I have been trying to play Child of Eden for a very long time. It’s been shown at various industry events that I’ve attended, but the universe conspired to keep us apart. You might not think that the universe would bother itself with whether or not a half-rate game journalist got to play a trippy dippy musical shooter, but you’d clearly be wrong, based on the number of baffling incidents that kept me away from Child.
I finally got to play it at PAX East, and it made me cry. Which is at least partly because I was so sleep deprived that I thought I could see through time, but only partly. The rest was because Child of Eden feels exactly like being inside a more beautiful, natural version of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s previous musical shooter, Rez.
If you’re not familiar with Rez, take a quick look at this video, which will pretty much tell you everything you need to know. It’s a cyberpunk-themed rails shooter, in which your shots create musical notes that whirl and blend with the soundtrack to make an organic lifebeat that meshes with the core gameplay. Whether or not that last sentence made any sense to you is your litmus test for whether or not Rez and Child of Eden are games you should play. If you think I’m smokin’ something very fine, you may as well just toddle off now, because I’m about to talk about math.
I find math to be beautiful. It’s one of the few instances in life where you can take a big mess and, if you know what you’re doing, boil that mess down to a single, correct answer. No interpretation, no differing points of view, no wiggle room, just black and white, right and wrong. That’s gorgeous. Art is equally beautiful for the opposite reason: It’s entirely about interpretation, personal perspective, and messiness. To my mind, music is the perfect marriage of the two. It has the structure of math, but the whimsy and personality of art. It can go wherever the creator wants it to go, but it still has a foundation, a framework, a backbone.
Rez has a similar duality, with the strict gameplay of a rails shooter (the math), combined with the joy of musical creation (the art). The end result is something that’s not just one or the other, but the best of both. Yes, you can enjoy messing around with the musicality of your maneuvers, but you also have to concentrate on taking out your enemies with a fair amount of alacrity before you to reduce you to a speck of microdust. Admittedly, Rez is not for everyone. Even those who like rail shooters or techno music don’t always appreciate the game’s unusual blending of the two. My adoration of Rez often prompts declarations that I love weird games, which let’s be fair, is hard to argue.
Ok, ok, so Rez is all that and some microchips, but what the hell does that have to do with Child of Eden and me getting teary? The thing about Rez was that, as astounding an experience as it was, it was also a cold experience. The shtick of the game is that you’re inside a machine, fighting viruses and dealing with code and suchlike. It’s an aesthetic that works extremely well – especially during the early 2000’s obsession with cyberspace – but Rez‘s game world is not an inviting place. The landscape is somewhere that you visit, make ooo noises at, then leave. It’s visually arresting and dramatic, but this is not a place with a comfy chair. This is not a place with puppies, fuzzy blankets, really good coffee, or any of the other things that make everyday life so enjoyable. This is not a place you actually want to live.
Child of Eden, however, is a bright and colorful place, full of butterflies and flowers and big swirling things that were grown, not constructed. Sure, they’re all still trying to kill you, but they’re doing so in a far more inviting way. You feel like once you shoot everything down, you could stop and relax for a while, maybe find a spot under a tree and take a nap in the sunshine. Which would’ve been enough of a glee-inducing payoff once I finally set foot in Ubisoft’s booth at PAX, but what really made me smile like a kid tasting ice cream for the first time was using the Kinect controller to play. Instead of wiggling joysticks and hitting buttons, I was doing the shooting myself by waving my hand. Purple bullets flew in an arc as I gently waved my arm; I didn’t have to rely on the cyberhero of Rez to do my bidding because I was the hero myself. And the music … the music was just so effortlessly perfect that I almost didn’t notice it. It was so seamlessly woven into the experience that I never stopped to listen to it, I just let it wash over me and seep into my pores.
So, yeah, I cried a little bit. Because the game I’d been waiting so long to play was even better than I had hoped it would be. Because I felt like an integral part of a whirling dance of light and sound. Because the controller that I thought might be a hokey gimmick actually ended up adding a wonderful new element to the gameplay. And, yeah, because I hadn’t slept in three days.
But I bet you anything Child of Eden will make me feel that good again.