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Child of Eden review

14 Jul 2011  by   Paul Younger
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Things were always expected to be a little crazy in Child of Eden. What more could we expect from Tetsuya Mizuguchi? (The man is behind such madness as Space Channel 5, Lumines and Rez, after all.) It’s safe to say that Mizuguchi-san doesn’t intend on adhearing to the status quo.
It’s with Rez that Child of Eden bares the strongest resemblance; essentially this is an on-rails shooter, although (unlike Rez) Eden is played in first-person. The difference is that these rails have been set-up along what is surely one of the most fantastical, bizarre and unpredictable environments of the current generation… possibly ever.
The only way I can describe it with any degree of accuracy is to not even bother trying but, I’m going to try anyway. Imagine an organic recreation of Tron (complete with stark neon and vividly outlined shapes) designed by someone who has spent the last five years trying to outdo the narcotic intake of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty combined. Once you’ve got that image, times it by a factor of at least ten and you’re part way there. I told you, there’s no point trying to describe it. Just look at the pictures.

You’ve two primary weapons at your disposal as you make your way through this visual onslaught – a homing missile launcher of sorts and an automatic gun that fires purple beams of light (obviously). The homing-thing is used by highlighting multiple targets and firing a bunch of projectiles their way all in one go, it’s your most powerful weapon and one you need to make good and frequent use of if you harbour any desire to see the end of each level. Your other weapon fires constantly when wielded and, while less powerful, is the only way to take out targets of the purple variety.
It’s the purple variety that pose the biggest problem to you as they’re the primary means the game has for inflicting damage on the player (indicated by a circular gauge in the bottom-right corner of the screen). These small orbs come at you at a leisurely pace but their abundance can, during the final stages, make progress difficult when playing on the ‘normal’ setting. Usually they’re position in such a way so as to make it possible to take out large chunks with a single seamless movement, however; a wide circle or a zig-zag for instance.
Still, despite their sometimes irritating nature, never have enemies looked so visually appealing… so I’ll let them off for the torment you’ve caused me.

These are accompanied by shapes, constructs and neon organisms of varying complexity and scale. The second of the game’s five stages, Evolution, begins with you targeting and eliminating what look to be plankton and similar single-celled fauna before moving on to tackle a giant lacklustre whale and a soaring, flaming red phoenix. At the risk of sounding like a wet blanket, their design and timing is inspiring; a far cry from the standard dragons, giant mechs and super soldiers that make up the bulk of videogame ‘bosses.’
Eden’s visuals are accompanied and enhanced by its audio. Predominantly comprised of various tempos of electro, it’s the perfect impressionist backdrop to the visual assault taking place on screen. Further, every homing lock-on and attack results in another sound being added to the soundtrack, creating a satisfying and obvious connection between you and the game, one that is perhaps more powerful than using this game’s ‘big thing,’ Kinect.
It is possible to shun Kinect and play with a standard 360 control pad, but to do so defeats the purpose of the game. Yes, it’s easier to achieve a higher score by using the pad. Yes, there is a slight delay when using Kinect. Yes, playing with a pad means you can sit on the couch. But Eden, more than anything else, is an ‘experience’ rather than a game. High scores and precision is not the ultimate goal here. The goal is to provide a feeling of interactivity and spectacle; to do that you need to be using Kinect.

If you’re finding it difficult (which it can be on the normal setting with Kinect) there’s an option to play without a health bar or the risk of dying and simply experience the game without such limitations. This may just be the best way to play…
Eden is not a long game (the five stages can be completed in 3 to 4 hours at a rush) but, like something from thatgamecompany (Flow, Flower, Cloud), the impact of the experience stays with you long after completion. It you’ve ever played Rez then you’ll know what I mean (you probably still think about that game on occasion, too).
As I said before, Eden is more of an experience than a game. The usual videogame descriptives of ‘fun’, ‘exciting’ and ‘full of action’ do not do it justice at all; this is a fine demonstration of the fact that games can be more than ‘merely’ toys, whether it’s toys for adults and/or children. However, it’s perhaps for that very reason that I have no desire whatsoever to ever play Eden again. It’s not the kind of thing that allows itself to simply wash you in a wave of passive digestion; it needs to be experienced with your full attention.

Given its bizarre nature, I know that a repeat experience will never yield the same results as a large part of Eden’s appeal is the fact that you’re going into the unknown, never knowing what’s going to be around the next bend in the track. The game journalist in me is telling to mark it down for that reason (especially given the high cost of entry with Kinect plus a £35 game) but every other part of me is screaming out to heap on the praise for its daring, its charm and its unwillingness to compromise its design.
Whether you rent it, borrow it, buy it or visit a friend that owns it, you should play Child of Eden. Spend a night with it and never play it again but, don’t expect to forget about it anytime soon.

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