After flicking my ballista to launch the first stone toward the first castle in Wreckateer, my first thought wasn’t “Hey, it’s like a first-person version of Angry Birds!”
No, it was this: Wow, this would have made a great Kinect launch game.
Of course, it’s now more than a year and a half since Microsoft’s motion-controlled peripheral attached itself to our Xbox 360s. It’s not particularly fair, but one of the most important things that can be said about Iron Galaxy Studios’ entertaining smash-the-castle game—and this is a pretty damning observation about the Kinect library in general– is that it functions as advertised. The Kinect camera recognizes the range of motions the game requires, and they actually work: You step up to a ballista, put your arms forward to grasp the bow, pull them back for maximum force, then fling your arms out to the sides to launch the shot. Even the menu navigation, which uses the raise-then-swipe-the-hand-to-the-left gimmick, functions smoothly. That hasn’t been the case in far too many Kinect games. (PowerUp Heroes and Rabbids: Alive & Kicking, we’re looking at you.)
Unlike destruction-happy games like Angry Birds or Boom Blox, the action picks up once the projectile’s in the air. As an apprentice to a pair of skilled wreckateers, it’s on you to alter and adjust your shot trajectory as it hurtles toward its target by using your “magic gauntlets” to swipe up, down or side to side. Some of the specialized shots you’ll eventually earn, like the flying shot (wings!) and the split shot (four smaller stones strung in a line) require you to activate them in mid-air, maneuvering, rotating or detonating to achieve maximum collateral damage. Keeping you involved from launch to landing is where Wreckateer soars well beyond similar-style games.
All the towers and bridges you topple fill both a damage-multiplier meter and another meter that measures your score and progress toward a gold, silver or bronze medal (the last is required to advance). It’s hugely satisfying to see how your multiple-tower takedown can blast the meter from bronze to silver medal status in the course of a single well-placed shot. The lure of collectible icons, prizes awarded for doing things like nailing a direct hit on a goblin’s face, or, if you truly suck, for missing everything altogether, add an additional layer of fun and strategic depth. It’s especially thrilling to nail a shot that not only takes down multiple structures, but also racks up copious collectibles.
Wreckateer functions best when it sticks to simple wanton destruction. Eventually, more difficult levels require you to steer your ballista shots through multiple power-up shields hanging in the air to advance; suddenly, narrow misses equal level failure instead of lower damage scores, and that’s a medieval drag. Beyond its initial premise, Wreckateer doesn’t have a ton of creative ideas tucked under its turrets. There’s no central villain you’re trying to smoke from the ashes of his castle—just 60 goblin-infested castles arranged in increasingly similar level patterns. The game’s nine worlds alter the landscape environment and color palette a little, but that’s about it. In other words, like Angry Birds, this is a game best enjoyed in small doses.
It’s also a game that proves the potential for Kinect to become a force for gaming good is still there. Apparently, designers just need to hone their ballista sights a little—or maybe a lot–more tightly.
+ A Kinect game where the controls function as advertised? Holy Gunstringer, Batman!
+ The adrenaline thrill of nailing a perfectly placed shot is amped by first-person view, control
+ The fill-the-meter damage and level-medal system incentivizes good play
– Level variety peters out quickly
– Some later-level challenges are frustrating
Platform: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (requires Kinect)
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios
Release Date: 7/25/2012
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (offline)
Source: Review code provided by publisher