Over a decade ago, Rez hit the Dreamcast in Japan and received rave reviews from the relatively few dedicated import fans who played it. The positive vibes continued with its PS2 release, which brought it to North America for the first time officially, but in short supply. Its XBLA HD revamp became the definitive version, and the only one outside of Japan to recreate the “trance vibration” effect that pulsated the controller along with the game’s music. Now, the creator of Rez is back with another unforgettable experience whose greatness can’t entirely be put into words.
The core of the game is that of a rail shooter, which is easy enough to explain. You aim the reticule at whatever enemies you’re facing, with the lock-on laser being used for most enemies, and the purple machine gun-esque tracer being used for purple ones or for instances where rapid-fire attacks are needed, like having to eliminate four enemies to pass through a door without taking damage, or having to destroy a swarm of purple missiles that can easily kill you if you don’t destroy them all WHILE fighting a boss.
You’ll definitely need some fast reflexes to beat this game, and it will challenge you when you least suspect it. You can be cruising through a stage, getting into a groove, scoring massive multipliers, and then face a boss, like the aforementioned one in the “Beauty” stage that just destroys you. In that case, when I first fought him, I got to the end of what I thought was his life bar only to be defeated, then I face it again and destroyed that life bar, celebrated…and found that THERE WAS ANOTHER FORM I HAD TO BEAT. This brought about a mix of rage and elation because I was able to get further than I ever had before, which was incredibly rewarding given the missile swarms, but was still left tasting the agony of defeat after thinking I had the win since he was at the end of that new life bar only to be hit by ONE missile and then boom - I died and had to restart the level. Unlike Rez, you can’t just continue at the boss - you have to complete the whole level again.
Despite that, the game never gets too frustrating - every loss is a learning experience, even if it just results in you memorizing one more pattern than you did before, it’s still knowledge you can use to not only try and score a better star rating later on, but when you’re just flat-out trying to beat the stages to try and progress, gives you that one extra sliver of life you may need for the boss. The real key is when, after all the things the game throws at you, is the thrill of victory when you FINALLY beat that boss. And I was gob smacked when I not only beat that boss for the first time, but managed to do so without taking any damage because of carefully learning the patterns and getting my timing down.
The controller-based setup is fantastic - the buttons are incredibly responsive, and while I found myself preferring the default layout, there are other ones available for people who want inverted aiming controls and to be able to use a more robust button layout than the face buttons. However, I found that setup to work best as far as going from one type of attack to the other, especially when using the screen-filling euphoria attack to clear out large amounts of enemies, or having to switch between the A button to attack the thing shooting missiles and X to attack the missiles themselves.
As great as the controller is for the game, the Kinect controls are without a doubt THE way to experience the game…once you’ve beaten each stage with the controller on normal mode and can then tinker with them as much as you like in God mode. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, the Kinect controls allow you to aim the laser with your right hand (or either if you change the setting), the tracer with your left, and then fire by moving either your left or right hand respectively, forward. This works well enough most of the time, but not perfectly. There isn’t 1:1 motion control here, and as a result, the slight lag will lead you to taking damage, and as I said before, there are times when one hit is all it takes for you to die.
You can get through the early stages pretty easily despite this, but after that, things get much harder because the sheer amount of stuff being thrown at you increases and it becomes not only hard to keep track, but also keep your own energy level high enough to keep rapidly moving your arms around. And you can’t just flail them around all willy nilly either - you have to have precision or you’ll spend half the stage lobbing shots at nothing. However, despite the responsiveness issue, the level of immersion offered by Kinect is remarkable and is so far my favorite usage of the device so far. I was sold on it being the most enthralling way to play once I got into the first stage’s pink box-filled area where you have to clear out a whole bunch of boxes with the tracer before attacking the enemies behind them, so with the default setup, you’re carefully moving your left hand to shift the boxes around in near-real time and then blasting the enemies and there’s a sense of wonderment in doing that. It’s kind of like seeing the 3DS’s AR cards in action, where you don’t think it’ll be a big deal because on paper it doesn’t seem all that exciting, and then you do it, and you’re just left speechless.
It’s a real shame that it is inherently more difficult to control using the Kinect, because it’s the most absorbing control method for the game, but not the most technically accurate, which is kind of heartbreaking, but also not as much as it would be because of the God mode. You CAN use it to beat the game, but it’s going to be a lot harder and more frustrating than just using the controller, and since it’s such a tranquil experience with the Kinect, easily the best one since Flower on the PS3, I think it’s worth getting through the game with the controller as a means to an end and then just losing yourself in an afternoon of playing it with the Kinect.
The visuals are stunning and are basically exactly what any Rez veteran would expect a modern day-tech successor to look like, and yet also go further than that in some regards. Rez was big into souped-up wireframes, and while CoE has some of that, along with a giant disco ball enemy in the first stage, it quickly evolves from the Rez homage tutorial stage into a neverending feast for the eyes. Stages are filled with bright neon, crisp water, and stunning skies. The second boss battle is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire game, with a stunning bright orange and yellow phoenix made up of individual light strands.
The soundtrack provided by Genki Rockets, although slightly altered to better suit the game, is tremendous. It’s more pop-oriented with some addictive synthesized voice work, and even catchier than Rez. It’s poppish trance music and while it isn’t exactly a genre I’d have had on my mp3 player before playing Child of Eden, after doing so, I’m glad I’m able to download it via Amazon’s mp3 offerings and listen to it on the go. The best part of the sound design, aside from the soundtrack getting stuck in your head, is being able to make music using the notes formed with each attack. Both the tracer and lock-on laser have their own notes, and they sound different when bouncing off of different enemies.
Child of Eden offers a ton of replay value in both good and bad ways. Mostly good, thankfully. There are only five stages, and while they are a joy to replay, you’re forced to replay them to unlock further stages via the star rating system. Just beating a stage gets you two stars, while doing so with some style will get you three and four. It’s annoying to HAVE to replay stages in order to unlock levels, but the star rating setup itself is addictive once you have them all unlocked and are just playing for the fun of it. You’ll start a play session just to get the bare minimum and then just not stop until you’ve gotten the highest possible star rating. While it’s not an altogether bad thing to replay a stage, it is better to do it because you want to than because you have to in order to even see the next one. It makes some degree of sense to unlock stages so you aren’t overwhelmed, but still winds up coming off as an artificial way to increase the game’s replay value. I did love the non-essential unlockables, like the movie and art galleries. The former will showcase some of the game’s videos and Genki Rockets’ own music videos, while the latter features screen-filling art that would be perfect as desktop wallpaper.
Child of Eden is about as perfect a follow-up to Rez as one could expect - minus the annoying star system. If you loved Rez, or on-rail shooters in general, you’ll definitely want to buy this ASAP. The $50 price tag may seem a bit high given that there aren‘t a ton of levels available. However, what’s here is high-quality stuff, so if you enjoyed Rez, you’ll easily get $50 worth out of it - especially if you own the Kinect since that gives you two distinct, but very different ways to play the game. If you didn’t love Rez, but liked it, then you’re better off either renting it or waiting for a price drop in a few months. Kinect owners feeling like their device is being neglected should at least rent it to experience what I think is the most immersive Kinect experience yet, even if it isn’t technically perfect.