“Are video games art?” This is a perennial argument, one with staunch advocates on both sides who are hard to sway. Naysayers, though, can be shown examples of art in video games that are hard to deny – such as the visuals of the sadly overlooked Child of Eden, released for Kinect in 2011.
When released almost a decade ago, the Kinect – which used sensors that recognized player movements and then replicated those into gameplay – was created with the intention of being the Xbox 360’s motion controller, like the Wii but without the remote.
Games were created especially for the Kinect, but many of them were hampered by complicated movement commands and issues with player recognition. As such, the hardware was not well received and eventually relegated to a voice controller before being discontinued in 2017.
The world was ready for the Kinect, but it seems it was not ready for the world. Yet the ill-fated device did manage to produce some interesting, immersive and entertaining games – on a very rare occasion all three. Child of Eden is one of the few Kinect titles to tick that trio of boxes.
In terms of visuals, the game’s artistry is striking right from the start – the vibrant colours, imaginative design and high-energy music that greet you just from the title screen are, straight away, unlike that of any other game. Fortunately, these all continue into the game itself.
The high-concept plot of Child of Eden – exploring a 23rd century internet system called Eden to remove the viruses that are corrupting the first human personality created within cyberspace – is more or less an excuse for the game’s unique and extraordinary style.
Players drift through five different worlds, amorphous spaces and fantastical landscapes, populated with stylized inhabitants that range from cubes to bioluminescent versions of fish and insects. Every level is on rails, where wave after wave of these malicious creatures fill the screen, and it’s up to you to wipe them all out. Thankfully, Child of Eden’s controls make that job straightforward and fun.
Moving your hand, the game’s cursor locks on to enemies it passes over, and with a final wave of the arm they shatter into pieces. If done right, you can wipe out an entire wave of foes in one go. Some enemies, however, launch bolts at you that can only be stopped by raising your other hand and firing small retaliatory bursts at them.
Comparisons with Dreamcast title Rez are no coincidence, as they were both the brainchild of Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The main differences are the first-person perspective, the refined and more detailed graphics and the use of Kinect over a controller. Utilising the Kinect and making players stand really helps to achieve the effect of floating through the game’s landscapes. These variances are what make Child of Eden unique, and sidestep similarities with any other game.
In addition to its style, there are two more things that lift Child of Eden above other games – the gameplay and near-perfect use of the Kinect technology.
Anyone who’s ever played a Kinect game will know about all it’s problems with player recognition and stilted movement – all of which are absent from Child of Eden. Additionally, it doesn’t have the labored and pedestrian presentation of the launch titles such as Kinect Adventures and Kinectimals, which were in essence just an introduction to the gadget. Nor does it have the frustrating and cumbersome controls of games like Fighters Uncaged that tried to do too much and ended up being excruciating.
This game’s controls are simple and effective, player recognition is fluid and faultless, and it all makes for a highly enjoyable playing experience. Given this was made so shortly after the technology’s debut, it’s surprising how well it works.
Also elevating Child of Eden is the fact that it’s an easy game to get to grips with, but can be hard to master. The developers were not just content with allowing you to explore its beautiful game world, they wanted their game to be challenging as well.
The game can end in an instant, as the level stops if you fail to eliminate too many enemies in time. As such, you need to be alert and quick to respond to danger constantly while playing. Completing each level 100% is no easy task either, as doing so requires destroying obscured targets, which takes some expertise to do.
Despite being met with critical acclaim, Child of Eden sold few units, but it is definitely not a game that should be forgotten.
For brilliantly updating the puzzle game, being a leading example of the capabilities of Kinect technology, and of course its incredible style and feeling, Child of Eden is well worth seeking out. It’s an unforgettable experience and is about time it got the recognition it deserves.