Child of Eden Preview: Story, New Levels, and Playing Without the Kinect

The latest game from the makers of Rez continues to impress.

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If you've been following Child of Eden since its announcement at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, it shouldn't be too surprising to hear that Q Entertainment's upcoming musical shooter is shaping up to be a bundle of gorgeous fun. In our previous looks at the game, we've just had the chance to try individual levels that have dazzled with their impressive visuals and made a case for Microsoft's Kinect as a control option. However, in our latest look at the game--based on a work-in-progress version of the Xbox 360 game that features a fair amount of the game's final content with four playable levels and various menus to poke around in--we've finally been able to get a proper feel for what the game is going to offer. And, most importantly, we got a feel for its controls with and without the optional Kinect.

The nearly complete version of the game we tried let us a start a new game from the beginning, giving us the chance to see the narrative set up via an introductory cinematic and some text. We also got to play through the first four levels of the game, leaving the fifth a surprise. Before hopping into the game, we had the chance to poke around the game's menus and see that there will be a variety of art, video, menu option content, and more that will have to be unlocked through playing the game. While most of the unlockables are just art to be appreciated, you'll find content to customize the game's menu, new modes, difficulties, and ways to modify the game that will keep it interesting.

The visuals in this latest version of the game improve on what we've seen before and look fantastic. The surreal world you'll be blazing through in Child of Eden is a trippy pastiche of art styles that shine in HD. The only tricky bit of the experience is that you'll likely find yourself either so focused on your score that you may miss a lot of the beauty on display or get so distracted by the environments that you'll have a hard time getting through levels. Each stage is packed with detail--great, small, flashy, and everything in between--that already shines in HD even in its work-in-progress state. And don't get us started on the vibrant color that brings all the stages to life. Q's art team is clearly going for broke with the power afforded to it by the Xbox 360 and infusing as much color as possible in the levels, making Child of Eden the game that epilepsy warnings were made for (and we mean that in a good way).

Obviously, the dazzling visuals in Child of Eden would be just eye candy if the game didn't make equally ambitious use of sound. The tunes in the game, provided by Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Genki Rockets, complement the visuals in exactly the way you'd want them to, which makes for a rich, immersive experience. While we can appreciate that Child of Eden's thumping tracks may not suit everyone's groove in terms of personal preference, they have a certain universal appeal, thanks to the game's overall presentation.

One of the notable features of this version of Child of Eden was the option to spend some quality time with the controller as opposed to the Kinect. Although the game wasn't quite complete, with control refinements and other tweaks still happening, we've gotten a proper impression of the two control options. Basically, both offer two distinct experiences with the game; one traditional and one that's more experiential. As you'd expect, the controller is your traditional option, mapping out your actions to the analog stick and face buttons. You'll move your cursor with the stick, use X to fire your rapid-fire tracer shot, A for the lock-on shot, and B for your Euphoria smart bomb. It's a simple, responsive layout that's precise, allowing players to rack up high scores amid the Technicolor mayhem. While you'll earn points for successfully blasting anything, the real points will come from pulling off perfect combos with the lock-on shot. If your reflexes and rhythm are good, you'll be able to get a groove going by locking on to the maximum number of enemies and releasing your shot on beat. Pulling off the rhythmic combo will earn you a score multiplier that you can repeat for a maximum of eight times, earning you a ton of points.

The Kinect offers a more immersive, experiential control option that's obviously more physical, relying on motion and gestures. The control scheme for the Kinect has been expanded to offer more options for players, which is good. The first option is in line with what we've played before; you'll control your onscreen cursor with one hand, clap to switch between weapons, and make like a cheerleader by making a "Y" to trigger the screen-clearing Euphoria bomb. The second option offers more precise options, thanks to mapping each shot type to a hand. You'll use the tracer when moving the cursor with your left hand and the lock on with your right. Sadly, the Euphoria bomb is still triggered with a human "Y." While high scores are possible, especially with the second Kinect control option, they are more challenging due to the peripheral's current limitations. The game does take this into account and offers different score values for earning stars at the end of each level based on your selected input option, so you won't be penalized for your choice. The stars are key to unlocking new levels and content, so earning them will be a priority when playing. While different, we can understand the appeal and accessibility of the Kinect for people who want an alternative control option.

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Child of Eden continues to leave us with a positive impression and a smile on our face after playing. The game's gorgeous and inventive visuals marry nicely with the simple but addictive gameplay. While we appreciate the inclusion of Kinect, we're very grateful that controller support is on hand as well. As we mentioned, Child of Eden offers two distinct gameplay experiences with each input device, and we're happy we have the choice to pick whichever suits our mood. We're also happy to see a decent chunk of unlockable content to encourage replays. All told, longtime fans of Q and Mizuguchi's work should be excited by what's coming. Newcomers who may be unsure if Child of Eden's playable laser-light show is for them should give it a try. There hasn't been anything quite like the game in this generation of consoles, so it's worth a look.

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