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Tetsuya Mizuguchi's spiritual successor to Rez emerges on Move for PS3 and Kinect for Xbox 360...
Playing Child of Eden is like dropping acid at a scuba diving rave on the Great Barrier Reef. Vast swathes of fluorescent, shimmering matter lap at your consciousness as you wave your arms in hypnotic euphoria; translucent morphing jellyfish evaporate in bursts of colour with a flick of your wrist, and as the music builds, a closed door splinters open - crashing neon soundwaves across your cerebral cortex. Suddenly you're purifying an infected whale in outer space, grasping at glowing dots on its body as it transforms into a bird, the image of a pale young girl flashing in front of your eyes in time with the music and your own frantic thrusting.
Of course, unlike a normal psychedelic sea rave, there's no danger of drowning in your own puke, or washing up beside a jism-stained walrus the next day. But you can't have everything. What you get instead are six audio-visual voyages through a tie-die universe, merging visuals, sound and (for Kinect owners) movement into one rhythmic sensory orgy; from the stark, industrial beats of the Matrix stage - all jagged black cuboids and smouldering polygons - to the lush aquatic bliss of Beauty - with its plump green flowers, unfolding in arpeggiated purple cascades.
But what is it? Essentially, Child of Eden is a motion-controlled on-rails shooter; waving your right hand over targets locks onto them, a flick of your wrist firing a volley of blue shots their way. You can select up to eight targets at once, and releasing shots in-time with the music earns you a higher score. Your left hand fires an automatic vulcan cannon; this is less powerful than the lock-on attack but its continuous purple stream is effective for clearing out busy areas. Some hazards are colour-coded to indicate which attack is required to dispatch them, (such as the purple shots that certain boss characters fire towards you) and raising both arms in the air lets out a screen-clearing euphoria wave - essentially a limited-use smart bomb. The vulcan cannon pulses in time to the music, and enemies emit musical motifs as they're dispatched; you're encouraged to fire shots on the beat to build up your score multiplier, and your interactions with the game are reflected by tempo-linked visual and tonal changes as you play. At its best, you're lost in the swirling colours of the music, moving in sync with the evolving landscape. It's hard to think of many other electronic experiences which so genuinely justify the use of the term 'immersive'.
However, at times, the Kinect hardware can lag behind the vision of the game design; the latency inherent in Microsoft's motion detecting device is particularly problematic for a music based game, and at points it can get a little frustrating - jarring even - as you wait for the cursor to catch up with your movements. While the motion-control option might not prove ideal for high-score obsessed shoot-em-up purists, it still offers an engaging spin on the core gameplay, and substantially enriches the entire experience; playing with a pad is clearly more responsive, but some of the drama of the dance-like Kinect performance is necessarily lost as a result. Force-feedback is however used to great effect, and Rez fans will appreciate the option to play Child of Eden with a classic controller, pulsing and rumbling in time to the music. Mizuguchi-san himself (creator of both games), advocates placing a controller (or four) in your pockets as you play, to add an additional element of haptic feedback to the Kinect experience.
Child of Eden's story is set in the future, at a time when humans have spread out into space. The pale young girl who briefly flashed up during the opening paragraph is Lumi - the first human to be born in space - fictional star of Mizuguchi's real-life musical project Genki Rockets, which provides the soundtrack to the game. Sometime after her death, scientists set about uploading Lumi's 'archives' (memories) into Eden - a futuristic 3D equivalent of the internet which contains human memories of Earth. The game begins as Lumi strolls through the verdant Eden landscape and a swarm of viruses sweep down to attack her, corrupting the scenery. Your mission: save Lumi, purify the viruses, and restore Eden.
Each level takes the form of an archive built around a particular visual, musical, and emotional theme; in addition to Matrix, Beauty, and the transcendental whale/bird Evolution stage, there are Passion, Journey, and Hope archives which are yet to be revealed. Each archive adapts according to your performance as you play, and is also affected by previous attempts, changing its character depending on prior levels of virus elimination. The precise form of the Journey archive in particular is still a closely guarded secret; it's known that Mizuguchi and his team sourced personal pictures from the gaming community for the archive, requesting images of significant emotional events from participants. Mizuguchi-san has also hinted that the final Hope archive might hold a Rez-themed surprise for fans.
In addition to the Kinect-enabled Xbox 360 version, a Child of Eden release has been confirmed for PS3; Move integration hasn't yet been officially confirmed, but seems practically inevitable. Intriguingly, Mizuguchi-san expressed significant enthusiasm for 3D technology during our recent interview with him, so it will be interesting to see if there are any announcements on that front in the future. Child of Eden clearly represents a unique audio-visual experience, and the addition of motion control - while perhaps not flawlessly implemented with Kinect - only serves to enrich the work. Although question marks perhaps linger over the depth of the core gameplay, its gradually unravelling, subtly evolving levels hint at further layers of complexity that are yet to be uncovered.
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