Kinect is kind of a big deal. Since the motion controller (or as some call it, "the un-controller") was first announced at E3 09, the hands-free controller has built up quite a reputation. Some have said that Kinect isn't really even a videogame control device and is in fact a supernatural force created by magic. Microsoft seems to have gotten wind of Kinect's ability to inspire awe in those that are yet to experience it, hence their clown-packed, Tron-elephant-laden Kinect showcase at last summer's E3. If Bill Gates and company are embracing the notion that Kinect is some sort of otherworldly device, I fear that they'll live to regret it.
I don't think that level of hype is good for the console. Kinect may be good for a lot of things, but in my experience, magic isn't one of them. I had the opportunity to use Kinect to play Child of Eden, one of the most mystical, otherworldly games I've ever seen. By the end of my play-through, I came away feeling jealous of those around me who had opted to play the game with a standard controller.
Read on for my full impressions.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the creator of Child of Eden, gave the crowd a brief talk before we got to play the game. There was a PowerPoint presentation that went over all of his past games (including classics like Lumines, Space Channel 5, and Rez) as well as took a look at video work with Japanese art-pop group Genki Rockets. Then he showed us footage of Child of Eden, which consisted of a giant laser space whale that transformed into a phoenix, some stuff that looked a lot like classic arcade game Gyruss, a whole lot of sparkly explosions, and more Genki Rockets. As it turns out, they're doing the soundtrack for the game. Awesome.
So far, I was quite pleased. I've loved Genki Rockets ever since I heard them in No More Hereos. I love rhythm action games. I love abstract, metaphor-heavy, psychedelic visuals. I love shooting stuff. I even have a history of falling in love with particular on-rails shooters. How could I not love Child of Eden?
Sadly, Mizuguchi-san wasn't done talking yet. At the end of his presentation, he made a Freudian slip, one that I wont soon forget. I believe his exact words were, "Playing the game with Kinect is very difficult... I mean... different. It is very different." He was actually wrong both times. The word he should have used was "broken."
Kinect effectively ruined my experience with Child of Eden. It was a great idea in theory -- play a shooter where you aim with your hands, change weapons by clapping, and launch bombs by stretching both arms in the air. I would have loved that. It could have been total body immersion into the game world. What I got instead was a total backfire. As it turns out, it was poorly implemented, full body-only work that made the player constantly aware of their body and the frustrated in their attempts to interact with the game world. It's the opposite of immersion. I'm still definitely going to buy Child of Eden, but I'll be using the standard analog pad controls, or maybe the PS Move control scheme, assuming they aren't also broken. Unless there are some serious changes prior to release, I wont be touching the game's Kinect controls with a ten-foot pole.
Actually, maybe if I used a ten-foot pole, the game would have worked better. I don't have particularly short arms, but no matter how hard I reached, I couldn't get the game to let me aim outside of a 1/4 screen-sized boundary in the middle of the screen. I also couldn't shoot a lot of the time, or even move the cross-hairs. There was no sense of "playing a game with your body," just a sense of trying to communicate with a game that wasn't listening to me. I got so bored with the game's unresponsive attitude that I eventually started to breakdance while "playing" it. I figured that it wouldn't hurt to try to keep myself entertained, and the game's music was pretty catchy, so why not dance to it? Child of Eden seemed to appreciate my efforts to keep things light, as I actually managed to hit more targets once I stopped trying to aim and started popping and locking. Perhaps breakdancing will go on to be the Kinect equivalent of button mashing? I suppose time will tell.
So yeah, score one for Child of Eden, but strike one for Kinect. The game itself was fantastic, like a higher concept, brighter, and happier sequel to Rez. Kinect only served to botch the whole experience. The visuals are captivating. The way that on-screen events synchronize with the soundtrack is intoxicating. Sadly, none of that matters when the motion controls don't work.
I don't know if that's the fault of Microsoft or Q Entertainment, but either way, someone better get back to the drawing board before Child of Eden comes out Q1 of next year.