Before reading this review, I would highly suggest you check out Rez HD on the Xbox Live Arcade if you haven't already. I'm going to make a lot of comparisons between Rez and Child of Eden below, as they're pretty mechanically similar (and in that respect, Rez HD may also serve as a demo of sorts).
When I first played Rez on the Dreamcast, I was floored. The visuals, the music, the gameplay...they were all there and they were all fantastic. I've always liked rail shooters, but no other glued me to my seat like Rez did (and still does). There are few experiences in gaming that really get under your skin (in the best way possible) like that, but I may have to add Child of Eden to that list.
Ubisoft's announce at E3 last year pushed Child of Eden past most any other title I had been anticipating for 2011 and I'm happy to say that the wait was worth it. I was a little hesitant about the focus on the Kinect controls at first, but after playing the whole game through with both Kinect and the standard controller, I think my fears were unfounded. Before I get too in-depth about the control methods, though, I should probably talk about the game itself.
Child of Eden is the spiritual successor to Rez, so of course it would be an intensely aural and visual rail shooter. However, the fact that it's not a direct sequel means that it's not necessary more of the same as far as aesthetics go. You'll find Child of Eden to be a lot more colorful and detailed than its wireframe predecessor, both musically and graphically. This is where some may be turned away from the game, as the music is mostly comprised of Genki Rockets (a band that you may be familiar with if you've played some of Tetsuya Mizuguchi's other games) remixes. You could almost say the game is just one big Genki Rockets advertisement, considering the band's fictional lead Lumi is the girl you're saving, but it's hard to say that cheapens the experience at all when the band was seemingly developed for Mizuguchi's music games anyway.
The music may not be quite the same style of Rez, but it does well to compliment the vibrant environment (just as Rez's soundtrack did for its environment). The visuals are nothing short of breathtaking every step of the way. Wild shapes and colors fly around you while you try your damnedest to keep up. It can get a little overwhelming when you're trying to shoot everything down (certainly much more so than Rez), but key points to attack are usually marked in obvious orange or purple. This color difference, however, is one of the biggest gameplay differences that Child of Eden has over Rez.
The basic lock-on beam is back, allowing you to lock-on to up to eight targets before shooting, as is overdrive (now called euphoria), which is a limited use move that kills everything in sight for a few seconds. The new weapon at your disposal is the purple rapid-fire laser, which is weaker than the lock-on beam, but the only option for shooting down purple enemies as well as all forms of missiles. This is probably one of the harder parts of the learning curve, as you'll need to switch often to keep opposing fire under control with the rapid fire while still hitting hard with the lock-on beam. There are also some parts where you have to shoot orange and purple targets with their respective beams, which reminds me a bit of Ikaruga.
The game is, like Rez, only five levels long (plus a sixth bonus stage), but there's still plenty of incentive (and desire) to go back and play every beautiful level again. Every time you complete a level, you can choose one of three or four items that appear on the level select screen. It'll start out pretty vacant, but after a few levels, you'll start to populate it with some of the game's trippy wildlife and assorted structures that get more detailed and complex as you reselect them upon finishing levels again. They're pretty frivolous rewards, but they're more than enough excuse to blast through the trippy levels again and again. There's also an art gallery with a number of pictures to unlock along with some visual filters, but overall the unlockable aren't quite as interesting as the ones in Rez.
As far as the controls go, I think this game may have made me sold on Kinect. My first playthrough was done entirely on the controller and I didn't feel like any part of the experience was lost for that, but when I played it with Kinect, I fell in love with the game. It only took one level to get used to the control scheme and I finished that first level with my first four star rating. After all the two and three star runs I had with the controller, I was convinced the scale went no higher!
I don't doubt that it's possible to do just as well with the controller (I'm sure more competent Rez players could five star most of this game easily), but with Kinect, I could feel the rhythm a lot better and unlike Rez, that really matters. Getting a octa-lock (max eight lock-on) and releasing in time with the beat of the music rewards you with a "Perfect" message (or "Good" if you're a little off) and a score multiplier. Being able to manage perfect octa-locks is the key to a high score and it's something I just couldn't manage most of the time with the controller. Moving my hand in time with the music on Kinect, however, I got the achievement for 10 perfect octa-locks on the first level.
Despite my night and day difference in skill, I still don't think the experience is any less impacting with the controller. It's a bit easier to control at times (your view can get a little screwed up when you try to switch hands or clap to change beams) and you get vibration, which is important (Child of Eden on the Playstation Move could fix both these issues), but the Kinect support is still solid and easier for me to excel at. It's really personal preference and not at all a right or wrong situation (as, say, playing DDR without a pad or Rock Band without an instrument would be), so I wouldn't discourage anyone without a Kinect from playing it. If you do own a Kinect already, though, you'd be a fool not to play Child of Eden, as it's probably the most enjoyable experience available for it right now.
Child of Eden is a fantastic experience no matter what control method you use. It is, however, a slightly different beast than Rez. If you haven't played Rez (which is unacceptable, go buy it right now), then you won't know the difference and you'll have a blast anyway. If you have played Rez, you may not dig the busy art direction and Lumi's upbeat singing. Either way, Child of Eden is a great game that isn't just a graphically superior sequel to Rez, but a unique and enjoyable trip of its own. It makes a lot of nods to Rez in terms of both story and level design, but never tries to replace what Rez was. They're both graphically and musically impressive games that I wish we saw more of these days.