If pop culture is any guide, the 80s and 90s were the golden years of computer hacking. This was an era in which penetrating the network of a nefarious corporation required you to fly through a realm of kaleidoscopic colour and clash with fearsome avatars in order to escape with the requisite data. Prepare to relive those halcyon days with Child of Eden, a game that understands that hacking has nothing to do with learning a programming language or poring over reams of code and everything to do with blasting barnacles from the hide of a neon whale as it glides majestically through cyberspace.
Q Entertainment founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi also worked on Dreamcast classic Rez and Child of Eden is very much a successor to that game. Both are musically themed rails shooters in which you must destroy a computer virus while flying through an abstract representation of a computer network. Both challenge you to target to multiple enemies simultaneously and both place music at the core of gameplay. However, the new release distinguishes itself from its predecessor in a number of ways, not least of which is its use of the Kinect peripheral.
In this case, Microsoft’s motion sensing device proves to be a reasonably viable control option. By gesturing with your right hand, you can select up to eight red targets, before thrusting your hand forward to eliminate them. Meanwhile, purple targets are entirely immune to your lock-on attack, and instead require you to employ a rapid fire laser controlled by your left hand. Raising both of your arms triggers a screen clearing (and often life saving) special attack. The Kinect method is quite physically intensive and it can be difficult to maintain the required level of precision over longer periods. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon revert to the traditional control scheme, which is simple and intuitive.
This game is a feast for the eyes. You’ll dive into interstellar oceans populated by electric octopi and soar through steampunk worlds divided by clockwork gates. You’ll orbit vast space stations and purify the roots of a cosmic tree. In another break from Rez, you’ll experience this voyage into delirium entirely from the first person perspective. Graphics have come a long way since the days of the Dreamcast and Child of Eden illustrates this in spectacular fashion. It does include a few live action segments, and these will likely prove divisive. If you’re willing to invest yourself in the trials of a cyberspace ingénue, you’ll probably get a kick out of them. If not, you may find yourself wondering just how a hair care commercial found its way into the game.
A likeable blend of pop, dance and electronica, the game’s soundtrack is the work of Mizuguchi produced band the Genki Rockets. You’ll be challenged to annihilate your adversaries in time with the music, with each of your attacks layering additional drum beats, guitar licks or other sounds into the mix. This grants you access to the score multipliers that are crucial to climbing the worldwide leaderboards. If you don’t have a great sense of rhythm (welcome to the club, by the way) the balance of probabilities will see you pull off the occasional streak anyway.
Sadly, an otherwise immersive journey is all but undone by two appalling design decisions. The lack of checkpoints is infuriating. You’ll find yourself trudging through a 20 minute sequence over and over again, merely because the last 30 seconds of it are giving you a hard time. That’s not the worst of it though, not by a long shot. Child of Eden contains about two hours of content. However, unless you’re particularly adept at the game, you’ll spend several hours more grinding your way through the opening levels in order to build up enough stars (the currency of Child of Eden) to unlock the later stages. Q Entertainment’s decision to artificially elongate the game (possibly in an attempt to justify its price tag) takes the shine off what is otherwise a very polished experience.
If you’re looking for a strong rails shooter, a challenging rhythm game or simply a prettier version of Rez, you must consider picking up Q Entertainment’s latest offering. At its pulsating, mesmerising best, Child of Eden draws you into an utterly compelling convergence of sound, vision and gameplay. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as interesting on your (unavoidable) seventh play through.