trifecta of art, sound and gameplay come together in such harmony. There was always a risk that such a cavalcade of sensory bombardment could overshadow any game hidden beneath the trappings, but the core mechanics are so easy and robust that no one portion of Child of Eden detracts from the other.
Better with Kinect? I’d say so.