Review: Child of Eden

Save Lumi. Save Eden. We’re not talking about some sort of cosmic Heroes storyline. These are the very simple instructions that preface a beautifully complex yet accessible game. Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s newest project, Child of Eden, thrills and impresses with its cornucopia of trippy, bizarre sights and sounds, taking players on a colorful journey through shape-shifting landscapes, majestic beings, and pulse-pounding electronica. It’s a wonderfully orchestrated exercise in synaesthesia. It’s the breath of fresh air I was looking for all year. And despite all this, it’s still not perfect. But it’s close.

As a spiritual successor to one of my personal favorite games, Rez, it accomplishes so much in the short amount of time you spend in its breathtaking world. Controlled either by conventional means or via the Kinect (version reviewed), the method lauded since the game’s inception, you’re tasked with purifying the malevolent beings that threaten the future’s vision of the Internet, Eden. The reincarnation of a beautiful young nymph named Lumi, the first human to be born within Eden, has been captured by said creatures, and as you progress from file to file you move closer to her release, freeing pieces of Eden in the process. All of this is accomplished via simple rail-shooter mechanics, so the trepidation of getting lost is removed from the equation, making this game, like Rez, the definition of linear. A floaty, circular reticule fires both red and purple missiles of energy; the red being the more powerful of the two, fired with the A button, and the purple missiles less powerful, but quicker to fire, used via the right trigger.

Enemies in Eden react either to red or purple energy, or both, and it’s prudent to make a quick decision which type you’ll need to use to purify each area to the best of your ability. Tiny, plankton-like beings respond well to purple energy, zapping them away almost instantaneously, and larger, moth-like enemies can be purified via locking on with red ammunition or through purple a bit quicker. You’ll need to use your own judgment in order to stay alive.

It’s up to you how to dispose of enemies, but this polarity system requires a bit of quick thinking on your part, making it more difficult than Rez, where every enemy responded to your standard type of ammunition. What’s more, missiles aimed directly at you must be disposed of as quickly as possible before your health takes a massive hit. I found the quickest way to do so was to respond with my own purple ammunition, but the reticule doesn’t move as quickly as I’d like in order to tackle the sometimes dozens of missiles that are hurtling toward you in each stage, leading you to a swift death…and starting a file over from the beginning. No folks, there are no checkpoints to be found here. Kinect seemed to fare equally well, but I was never satisfied with the slight slowness of the reticule, and constantly found myself wishing it were a bit snappier in order to quickly lock on to targets.

A veritable menagerie of animals, plants, geometric shapes, and humanoid vessels roam Eden, waiting for you to rescue them. Translucent whales, a fiery phoenix, colorful gears, and beautiful blooming flowers are only a fraction of what you’ll see. While it’s true music from the Genki Rockets and thumping techno and trance make Child of Eden the delight it is to play, the visuals are equally fantastic in this ephemeral, dreamlike adventure. If they’re to your liking, you’ll have much more time than originally planned to take them in as you progress through the five incredibly short stages, which depending on your progress, you will be required to complete over and over in order to earn stars to unlock the next stage. Unless you purify every single enemy in each stage and play to the best of your ability from the start, you’re in for a rude awakening, replaying in order to earn the points needed to soldier on to the next file. I’m not a fan of artificially lengthening a video game in order to keep it in the disc tray, and this did break up what flow I was feeling soaring from one stage to the next.

Despite game length comparable to that of a downloadable game, replay issues, and targeting quirks, I thoroughly enjoyed Child of Eden right to the very end, even when forced to play a glorified rehash of the stages I had previously conquered. It could have ended more tremendously, but for a project this ambitious I’ll allow it. It’s a beautiful breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnating pool of shooters and slog, and in that Child of Eden truly triumphs.

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