It's the 23rd century, and the internet, now known as Eden, having just reconstructed the persona of Lumi, the first child born in space, is under attack from an unknown virus somewhere in the depths of the cosmos. It's up to you to purify Eden’s archives and save Lumi. You fly through space, with two anti-virus weapons, removing infection from the many abstract creatures that make up the five archives of Eden.
Child of Eden, as one might expect, plays very similarly to the Dreamcast cult hit Rez. You fly through abstract environments with a lock on laser that can hold up to 8 targets at once, then release all of the beams to shoot enemies. New to Child of Eden is a secondary, weaker rapid-fire weapon that doesn’t give you multiple targets, but makes short work of smaller enemies. The third person view from Rez with your character upgrading through multiple incarnations is replaced with a much more standard HUD and a first person view, making it a good bit harder to tell for sure when the bullets actually hit you. Overdrive is now called Euphoria, and instantly purifies everything on screen instead of auto targeting as in Rez.
The big difference is that the bullets shot by enemies, along with other purple colored targets can only be shot down with the rapid fire weapon, and other orange colored targets can only be shot down with the lock on laser, which adds an element of complexity to the original Rez concept. Another difference is the addition of a rhythm element to the gameplay. While the more targets you have, the bigger multiplier you get, just like Rez, if the lock on laser is maxed out at eight targets (an octo-lock) you can earn an even higher score multiplier if you release the beams in time with the music.
Generally though, this is Rez 2.0, at least when you play with a controller, but the Kinect sensor transforms what would be a standard sequel into a wholly different experience. Child of Eden ceases to be a video game and becomes an immersive, at times even emotional experience. As psychologists have noted, the more of your body that is involved in an activity, the more your brain is involved as well, so when playing with the Kinect the world melts away in a wonderful, zen-like journey through abstract Jungian representations of the evolution and beauty of life, cell division and human development, the rise of industry and technology and more.
I found the game to be generally easier with the controller, but supremely lacking the immersive element that Kinect provided. There are inverted and standard control schemes for the controller, and two gesture types on Kinect, with one assigning one weapon to each hand, the other switching weapons by clapping. Firing is timed with a quick forward motion of the hand, and Euphoria is triggered by putting both hands over your head in both cases. I found the reticule smoothing and sensitivity control to be invaluable to account for the distance you are standing from the television in different play environments, as well as the gesture size and speed of different players. Sensitivity on Kinect was impeccable and once you get used to the motions, very consistent. Ease and speed of targeting was faster for me on the Kinect, though not quite as accurate, where I found the controller more accurate, but slower to move around the screen.
Child of Eden is, in a word, gorgeous. The graphics are smooth, bright, and, well, trippy, as you would expect from Mizuguchi. There are many moments where the game's visuals are truly breathtaking. From the lotus flower in the third level to the phoenix in the second, the visuals achieve an emotional effect that few games of this genre have even attempted. The music is distinctly more asian J-pop than Rez, and somewhat less varied, with just a single artist performing most of the soundtrack, but it is beautiful and supports the game’s zen-like experience every step of the way. While most of the action in the game happens in front of you, the game does make good use of 5.1 to bring you that much more into the play space.
The only online support for the game is in the form of leaderboards. and since there are separate boards for controller and Kinect play, your scores are only compared to the same play method, taking any skew from one control type or the other out of the leaderboard results. I was hoping for some kind of competitive or cooperative online or local play (after all, the Kinect can track two people at once), but that is not present. With only five main levels and one bonus level, each of about ten minutes, the game gets its depth through repetition, with an extensive list of unlockables in the game, just like Rez did. And while the game has only an hour of unique content, it took around 5 hours to complete the game on Normal difficulty, and slightly less than that again to get through on Hard. The menus of the game, while at first seeming flat and unimpressive, get much more interesting as you play the game to place rewards in Lumi’s garden, which is represented in the menu for the game. The Kinect menus are timed buttons, as many games on the sensor are. I still hope that more Kinect titles will take the direction Dance Central took with gesture controlled menus rather than buttons.
There are multiple color schemes and sound effects to unlock just as there were in Rez, as well as much of the concept art for the game. These are unlocked by completing specific in game goals, such as completing a part of a level under a specific time, or playing an entire level while taking no damage, and many others. Good players will have at least ten to twenty hours of gameplay before making a significant dent in unlocking everything in the game. In order to unlock some of the many unlockables, as well as achieve a full thousand gamerscore, many more hours of dedicated play will be necessary.
At $50, Child of Eden on Kinect is likely one of the most beautiful and emotionally engaging experiences you will ever have the pleasure of playing on your 360. Even with a controller, it is a good (and somewhat more challenging) sequel to Rez. Though a long time coming since its predecessor, Mizuguchi has delivered yet another quirky, trippy masterpiece, this time in truly stunning HD.