By Greg Newbegin
At Microsoft’s Press conference earlier this year, I remember watching as Microsoft announced an upcoming Kinect title called Wreckateer. At the time, I was wondering why so much precious conference time was being used up showing off the title (and in some ways I still do), but on seeing it listed as a Winter of Arcade title amongst such highly anticipated titles as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD and Deadlight, I started to think it might be worth a look in…
Developed by relative unknown Iron Galaxy Studios (it's their first original IP - awwww), Wreckateer ticks all of the Kinect boxes – full-motion gameplay played out in short bursts, geared more towards a younger audience. Essentially, you (or your Avatar) are joining an Olde Tyme Wrecking crew with the goal of destroying a bunch of castles hastily set up across the land by stinky goblins. Then again, perhaps they weren’t set up so hastily, as they are some pretty large castles with battlements and spires and all the works, but hey – the story’s not really the reason you play this kind of game. Maybe goblins can build REALLY fast… or maybe the king should crack down on his subjects, who obviously turned a blind eye to the goblin construction works?
I digress. The player operates a ballista to fire a variety of projectiles in the general direction of the castle. No, that’s not true – Iron Galaxy has managed to really fine tune the Kinect motion detection, resulting in really quite fine aiming capability. Bravo. Movements feel realistic (stand forward and clasp your hands to simulate preparing the shot, then take some steps back to determine the strength), and when it comes to the projectile types, it’s really quite… Fun!
The best example here is the flying projectile. Once you’ve lined things up and fired it off, raising your hands makes the projectile sprout wings – simply waving your arms about like a kid pretending to be an airplane guides your on-screen target around the environment. And it’s really quite accurate. Beyond that, there are explosive projectiles, speed shots that shoot off like a bullet when triggered, and a split shot, which splits into four projectiles that can be manipulated by moving your hands. It’s quite novel, extremely responsive, and in the end - enjoyable.
It looks the part, too – graphics are simple and cartoony, and in some ways have a kind of “Shrek” vibe (perhaps just because the goblins are big and green, but still). Destruction and physics are a little understated, but satisfying nonetheless. Voice acting and music is standard Olde Tyme fare, sounding like… virtually every other family game in the same setting.
As fun as it is, though, Wreckateer falls a little flat in terms of variety. Each level differs from the previous one only in terms of layout – and for the most part, they LOOK the same. Your given three to five shots per level, and the type of projectile is set per level (so no choosing your loadout). When playing for a long time, it gets boring. I guess, though, that the game is really made to be played in short bursts – 15-20 minutes at a time. It DOES seem a lot like Angry Birds, but the focus here is more on what happens AFTER you fire the shot, as opposed to how well you set up the shot, and that's a welcome change.
The biggest problem, though, is in regards to the difficulty. Getting a high score (and thus achieving a Gold award) is not easy, as expected, but some later levels are so frustratingly laid out that it’s hard enough to even COMPLETE a level let alone get a high score. In some ways, it seems there is really only one “proper” way to complete a level, and there’s not much fun in that. I really enjoyed levels that just let me do my own thing and awarded me a Bronze or Silver – if all of the levels did the same, I’d be a happy man. It’s not the kind of game that makes me want to replay its levels (although I'm sure kids will play them over and over if they are good at them).
Still, for 800 MS points, there’s a lot of content here, and a really enjoyable single player campaign to boot. It does get a bit samey, and can be frustrating at times, but there really is quite a lot of fun to be had. And the chance to play a Kinect game that gets controls right? That’s worth the price of admission in my books.