I've been itching to put together a list of my top five Kinect games for grownups. The problem? I've only encountered three worthy of the distinction: Child of Eden, Dance Central 2, and The Gunstringer.
Happily, Iron Galaxy Studio's Unreal Engine-powered Wreckateer – the latest in Microsoft's Summer of Arcade festival of Xbox Live Arcade games – gets me one closer to completing the list.
A physics-based puzzler that might best be described as a cross between the perennially popular Angry Birds games and the PlayStation Network's twisted but enjoyable Pain, this fantastical rock flinger has players lobbing projectiles into goblin-infested castles with an aim to raze them to the ground.
The motion controls are both intuitive and precise. Players step forward and reach out to grab ammunition slotted into the string of a huge ballista, then take a step away from the Kinect sensor to pull back and set tension. Aiming is accomplished by stepping left or right and moving your hands up or down.
Play continues after the projectile is launched. You'll need your hands to touch shots mid-flight, making minute adjustments to direction and trajectory by tapping the sides of your shells. Plus, some shot types come with special abilities, like the flying shot, which allows players to extend their arms and pilot the bullet like a hang glider, and the bomb shot, which players can detonate on command.
The tutorial lasts a few levels, but you'll get the hang of things almost immediately. More importantly, I was having fun right out of the gate. Obliterating rock walls, ploughing into green-skinned gobbies, sitting back and taking in the collateral damage as towers collapsed onto lower structures... it's just the sort of thing that would appeal to anyone with a weakness for the pleasures of smashing stuff and causing a bit of mayhem.
There's not much diversity between levels – the castles look more or less the same, just with different layouts – but there is a noticeable progression of difficulty, as well as an increasing number of power ups and point multipliers to exploit. Latter levels require precise shots that force players to send their projectiles flying through floating icons before striking ramparts at exact angles that cause chain reactions of collapsing towers and parapets. Chance plays a role, but only highly skilled players will complete the second half of the game with gold scores.
However, as much fun as I've had with Wreckateer, there remains plenty of room for improvement.
The physics system is downright wonky. Some towers will collapse if they come into contact with just a bit of crumbling rubble, while others will, impossibly, continue to stand on a couple of corner stones after the rest of the foundation has been pulverized. A more realistic depiction of structural physics would go a long way toward making this demolition extravaganza even more satisfying.
There's also work to be done in appearance. Unusually simplistic explosion effects, textures, and models make this feel more like a ported mobile game than something developed explicitly for a current generation console. Given that the game's existence wasn't even announced until a few months ago, I can't help but think the presentation problems are the result of a rushed development cycle. The game was likely hurried in order to secure a spot in Microsoft's well publicized and lucrative Summer of Arcade series.
Still, below average visual style can't keep this one from shining. I spent hours-long sessions with Wreckateer, compelled to play just one more level until it was well past my bedtime. That's an experience I haven't had very often with motion controlled games in general, and the sort of thing I'd love to see more of from Kinect.
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB: E 10+