After dazzling a room of Tokyo Game Show attendees with an extravagant Child of Eden demonstration, designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi offers a far-too-modest appraisal of his "multisensory shooter." This level's still early, he apologizes, and the game currently shares no statistics upon completion. And sorry, but there's no Game Over screen.
It's like sitting down in an opulent French restaurant and being told by the waiter that -- sorry! -- the kitchen isn't dishing out cheeseburgers and mini donuts tonight. Later, I ask Mizuguchi if Child of Eden, which he describes as a "feeling good game," even needs to introduce something so contrary like a Game Over screen. Does this mesmerizing mix of thumping music and abstract visuals really need an element of failure?
"Maybe we'll put in separate modes, like score attacking," he says, before pondering the inclusion of a no-fail mode. "And maybe to feel the music, the visual-feeling atmosphere, we should put that in."
Child of Eden is a clear successor to 2001's abstract shooter Rez -- you can tell the apple hasn't fallen far from the pulsating techno tree. The concept came about shortly after the launch of Rez (which has since been released in HD on Xbox Live Arcade), but didn't spring to life at Q? Entertainment until 2008. "Two years ago, I had a meeting with Ubisoft's people," Mizuguchi explains. "That was a very nice meeting. Very creative, very passionate. So, we started this project with a controller."
First, I played Child of Eden's "Evolution" level with an Xbox 360 controller. As with Rez, the mechanics are easy to grasp. Brush your crosshair over enemies, hold down the fire button to lock on, and then release to launch a flurry of shots, each one generating a distinct sound effect when it hits the mark. The Evolution level represents a rapid journey through time, with single-cell organisms growing and giving way to larger creatures. Eventually, I blast glittering barnacles off a space whale (someone had better put that line on the back of the box), which then transforms into a gorgeous, ruby-colored phoenix. Also in space.
As I shoot its trailing feathers, I subtly contribute to the game's uniquely upbeat soundtrack, which will eventually comprise several new and old songs from Japanese hybrid band Genki Rockets. (Think Royksopp on Prozac, and you'd be halfway there.) Mizuguchi has been involved with them for a number of years, and is wisely sidestepping the issue of licensed tracks this time around. "This is a very big problem," he says, referring to the uneven distribution of pop tracks across his studio's popular puzzle game, Lumines. Some licensed songs never made the jump between retail and downloadable versions. "This is one of the reasons I decided I had to make it by myself."
Mizuguchi's quest to capture synaesthesia, a perfect blend of images and sound, continues in Child of Eden. You can't help but be dragged along as the music rises to a crescendo and morphs into something new, shifting organically alongside visuals that never fall short of stunning. This is the only game that can get away with a silly phrase like "touch the music."
"And then," says Mizuguchi, "we got the announcement from Microsoft, and we decided to integrate the Kinect into Child of Eden. So this is very aggressive, but everybody had the same vision: it must be new, it must be fun."
I can't come up with a very practical argument for picking Kinect over an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 controller (and Move is still "being decided" upon, but seems unlikely). There's a notable loss of celerity and precision when you play with Kinect, making it the less preferred input method if you're bothered by scores and hit percentages. Heck, even Mizuguchi jokes that you have to go the gym first if you're going to play the game with Kinect. Your arm's going to get tired and fall off, probably.
And yet, I preferred playing another level, "Matrix," on Kinect. With an open palm guiding the auto-locking reticle and a quick swipe initiating an attack, you're shrugging off any feeling of rote input. I won't always be in the mood to play like this, I know it, but in a game that hopes to overwhelm and engage the senses, I'm more receptive without a chunk of plastic in my hands. As Mizuguchi puts it, you feel like the "conductor" in an abstract orchestra.
Matrix is a lot more structured than Evolution, with geometric shapes forming flashing corridors and, eventually, an enemy sphere constructed entirely out of cubes. Your alternate fire -- activated by clapping your hands -- comes in handy here, and sacrifices the ability to lock on for a constant stream of bullets. On Kinect, clearing the cubes feels like brushing sand from a table. Just a few gentle swipes across the screen and the sphere's core is exposed.
A triumphant, giddy swell in the music lets you know that you're winning -- but don't raise your arms prematurely, because that unleashes the screen-clearing "happy bomb!" Or do it anyway, because ... well, what does it matter? There aren't any prompts, and nothing to trigger thoughts of life bars, mechanics or points. And sorry, but there's no Game Over screen. (Not yet, anyway.)