Child of Eden embodies many of the most wonderful aspects a videogame can possess. It’s beautiful, full of vibrant colors, exotic creature design, and surprising imagery. It’s weird, tasking you with diving into the archives of human knowledge to rescue a simulacrum of a long-dead girl. It’s challenging, rewarding practice and study with steadily improving performance. It just might be the game that finally convinces you to buy a Kinect controller for your Xbox 360 – but it’s still fun even if you don’t.

Anyone familiar with Rez will be right at home with Child of Eden, because it follows the same basic structure. It’s an on rails shooter where your goal is to rack up as many points as you can by shooting down groups of enemies in time to the beat of the music. You have three different weapons at your disposal – your lock-on laser, your tracer, and Euphoria, which acts like a smart bomb. You’ll get the most points by using your lock-on laser to destroy enemies in groups of 8 – which the game amusingly calls “octa-lock” – and you’ll earn a “perfect” and increase your score multiplier if you do it on the beat. Your tracer doesn’t lock on to enemies, but it’s rapid fire and you’ll need it to shoot down enemy bullets. To get the highest ratings in Child of Eden, you’ll have to learn which weapons to use when, and master switching between them quickly. It’s not easy. The first few archives are pretty straightforward, but it’s not long before Child of Eden starts throwing everything it’s got directly at your face.

Not that you’re playing Child of Eden for the story, but you’re dodging bullets and shooting down creatures in an attempt to purify the archives of mankind. The game takes place far in the future, long after humans have made the move into space. The sum total of our knowledge has been uploaded onto archives on the internet, which is now known as Eden. Scientists are trying to recreate the consciousness of Lumi, the first human born on a space station, within Eden. It’s a trippy premise, but it makes for some wonderfully bizarre visuals. Each of Child of Eden‘s levels is a different archive, featuring different aspects of Earth. You’ll fly between giant space whales, help cells divide, chase fleeing robots, shoot locomotives, and crash through a computer core. The gameplay doesn’t change, but each archive feels utterly unique, just the same.

Given that you’re diving through digitized information, there’s really no up or down to Child of Eden‘s levels, and once the difficulty ramps up, a lot can be happening on screen at once. It can be pretty disorienting, but the game provides cues to help you keep track of your targets. Your lock-on laser’s reticle fills up as you target enemies, and glows blue when you’ve reached your octa-lock. A warning klaxon goes off to let you know that you’ve got enemy bullets incoming and should switch to the tracer. It’s effective without being distracting.

Child of Eden can be played with either the regular Xbox 360 controller, or with Kinect. Without question, the game is much easier with the controller, as switching between weapons is as simple as switching from hitting the A button to hitting the X button. It’s a little trickier with Kinect, where your right hand controls the lock-on laser, and your left hand works the tracer. (To set off Euphoria, you raise both hands above your head in the universal sign for “Woo-hoo!”, which is exactly as fun as it sounds.)

How well the motion controls work depends largely on your personal Kinect set up. When I played in a room with a lot of windows, the game frequently couldn’t distinguish that I had switched hands, but once I switched to a darker room, everything worked beautifully. If you can achieve the proper calibration, playing with Kinect is definitely the best way to experience Child of Eden. You really feel as though you’re inside the archives, flying and diving through the information and images. Flinging bullets and lasers from your hands makes you feel like some kind digitized god. The game is still plenty of fun with a regular controller, but if you have the option, use Kinect. Or do both – the game keeps separate stats for both control methods, to keep everything fair and square.

Child of Eden isn’t terribly long, but achieving 100% purification and five stars is something that will require a fair amount of dedication and practice. Each level is so enjoyable that you won’t mind retreading old ground one bit, and while the unlockable items for Lumi’s garden don’t really add anything other than critters to the level select screen, they’re still fun to collect.

Bottom Line: With a regular controller, Child of Eden is a finely-tuned, lovely shooter. With Kinect, it transforms from being something you play to something you become. It’s impossible to see someone playing Child of Eden with Kinect and not want to try it yourself. And once you start, you’ll keep coming back for more.

Recommendation: Child of Eden‘s trippy aesthetic certainly isn’t for everyone, but shooter fans who want a different kind of challenge should grab it immediately. If you’re concerned that you might not be up to the task, the game’s damageless Feel Eden mode lets everyone enjoy the experience, no matter their skill level. If you’ve been looking for a reason to get a Kinect – or to use the one you have – this is it.

[rating=5]

This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: Child of Eden
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Q? Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon.co.uk Play.com

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