Child of Eden Review
Written : Friday, July 01, 2011
By: Richard Walker
Back in the day, Rez was unlike anything we'd played before. We didn't go to the insane lengths of buying the trance vibrator to go with it, but the sense of synaesthesia we got from playing it was a genuinely unique thing at the time. Now auteur Tetsuya Mizuguchi is back with his next psychedelic experiment, marrying pulsing techno music and tunes from his band Genki Rockets, with retina-scorching visuals that will stay with you long after you've switched off your console.
Ostensibly an on-rails shooter at heart, Child of Eden goes far beyond that genre pigeon hole, sending the player soaring through incredible landscapes made up of twisting organic shapes and evolving, snaking lifeforms, all begging to be shot out of existence. The concept is incredibly simplistic and merely involves using tracer fire for rapid shots and the lock-on laser for homing missiles. Performing perfect octa-locks – eight simultaneous lock-ons at once – awards you with a score multiplier and learning to chain together shots will ensure you reach the big leagues on the leaderboards.
However, if your experience with Child of Eden proves to be anything like ours, getting onto the leaderboards might be the least of your worries. Don't let Child of Eden's lush graphical flair fool you. Beneath the flashy exterior beats the heart of a pretty tough and demanding shoot 'em up that's made all the more exacting by having to restart an archive from scratch if you die. Chances are that you'll often breeze through the first ten minutes of the level, make it to the boss and be bombarded by swirling purple projectiles.
That unassuming Beauty flower boss... We hate it.
Soon, you realise that Child of Eden is every bit as intense as Rez and even on normal difficulty, it'll kill you over and over. We haven't twitched with this much frustration since playing Ninja Gaiden, but to be fair, it's really only the Beauty archive that throws the stiffest challenge your way, with a boss that spams you to death with lethal purple bubbles. After the relative ease of the opening two Matrix and Evolution archives, Beauty slaps you in the face with its difficulty spike and even if you manage to make your way to the boss with a full health meter and some Euphoria smart bombs, you may still struggle, especially with Kinect.
That 'better with Kinect sensor' strapline on the game's cover certainly rings true for Child of Eden, but after extended play, you might find that slumping into a chair with a controller is normally the preferable option. Thankfully, although the game defaults to Kinect control, all you need to do is press a button and it automatically switches to the controller option. It works just like Rez with the controller (remember to turn vibration on in the menu) with one button controlling tracer fire, one controlling lock-on lasers and the other activating Euphoria.
Kinect provides more direct control and targeting, as you're effectively pointing and scanning around the screen with a big crosshair, and as such, playing with Kinect feels natural and works incredibly well. All you do is hold up your left hand to fire the tracer and raise your right hand to fire the lock-on laser. Once you've locked on to your targets, you simply flick your hand forward and you'll fire your locked-on homing projectiles. It's fairly active, but it's also very responsive too, but when you just want to relax and enjoy the visuals without waving your arms around, the controller is the preferable option.
Sometimes Kinect also occasionally bugs out if you're swapping arms or verging too close to the edge of the screen with the crosshair, so we had to plump for the controller option to clear the Beauty archive, otherwise we might have gone completely insane. Once you've managed to beat that tooth-grinding third stage, things start to move along at a pleasing pace and the Passion archive with its huge cogs, gears and mechanisms is a welcome departure from the flowers, butterflies and petals of Beauty. In fact, each archive is incredibly distinctive and offers a refreshing treat for the eyes.
Child of Eden's main selling point is simply experiencing a freewheeling journey through each of the game's five archives (six if you count the unlockable Hope archive), as each offers new enemies and a host of remarkable visual effects and spectacular objects to behold during their intense 10-15 minutes or so. It's simply gorgeous to look at and if all you want to do is drift through an archive without worrying about scores and putting in a perfect performance, you can set the difficulty to the 'Feel Eden' mode, where there's no health to worry about. This is incidentally a great way to practice, learn the level and the attack patterns of enemies.
By the time you're into the thick of the final Journey archive, your eyes will have grown accustomed to the searing psychedelic colours and relentless bombardment of light and colour, as enemies stream in thick and fast. You'll gradually know the best times to deploy your Euphoria too, which with Kinect requires you to throw both arms into the air, or it's a single button press away on the controller. Euphoria eliminates all of the viruses and projectiles on-screen, so it becomes an invaluable part of your strategy.
This boss seems to be a Terry's Chocolate Orange. Yes.
Child of Eden revolves around space-girl Lumi, a virtual reconstruction of a human personality who you're striving to save from a virus attack that threatens to erase her from Eden. To be honest, the narrative is neither here nor there, as the game is really all about embarking upon a tour of what Eden has to offer, soaking up the stunning visuals and absorbing the audio. By the time you're at the game's conclusion – if you're anything like us – you'll feel both relief and a small wave of emotion, and then you're invited to do it all over again in hard mode. You'll also unlock the Hope archive, which is a score attack and a lengthy wireframe jaunt through increasingly taxing waves of enemies.
If you want to unlock all of Child of Eden's achievements, you'll need to persevere with the Hope archive, as well as the preceding five archives. Most of the achievements centre around completion, whether it's the purification of every single enemy in each archive or earning objects for Lumi's garden, which doubles as the archive selection screen. Repeated playthroughs are required, but then the game is set up to be played again and again, so you might find yourself unlocking a lot of the achievements just through simply replaying sections. It's a demanding achievement list, it'll take a long time to complete and a lot of them are attached to high scores and reaching 100% on all archives, which is a big ask.
As a spiritual successor to Mizuguchi's Rez, Child of Eden is glorious. It looks fantastic, sounds great and is a joy to play. That is until you hit some of the bosses, which will have you jumping around and tearing your hair out in rage. If you can maintain your patience though, Child of Eden will reward you in kind, with a beautiful game that's regrettably lacking in longevity. Some good things do come in small packages, after all.
A blend of pulsing electronic music and soaring tunes might not be to everyone's tastes, but married to Child of Eden's graphical majesty, the audio is almost perfect.
Close your eyes after playing the game for any period of time, and you'll have colours and shapes dancing around, scorched into your retinas. Child of Eden looks gorgeous, but it can be a little intense, so we recommend playing in small doses, lest you go blind or something.
A leisurely journey one minute a complete and utter sod the next, Child of Eden can be truly punishing at times, pounding you with purple bullets. Boss battles are a pain, but as long as you remember to lock-on to red targets and tracer fire at purple ones, you'll be golden.
Once you've beaten all of the archives, the only incentive to keep on playing is to enjoy the visuals and the tunes or to try topping your high scores. There's a lot of collecting too, if you're interested, but at a superficial level, there's not a whole lot to do in Child of Eden.
Far too many achievements attached to garnering 100%, high scores and collecting make this a fairly by the numbers list, with very few – if any – showing any invention or careful thought.
Beautiful to behold, pleasing to the ear, Child of Eden can nonetheless be extremely punishing to play at times. There's not really much to do in the game either, but it's worth playing just for the experience. Go on. Take the trip.