Wreckateer Xbox 360
Featured in Microsoft’s esteemed Summer of Arcade release, Wreckateer is the only title out of the five that needs a Kinect to play. I assume Microsoft is using the game’s release to show that it still supports the device and feels it’s just as important as the rest of the Summer of Arcade games. The Kinect hardware has become a bit of a hate centre for hardcore gamers, due to its ability to not work as fully intended. Even so, Microsoft never aimed the device towards the hardcore crowd. It was their device to pull in the casual gamer that had finished playing their Wii, or some kid’s parents who ran in fear of that Xbox 360 controller but were fine with the human-based controls of the Kinect. A good thing, then, that Wreckateer is a Kinect game that controls well despite the limitations of the hardware it uses.
Breaking down Wreckateer to its core, you can say that the game is a twist on the Angry Birds formula. The idea is you take control of a giant slingshot and fire various types of boulders at castles to demolish them into piles of wreckage. There’s no story apart from the setup that your Xbox 360 avatar is under the wing of two expert wreckateers that train you whenever new ammo or power-ups are brought into play.
The reason why the controls work with the Kinect is because Iron Galaxy has kept the motions basic. A shot requires you to take a step forward, place your hands together and then take a step back to pull the catapult. The more you step back the more strain and power is transferred into the rubber band of the catapult. Releasing your hands and sticking them straight out to the side of you causes the on-screen avatar to release the shot. Moving left and right while holding on to the giant slingshot moves where the shot will go. This is the same for moving your arms up and down, which determines the height of the shot. To give you an idea of how well the controls work in Wreckateer, I’ll tell you this: I never had to recalibrate or reset any of the hardware. That’s an achievement in its own right.
More controls come into play when the ammo is flying through the air. The basic rock can be slightly pushed around to alter its direction by waving your hands in the direction you want it to go. Two virtual hands appear on-screen so you can tell where your hands are on the TV screen. This isn’t as accurate as the launching controls because you need to make sure your hands are off the screen again before pushing the rock. I found that if I tried to do short, fast swipes then the rock would accidentally get pushed from the opposite direction to the one I wanted.
More ammo becomes available shortly after starting. The flying ammo allows you to fly by first sticking your arms up above your head, then you just pretend you’re a kid doing the aeroplane, using arms that are extended to fly around the level. Sticking your arms up is used to activate all of the special ammo during their momentum towards the castle. Doing it with the bomb ammo activates its explosives and bounce ammo adds extra height (up to three times) as it travels. One of my favourite ammo types is the split rock. During flight, you can raise your hands to cause the rock to split into four smaller rocks. You then use your hands to control the four rocks between your palms, squeezing and extending to make them cover smaller or larger areas.
Icons are placed in the level to affect the ammo when it travels through them. Most are copies of the special ammo, such as the bomb icon that causes any rock to explode, while the speed icon causes the ammo to become faster and pierce through multiple buildings (just like the speed rock). These must be used if you want to meet the required gold medal target that each level features. Goblins are also placed around levels and if you manage to hit three then you’ll gain a mulligan – a chance to repeat a shot if you feel you’ve messed up; a nice inclusion because sometimes you just don’t get the score you want from a shot. There’s a bit of randomness to the outcome; it is physics-based after all. No game has ever had a physics engine that doesn’t occasional flip out and cause inaccurate problems.
Speaking of problems, Wreckateer‘s hit detection is a little unspectacular. I was expecting massive collisions when towers crashed into each other. I was expecting a domino-style knock-on effect that caused debris to fly everywhere. Disappointingly, this isn’t the case. I’ve knocked down a massive tower that falls and collides with other parts of the castle, but rarely anything came of it.
Levels are designed around environmental themes, like snow, grassy fields and mountains. I never felt the puzzle designs were pushed. The designers take it safe and keep the levels similar. Clever stuff could have been implemented, like launching balls off ramps or using loop-de-loops to differentiate the stages. There are bonus points awarded for fancy shots, but you’re talking bouncing off land or curving the ball with the after-touch. Nothing particularly exciting.
Wreckateer contains 60 levels, which isn’t too bad for 800 Microsoft Points. The game itself becomes a chore about half way through the campaign, though. The novelty wears off and you’re given a clear view that Wreckateer is a shallow, forgettable game with the only stand-out feature it has is that the controls work. But since when should working controls be a redeeming feature? They should always work. Simply looking at the game then, Wreckateer is a one-trick pony that plays it too safe to be anything other than a bit of fun on the side.