June 16, 2011
Child of Eden tells the story of Lumi, an artificial intelligence which exists in the realm of Eden or, simply put, the internet. Players must fight off various viruses that threaten Lumi across five levels, each of which has a particular theme to it. The entire game serves as a successor to Rez, which had a very similar theme of entering Eden in order to fight back viruses, and those familiar with the title back in the day will know that while the storyline is fairly shallow, this is a series more defined by the gameplay.
The first level of the game serves as a quick tutorial before eventually drawing players into the larger scope of things, which while being a pretty standard practice actually serves to showcase quite a few elements of the game. Players navigate through Child of Eden typical to any other rail shooter, except aiming and firing is done depending on the hand players are holding up. Raising a right hand will bring up a targeting reticule that when positioned on an enemy will lock onto the target until you push forward, which then sends up to eight bullets flying towards their targets.
Likewise raising the left hand will send out a stream of bullets which are used to weaken enemies otherwise immune to attacks locked-on by the right hand. Raising both hands (which we'll call 'raising the roof') will kill just about everything on the screen, and do large amounts of damage to bosses, but just like most rail shooters (and sweet parties) there is a limited number of times players can use such an ability. Additionally, killing enemies will occasionally drop items like health, or additional charges for players to raise the roof.
What players will also find out during the course of the short tutorial is that attacks don't simply have an effect on the enemies, but on the environment themselves. Killing a virus will cause a musical note to play just the same as firing bullets or hitting other objects in the background, mixing with the game's constantly evolving soundtrack to shape the players experience. It may be hard to explain or understand at first, but the longer the level goes on the more the experience that Child of Eden is trying to bring forth becomes very clear.
The literal or theological interpretation of each level in Child of Eden is best left for the individual player to decide, but ultimately, it's a game that, when started, sucks the player in without warning. Yes, there are points assigned to every kill and the better you do the more multipliers it's possible to rack up, but those are concerns that are brought up once a level has been completed the first few times. Otherwise, reward in this game is brought forth on multiple fronts.
Completing a level with more accuracy will better bring to life the sound of the game, whose general blend of electronica is beyond memorable even for those who prefer mainstream or classical as their musical genre of choice. The visuals of the game work so well with the theme of every level that it's extremely easy to sink into the mood that the developer was trying to convey. From moving alongside digital whales and manta rays in a sea that consists of light to flying alongside a phoenix while you attempt you pick off its feathers, each of the five different levels of the game are extremely distinct unique experiences.
As each level is completed, new artwork and creatures representing the digital world of Eden are unlocked, giving players quite a bit of incentive to score better on each run. Given that each play-through sounds relatively different from the last as well, running through them again actually isn't much of a chore. Although it's disappointing that there are are only five, at the very least, they are five very well designed and extremely creative levels. Provided you have a Kinect, that is.
Mind you, this isn't to say that the game suffers using a standard Xbox controller. Quite simply, the Kinect is clearly the way this game is meant to be played. To perhaps explain better, Child of Eden is a game that plays completely off of the human senses. Bright, vivid artwork is so tightly interwoven with an extremely well written soundtrack that adding the element of touch to the game is simply the next logical progression.
Moving a controller around and shooting down the same viruses using a pad accomplishes the same goal on a mechanical level, but actually going through the motions with your hands brings the game to life. It's a strange sensation for sure, particularly since some would argue that the only real compelling experience on the Kinect so far is Dance Central, but in a lot of ways Child of Eden moves in the same direction. Getting drawn into the soundtrack and visual imagery of the game is its ultimate purpose. In this case, the controller really does act as a very real barrier to the full immersion that Q Entertainment is attempting to convey here.
It's important to note that Child of Eden isn't without its few flaws, one of which is that the game is criminally short considering how compelling the entire experience is, and another goes hand in hand with the Kinect's natural limitations. There are instances where one may find themselves raising a left hand followed by a right hand in a rush to hit the appropriate targets, and naturally the game will be a little picky if your hand isn't quite down enough. It's easy to get caught up in the entire hand waving experience, and frustrating to remember that the sensor just isn't built to read your mind quite yet, so keeping one hand down while the other does its work is an absolute must. Not a game breaker mind you, but quite a grounding experience when the game's entire purpose is to suck you into its world.
There's also a strange difficulty curve in Child of Eden, which ranges between far too easy and actually quite difficult. Perhaps it's due to the nature of a rail shooter to become almost abusive at times, but there are many parts in the game which require players to be adept and shooting down incoming missiles with the left hand, and then taking brief moments to deal damage with the right. It's wonderfully designed, but these elements sneak themselves in about halfway through the game which may present a barrier to those still getting used to the general mechanics. Part of the problem may lie in there only being five levels, perhaps the developer simply wanted to cover all spectrum’s of this unique experience, but it's fair enough to warn others that the game does have its more difficult moments.
Short but sweet, Child of Eden may be the game that's actually given me hope for motion control devices like the Kinect. It hits a spot in casual gaming that's both refreshing and memorable, and maintains being both extremely accessible and a challenge all at the same time. Most importantly it is art of the highest degree, in just about every single aspect. The soundtrack is stunning, the art direction is both creative and engaging, and the games controls (Xbox controller notwithstanding) are absolutely fantastic. There's really no reason not to own this title if you have a Kinect, and honestly the game itself is a compelling reason to consider purchasing one if you don't already. If games like this are the future of motion controlled gaming, I just may very well may be sold on the subject.