This week sees Wreckateer released on Xbox Live, the only Kinect exclusive title in the Summer of Arcade line-up. Now I know the word Kinect immediately springs to mind a number of unflattering comments when it comes to titles that use the device, however hold your pitchforks and torches for one moment, as Wreckateer is actually a fun little title if you give it a chance.
The idea of Wreckateer is very simple. Aim and fire a handful of giant boulders at castles using a Ballista in order to demolish, annihilate and score as many points as you can. It’s nothing clever and very simple, but can be incredibly fun especially when you manage to nail a shot perfectly that brings the enemies towering structures down to mere rubble. Much like Angry Birds, Wreckateer hands you a number of varied projectiles each with different abilities. The lift shot gives your boulder a boost in height when activated while the speed shot turns it into a bullet that fires straight through anything in its path. Flying shots as you can image allow you to sprout wings and glide, explosive shots… well explode and split shots break the boulder into four. Also littered around stages are shields that when hit provide you with a score boost or temporary power for your boulder. Bonus points are also awarded for completing various tasks such as skimming a shot along the ground, curving a ball’s trajectory or hitting a Goblin.
Stages will often hand you a mixture of shots where it’s then up to you to decide how best to use them. Flying shots are handy for collecting bonuses scattered around the sky while a perfectly placed split shot can often take out multiple structures all at once. The real skill of this game comes from your ability to judge an environment and use the tools given to you to create the most devastation. This really can become a game of trial and error as you’re constantly trying to figure out the correct way of getting to that ever elusive gold medal score which unfortunately can prove frustrating at times. On a number of occasions I would find myself getting higher scores on certain shots and left wondering how it was better than my last which looked just as destructive. When you do manage to land that demolishing shot it feels so satisfying, but when you constantly come up short time and time again clueless as to how you can do better it begins to irritate.
The main campaign has you travelling ten areas with a handful of stages in each to be completed. Sadly each new section feels just like the last with no real variation to be seen for most of your travels. Sure there are wooded areas, snowy areas and the odd canyon here and there, but for the most part it all looks too samey, lacking any real distinguishing features. I want to feel like I’m moving somewhere new.
Upon completion of each area’s standard stages you unlock challenges that feature special, unique rulesets but again you’ll still be essentially firing more boulders at more castles. This is where the game’s biggest problem comes in. Wreckateer is good fun but that fun tends to slowly erode the more you play. I found that after three or four hours I’d exhausted my desire for medieval demolition wishing there was something more to do beside flinging boulders. Sadly beside the campaigns stages and leaderboards that’s your lot. Whereas Angry Bird’s simplicity excelled on mobile phones since people would only play a few minutes at a time, with Wreckateer this isn’t as easily overlooked since it’s on a home console where gamers like deeper experiences.
Firing the Ballista is handled entirely via the Kinect device and works fantastically. This is one of those rare occasions where I can say that the game is more enjoyable without a regular joypad. Stepping forward, holding your arms outward and stepping back informs your on screen avatar to lock and load the giant crossbow where you can then aim via sliding your body around as if you would the real thing. When you’re happy with your trajectory, simply yank both arms outward and off flies your boulder. It’s surprisingly accurate and pretty satisfying. The interaction doesn’t end there though, as you have the ability to slightly alter the path of your shot by waving your arms over the boulder. Want to bring it down? Then wave your arm in a downward motion. It won’t allow you to twist shots in impossible ways, but does come in handy for readjusting a misfired launch. A small feature, but an awesome one nonetheless allows you to get a better look of the castles by holding your hand over your eyes much like you would to see in the distance in real life. Again a small feature but one that raised a smile or two.
I’ve never been a big fan of handling menus with the Kinect. It seems too fiddly just to select an option and always has for me. While the menu is generally painless in Wreckateer, I feel getting into the action takes too long. Whereas with a gamepad, it would be a mere case of pressing a few buttons, here you’re waving your arm or slowly raising it to locate the right option which can become a chore. Fortunately retrying stages and redoing failed shots is as simple as raising your right or left arm.
Disappointingly two player mode essentially has you playing the same stages from the campaign taking turns. It would have been cool to have simultaneous online or perhaps some crazier modes for parties of people since what is here feels very bare bones.
Wreckateer is one of those few examples that show the Kinect at its best with fun and precise motion controls that add more to the experience than I would ever have thought. Sadly the basic idea can only go so far, tending to drag on after extended plays. Best enjoyed in short spells, Wreckateer is a dumb, fun Kinect game that families are sure to enjoy.