This is probably the most "video gamey" screenshot I've seen from "Child of Eden," whose still shots make it look more like a screensaver than an actual game.

When a reviewer says a video game is a “must-play” experience, it’s assumed to mean he thinks everyone should run out and part with $50 or $60 of their hard-earned money as soon as it’s convenient.

Q Entertainment’s “Child of Eden,” however, is a different kind of must-play game. When played with Kinect on the Xbox 360, it’s a fusion of movement, music and shooting unlike anything else in gaming. Everyone with a Kinect owes it to themselves to try “Child of Eden.”

That said, “Child of Eden” (rated E10+, $50 on Xbox 360) is the very definition of a niche title, much like Q’s 2001 cult classic “Rez.” Its “‘Duck Hunt’ goes to a rave” aesthetic won’t resonate with everyone, nor will its relatively short length. (The shoot-‘em up is meant to be played again and again as part of a quest for a high score. As such, it can be finished in a single long session.)

"Child of Eden's" lush spacescapes make for some cool-looking screen shots.

“Child of Eden’s” premise sounds like the stuff of a long William Gibson novel, as opposed to a few paragraphs of text you read before you start playing a game. It revolves around a woman called Lumi, the first human born in space. In short, scientists are trying to resurrect Lumi, two centuries after her death, within a futuristic version of the Internet, called Eden.
At the start of a game, players see a short movie of Lumi’s rebirth, which ends with an encroaching corruption by a computer virus. Players are tasked with eliminating the threat and saving Lumi and Eden.

How do you save Lumi? By shooting things, of course.

You’ll fly on a guided path through colorful levels reminiscent of animated music visualization software, shooting things like giant luminescent whales and twirling acrobatic birds. Each level is meant to represent a different archive that needs to be free of viruses.

"Child of Eden" uses Facebook integration to collect images of everyone who's ever wronged you, so you can shoot them. No, just kidding.

While using the Xbox 360 controller is easy and intuitive, the Kinect controls are simple and most effective. Your right hand governs use of “Child of Eden’s” more powerful weapon, the lock-on laser. You sweep your arm to highlight as many as eight enemies with the cursor, then flick your wrist to fire once you’ve locked on. Your left arm controls a “tracer” gun, which fires a steady stream of low-powered shots wherever you point. (An optional control scheme allows the player to clap to switch back and forth between the two weapons, using the same arm for each gun.)

If you raise both arms into the air, you’ll clear the screen of enemies with one of your limited supply of bombs.

Even though you have just two primary weapons, managing them properly is the key to getting a high score and unlocking everything the game has to offer. Generally, the lock-on laser is the more powerful weapon, as well as the key to stringing together combos and racking up points. However, the tracer is needed to shoot down purple projectiles that some enemies hurl at the player. It’s also much more effective against purple foes.

“Child of Eden’s” coolest feature is the way the game’s audio syncs up with your performance. If you time your shots with the music and string together combos, you’ll get to enjoy the game’s soundtrack to the fullest, sort of like conducting your own laser-and-music show. If you flail around and struggle, you’ll just get fragments of the audio and a one- or two-star rating.

Like all Kinect games thus far, "Child of Eden" costs $50.

The game has five levels that you play through as part of the story. Each takes around 10 minutes, so if you play them front-to-back with breaks to rest your arms, you’ll get around an hour of game play in a clean run through “Child of Eden.” It actually takes a bit longer to finish the game the first time, though, as players must accumulate stars, awarded based on performance, to unlock levels beyond the first. This means you’ll most likely be replaying earlier levels to unlock later ones.

Even with all that replaying, plus a challenge mode that’s unlocked once you finish the game, there’s no getting around the fact that “Child of Eden” is a brief, if amazing, experience.

How much you’re comfortable with paying for the $50 game will correlate directly with how much disposable income you have, and how much you like to replay stuff you’ve already finished in the hopes of doing better.

But everyone with Kinect should at least try “Child of Eden.” Whether it’s as a $50 purchase, sale buy, rental or loan from a friend is up to you.

[gametrailers 716276]

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