Child of Eden is the game that many longtime fans of Tetsuya Mizuguchi never thought would see the light of day. When Mizuguchi-san's Rez hit the Dreamcast back in 2001, it was a creative maelstrom, yet at the same time was a title that didn't seem to hit critical mass. The hardcore loved it, but the general gamer passed it over. In 2008, Rez finally got the exposure it deserved with the release of Rez HD on XBLA. A direct prequel to Rez, Child of Eden takes almost everything that worked in the prior game and kicks it up a notch.
An on-rails shooter (think Panzer Dragoon) crossed with a psychedelic light show and incorporating rhythm mechanics, Child of Eden is an exercise in duality. Simultaneously a piece of art and a video game, Child of Eden once again explores the concept of synesthesia that was at the core of Rez's game design. The underlying idea is to provide an experience that stimulates multiple senses at the same time by rewarding synchronized actions. Within Child of Eden, this is done in a number of ways, the most direct of which is the score multiplier.
Each level in the game features a remixed music track by the virtual J-Pop band, Genki Rockets. The music starts out subtle, with only a minimal bass line present. As you progress, more of the music layers in. By the time you reach the end of the level and start fighting the boss creature, the entire song is cranking through the speakers.
Were the music just there to serve as background, it wouldn't be much different from other games. Instead, the music cues are keyed off of your actions. Every time you fire one of your weapons, a sound effect plays, adding to the tune. If you fire off a full lock-on shot (eight targets at once) in perfect sync with the beat, you'll score a bonus multiplier. Keep it to the beat, and watch your score skyrocket.
Shooting targets is the central gameplay mechanic, and in Child of Eden, you are equipped with two weapons. First is the standard lock-on gun, which was the same weapon that was present in Rez. To use it, you simply "mark" up to eight targets before firing at all of them simultaneously. The second is a purple tracer gun. Shots fired by the tracer are weaker than your primary gun, but they have the unique ability to destroy purple targets in one shot. Meanwhile, your primary gun is completely ineffective against anything purple. Don't try to rationalize it; just accept it.
The backdrop for all of this is a CGI joyride that is the epitome of visual eye candy. Colors are constantly flashing on the screen, shapes are moving and morphing in sync with the music, and images disintegrate into a pixelated mess before reforming into something new. On a small screen, it's impressive. On a large enough screen, all of the visual intricacies can initially be a bit overwhelming, though you quickly come up to speed.
Playing Child of Eden with a controller is spot-on. Movement is sharp and tight, though the default cursor speed sometimes feels a tad slow until you get used to sliding the reticle around. What's here should be second nature to any shooter fan, and if you played Rez, it's downright identical.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Child of Eden is the Kinect support. Although it was one of the first Kinect titles announced, Kinect support in Child of Eden is anything but superficial. It's safe to say that Child of Eden features the most accurate and responsive Kinect controls in any Kinect title released to date. Navigating the in-game menus even feels like a step up from the standard Xbox 360 dashboard controls.
Playing with the Kinect is an experience unto itself, as Child of Eden does a superb job of pulling you into the game experience. By default, your right arm controls the lock-on weapon while your left arm controls the tracer. You can release the lock-on by flicking your hand or pushing it forward Jedi-style. The lock-on is automatically released by swapping weapons, which is done simply by lowering one arm and raising the other.
If it all sounds a bit kludgy, rest assured that it is not. Movements end up feeling smooth and natural almost immediately. Playing with the Kinect also makes it easier to land the perfect lock-on shots because you're not just trying to time a button press. Rather, your whole body usually ends up moving in sync to the music without you even realizing it.
The first moment when everything gels is a transcendent gaming moment. You no longer feel like you're pointing at the screen; you feel like a digital avenger who's floating through cyberspace and taking out enemies left and right. If you remember the 1992 film, "The Lawnmower Man," Child of Eden does an admirable job of making you feel like a character from the film, without the silly VR suit.
Of course, being a synesthesia title, Child of Eden wouldn't be complete if it didn't support vibration feedback. It's up to you to figure out how to hold the controllers, but the game supports vibration feedback via up to four Xbox 360 controllers, even while you're controlling all the action via Kinect.
With the music being such an important component of the game, Child of Eden is one of those rare titles where the experience is actually better with headphones than with a standard speaker setup. We ended up playing both with a stereo system and with an ASTRO Gaming A30 headset. Having the bass pump through the sub on the stereo was a nice touch, but the music in Child of Eden shined coming through the A30s. Connecting the headset via a Wireless MixAmp also meant that there were no wires to interfere with the Kinect action.
Our only complaint has to do with the extras. Among the unlockables are some Genki Rockets music videos, but they are simply previews, not the full videos. Ubisoft, would it have been that hard to include the full songs? Someone dropped the ball here.
All in all, Child of Eden is an amazing example of what the Kinect hardware can do when placed in the right hands. It's also a brilliant piece of entertainment that is just as enjoyable to watch as it is to play. If you own an Xbox 360, this is a game that needs to be in your collection.
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