Features | Awards

The "Suck It, Activision" Award for Best Interactive Musical Experience This Side of Playing an Actual Instrument

By Chet Betz | 15 December 2011

Child of Eden

Something like the theremin translated into a next-gen videogame, rocking Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Child of Eden via the motion sensor technology of Microsoft’s Kinect is a thing of melodious beauty. Playing the game will goad you into methodically waving your hands around in the air, basically conducting the game’s action, and the better you conduct the more rapturous the results. At its core it really is a very basic paradigm, an on-rails shooter with tiered musical tracks that build towards euphoria—pulling off a much more subtle version of the SSX trick—while your right hand lock-on weapon creates resonant chimes that work best when delivered in time with the music and your left hand rapid-fire weapon provides an extra percussive element to the sonic swirl (no coincidence that the rapid-fire is necessary at moments when a drum fill proves especially appropriate). But while the fundamental game mechanics may be simple and not particularly innovative, the experience feels like so much more than that due to the game’s striking aesthetic, immaculate execution, and intense focus on achieving synesthesia by elegantly interweaving sight, sound, and movement—making each sense dependent on the other in order to glide through the game with grace. It doesn’t hurt that—in addition to brilliant sound design—you have Mizuguchi’s mystery band Genki Rockets dropping gleaming, dynamic, J-pop electro-jams that are just plain awesome (in a hypothetical scenario where a videogame soundtrack counts as an album this music would make my Top 20 of the Year).

The “story” of Child of Eden is some ridiculousness about you interfacing with a futuristic Internet in order to halt and reverse a data corruption epidemic, but what that plotline lacks in coherence it makes up for twenty-fold in how it affords the game’s designers to let loose with a fractal graphic style for the HD era, to bring no-holds-barred imagination to the level designs (one sequence finds you attempting to purge data in biological manifestations that evolve as the level progresses, eventually leading to a climax where a space-whale metamorphoses into a flaming phoenix), and a visceral impact that’s surprisingly affecting despite the content’s lack of coherence (I draw small gasps every time video fragments of Lumi, the game’s muse and virtual damsel-in-distress, break through the abstract veneer as the music crescendos). On paper the set-up may sound like rubbish but in practice it’s actually a much more organic and immersive way of experiencing music audio-visually than mashing button sequences while watching a 3D-modeled rock band hop around on stage. Now, someone tell me where I can buy that glorious soundtrack.