Child of Eden ReviewJason Venter
When I play Child of Eden, I find myself asking questions: When is this level going to end? What should I have for supper? If I say something mean and unprovoked to my wife, will we have a small-scale war of words for the next five minutes? If so, how could that not be more interesting than this game I'm playing?
Those aren't the sort of questions that I expected to be asking myself when I first started seeing coverage for Child of Eden and then when I landed the task of writing this review. I didn't expect to be asking any questions at all, actually. Based on my experiences with past titles from Q Entertainment (makers of Luminous, Meteos and Every Extend Extra, all great games), I expected to be making exclamations. Awesome! I would say as I cleared another of the game's precious stages. Sweet! I would exult as I did something astonishing.
I tell you of my former frame of mind not to bore you, but to clarify an important point that may seem to be at odds with the verdict I eventually reached. I was on Child of Eden's side, you must realize. I wanted to love it and I even anticipated such an outcome. The stars were aligned.
Those bloody, stupid, lying stars!
Child of Eden is a game that features you as someone or something floating through space while shapes that look a lot like fish and worms fly toward you. Depending on your chosen control scheme (you can go with either a standard controller configuration, or you can control it with your body using Kinect), you will press buttons or move your arms--slowly or frantically--to aim and then shoot beams of light at your targets as funky techno/electronica music/noise blares from the speakers and you cruise toward a girl who needs to be rescued from the digital amalgamation that has her confined in the far reaches of space... or something.
The plot is actually outlined when you first start a game, over the course of several screens of boring text that references the first artificial girl and her contained memories and the like. And there's a video of a Japanese girl walking around and looking startled and concerned about something, with cool slow-motion effects that are debatably the game's highlight. I can't really explain what any of it means. All that's clear to me is that the plot is little more than an excuse to play the proper game.
I have a number of issues with the proper game, though. Those issues are: inefficient controls, objectives that require precise and efficient firing (plus memorization), levels that last too long and music that is entirely too ethereal and unremarkable to ever be interesting. The flaws all combine to form a game that I have come to regard as an experience worth avoiding. It's probably just too artistic for a Philistine like me.
Perhaps I should define inefficient controls, though, since that description really could mean any number of things. Here, it means that the game expects you to carefully and quickly map out large and small circles (among other shapes), then flick your wrist to unleash a wave of energy that obliterates any targets that you have selected over the preceding seconds. That doesn't sound so rough, but the Kinect cursor moves on-screen with half the speed and none of the grace you'd expect from a pineapple chunk caught in some ambrosia salad. You can wave your arms like a madman and then it will swiftly cross the screen, but it's clear that there are only two potential speeds: fast or painfully slow. The game naturally requires something in between.
So you give up controlling things with your Kinect and resort to the controller instead, because at least there you have precision on your side. The cursor then moves swiftly about the screen, but have you ever tried outlining a perfect circle with an analog stick? It's a real hassle. And of course Child of Eden requires that you do so with irritating regularity, even in the early stages (because with five chapters, difficulty progression has to happen pretty swiftly or it won't have time to happen at all). If you fail to map out the circles in time, you'll in turn fail to activate all of the switches that are required to open a floating bay door and then you'll burst through it with your body while taking obscene amounts of damage in the process. Since the stages are all relatively long for a game of this sort (no doubt because there aren't very many of them), and since life-replenishing items are rare and mostly ineffectual, a few mistakes like that doom you to failure. Then you have to start fresh from the beginning of the stage.
If you memorize the order in which things come at you, the process is smoother because then you know that the monstrously huge ring of switches will be on its way shortly and you can prepare yourself. But it's like I said: levels are long. I can't fathom a future wherein I play the game long enough to memorize every pattern, not even if you were to pay me good money.
As for the music, I've liked most of the music in the Lumines games and such. Q Entertainment knows how to crank out some great stuff, but that's not what you'll find here. Here, the lifeless aural compositions conspire to put me to sleep. There are some nice moments, like when you're battling what looks like a giant worm halfway through the first stage and there are plinking noises to accompany the main soundtrack, but mostly I was left feeling extremely underwhelmed.
Finally, consider this: Child of Eden is a short game, featuring only five chapters. If you love the game the way some folks do (its current overall score of 84 on Metacritic suggests that I am in a clear minority), you can and probably will blow through it in 3 or 4 hours. After that, you can go through it a few more times just because you've nothing better to do, but at that point you've basically seen all there is to see. For those who aren't capable of falling into the trance-like state that apparently makes Child of Eden such a treat to the senses, however, three or four hours floating in space is three or four hours too many.
I could go back and play another hour or two and maybe I'd magically start having fun, but I think I like my chances better if I tell my wife to stick to salads for all of her future meals. Do you see what Child of Eden has done to me?
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.