Preview: Finding Happiness With Child of EdenS

Developer Q? Entertainment's Child of Eden finds players in a happier place than the game it was inspired by, the trippy 2001 musical shooter Rez.

Rez, for those who may have missed it on the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 or Xbox Live Arcade, is an on-rails shooter built on the multi-sensory concept of synaesthesia and the abstract works of artist Wassily Kandinsky. Players floated through a computer system, shooting down enemies to the beat of a techno soundtrack, adding their own musical flair with carefully timed shots.

While Rez was often dark, rigid and cold, a virtual world comprised of wireframes and hard angles, Child of Eden feels organic, rich and joyous. The creative director of both games, Q? Entertainment founder Tetsuya Mizuguchi, describes the original Rez as "primitive" and "minimal" compared to Child of Eden, which trades Tron-like visuals for something that feels more alive.

One of the game's five levels—or "Archives," in Child of Eden speak—veers away from the computerized invasion of Rez notably. That level, Evolution, sees players orbiting an abstract whale, firing musical bullets at lighted barnacles on its surface. As the level progresses and the environment changes from something oceanic to galactic; the whale-like creature changes form, becomes more aerodynamic and, ultimately, evolves into a burning lifeform reminiscent of a phoenix.

Brighter visuals, cheerier music and a unique control method—the game is compatible with Microsoft's Kinect controller for the Xbox 360—make Child of Eden feel very different from the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 game that inspired it.

Preview: Finding Happiness With Child of EdenS

It's About A Girl

Child of Eden tells the story of Lumi, the first human being born in space. More serious Q? Entertainment fans may recognize that name as the face of the musical group Genki Rockets, the conceptual band produced by Q? creative director Tetsuya Mizuguchi and comprised of largely anonymous musical contributors.

The fiction of Genki Rockets extends to Child of Eden, as scientists from the far future, well after Lumi's death, attempt to revive her consciousness in Eden. Players are called to Eden to purify it of viruses, shooting through five unique stages.

Those stages will be set to the work of Genki Rockets, meaning the band's energetic, upbeat brand of electronic pop-rock will serve as your musical accompaniment while restoring Eden and Lumi to life.

While playing two levels from Child of Eden at Tokyo Game Show, we recognized a pair of heavily remixed Genki Rockets tracks, "Star Line" and "Heavenly Star." Again, Q? fans will remember the latter track from the PSP game Lumines II.

For those unfamiliar with Genki Rockets, here's a quick, feel-good primer.

The game's soundtrack is clearly a diversion from the hard techno beats of original Rez, which featured artists like Adam Freeland and Ken Ishii, but is expertly used to provide a sense of vibrant cheeriness in tandem with the game's visuals.

Kinect Vs. The Controller

The two Archives we experienced at Tokyo Game Show were known as "Matrix" and "Evolution." The former was only playable via the Xbox 360's Kinect controller, the latter with an Xbox 360 gamepad. Both had their pros and cons. Both made us happy to be experience Child of Eden.

"Matrix" was the more familiarly Rez-like level of the two. The game guides the player through a cube-lined tunnel populated with abstract creatures that must be targeted and destroyed and the occasional destructible barrier. "Matrix" ends with an extended battle against a massive sphere surrounded by textured panels, infected by black cubes that must be cleared away with sweeps of the hand.

Playing Child of Eden with a Kinect controller was not, by any means, perfect. Waving one's hand through the air to control the game's targeting reticule and locking on to enemies, then flicking one's hand to unload a burst of fire, was quickly tiring and not reliably accurate.

Preview: Finding Happiness With Child of EdenS

Fortunately, the alternate shot method, a rapid fire attack, alleviates some of the physical stress of playing Child of Eden with your body. To switch between the two shot types, players need only clap their hands. The game detects the motion, not the sound of the clap.

To unleash a screen clearing bomb attack, players need to raise their hands above their heads. Waving them in the air, as if they don't care, however, is not required.

There was noticeable lag while playing Child of Eden with Kinect, most likely a product of the hardware, not the software. I lost sight of my targets more than once and likely would have failed an attempt or two if "game over" conditions were built into the TGS demo. But playing the game with Kinect was my preferred method, if only for the sensation that it brought me closer to the game, making me feel like an interactive part of the experience.

The unfinished "Evolution," which was playable by controller only, was more laid back than "Matrix." The camera follows a glowing blue whale-like creature, which gradually transforms into a space-dwelling phoenix form. Unlike the straight flight path of a Rez level, travel in "Evolution" felt more organic, more free form, even if we were really on-rails. The Genki Rockets soundtrack builds from minimal beat to full, rich dance number as the player is transported from beneath the ocean to the stars. It's undeniably thrilling, even in its early form.

Playing the "Evolution" archive with an Xbox 360 controller certainly felt more reliable. It also provided the vibrating tactile feedback that was a feature of the original Rez, but lacked in the engaging light dancing that the Kinect controls inspired.

Likely, we'll be playing it both ways when Child of Eden is scheduled to be released in early 2011 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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Correction: The original version of this post listed "Beauty" as one of the playable levels at Tokyo Game Show. The correct title of that level is "Evolution."