As the second game in the Summer of Arcade 2012 promotion – and the only Kinect title – Wreckateer has garnered a lot of attention and skepticism. Developed by Iron Galaxy Studios, Wreckateer is at its heart a “high score chase” game in veins of another catapult-to-knocking-down-buildings game. Entering a market wary of cartoonish graphics and casual user targeted Kinect games, Wreckateer tries to launch itself above expectations.
As a medieval wrecking crew’s rock polisher, it’s your big day to shine as the wrecking crew needs a new member. In this world however, wrecking crews don’t use dynamite or wrecking balls – not how we’d expect them anyways – they use ballista, which are little more than giant-sized crossbows. These crews are tasked with demolishing castles infested with goblins; because, as everyone knows, once goblins infest a castle, the only solution is to blow it up.
Built on this sparse story line, Wreckateer introduces you to the basic operation of the ballista. The tutorial is both too long and too simple to the point of frustration. The tutorial slowly ramps up to introduce simple mechanics which could test the patience of new users who actually want to complete the lessons and move on. Once you get past the tutorial though, new mechanics are introduced at a much better pace and the fun can really start.
The cartoonish graphics don’t help against this stereotype, but rather than shy away from it, Wreckateer embraces the cartoonish aspects to its benefit. Your instructors introduce occasionally witty – and more often groan-worthy commentary – while the goblins inhabiting the buildings you’re trying to wreck dance around in everything from peasant clothes to princess dresses and even bunny ears. The physics are realistic enough that strategic demolition can bring down a supported structure, while the overly exaggerated explosions still fit right in. It’s in this world that we get our start.
If you think Wreckateer is a simple destruction score game, then you don’t give it enough credit. While destroying parts of the various structures grants scores, there are a number of multipliers and targets scattered around for you to collect. Some targets grant additional score – making the strategic choice to hit a target and risk missing a structure – while others have effects on your projectiles adding new elements. After each shot, the total damage is added to the roster affecting not only your total score, but overall multipliers from 2X to 5X to your base score. While only a bronze medal is needed to progress to the next map, these multipliers and a strategy are needed to reach the silver and gold medals on later levels.
Wreckateer utilizes the Kinect controls in such a beautifully simplistic manner that the motions don’t feel out of place or hamper the experience. The basic inputs allow everything from aiming the ballista to controlling the shots after release to be controlled with a surprising level of accuracy for a Kinect game. Priming the shot is as simple as stepping forward and placing your hands together, then stepping back to increase the tension and increase power. To release the shot simply pull your hands apart. In a brilliant move, Iron Galaxy Studios continued to support Kinect inputs by allowing the player to tweak the direction of the shot mid-air.
By “pushing” the shot one direction or the other the aim can be fine-tuned much better than could be accomplished otherwise. This gives the impression of greater accuracy and allows for more skilled manipulation than a simple aim-and-fire mechanic, taking it above the knee-jerk comparison of the game to Angry Birds. While the Kinect controls very well, these additional tweaks lends a manufactured accuracy the Kinect could otherwise never accomplish. Though not perfect for every genre of game, other developers could learn a thing or two from this kind of input.
To aid in the quest for the highest score, your arsenal includes six unique ammo-types to help bring down the targets in the most creative, spectacular, and score-hungry manner possible. Each ammo type besides the Basic Shot offers a special ability to aid in the destruction. The activation of this ability – again, simplicity is keep with Kinect – requires the player to make a “Y” shape. The first special shot you gain access to is wisely the most fun: the Flying Shot. This is a gliding guided missile that allows for aerobatics for controlled targeting and really could have been a mini-game in itself. From pin-point accuracy to full-on destruction, Split Shot lives up to its name by exploding into four smaller projectiles. These smaller missiles can be roughly guided, stretched or crunched as they form a line between your hands.
The Bomb Shot acts as a smart bomb as it is the only shot capable of exploding on command – even after lodging into a structure. The Lift Shot is a heavy bolder capable of up to three skips gaining altitude and distance; however, the Speed Shot which shoots like a bullet to pierce multiple weaker layers of protection. These two shots are polar opposites and like the others require strategy to be most effective.
In addition to the inherent desire to obtain your own personal high score, Wreckateer has plenty of competitive options. For those who prefer off-line play, there is a local co-op option to play turn-based style as well as each level having a “Wreck Wreckington” score established by the design team as an obtainable goal to aim for. For more wide-spread online players Wreckateer offers a convenient – if not dubious – real-time high score notification when your friends beat your score or vice versa. For competitive players, this has the potential to keep them coming back to ensure their seat at the top of the leaderboards.
Each level even contains its own detailed shot-by-shot graph showing how your recent attempt compares to the high score holder. There is even a very detailed list of analytics at the end of each level to compare damage caused, distance achieved, and various other statistics. With the ability to select any level previously beaten users will be able to play through their favorite moments from any of the fully 60 individual maps. Yes, there are sixty maps – five levels and a challenge map for each of the ten counties in the game.
Even with the multitude of ammo types, the entertaining animations, surprisingly responsive Kinect controls, and sometimes hilarious cartoon physics, Wreckateer suffers from one major flaw: repetition. Iron Galaxy Studios does a commendable job spreading out the addition of new ammo and interactive elements while changing the structures, but there’s only so many times in a row castle/fort/bridge can be destroyed in one sitting.
There are hours of fun to be had across multiple levels, chasing high scores, a surprising level of strategy for and a variety of ammo types. Iron Galaxy Studios has created a new benchmark for Kinect games and for once it lives up to the motto “better with Kinect”. This game on a controller just would not be the same. Beyond their control Iron Galaxy Studios did try to accommodate various room sizes, but you’ll still need to have enough space to move around and most people won’t reach the “optimal” space.
WRECKATEER LAUNCH TRAILER:
If you’re looking for a long-haul or more intense game this probably isn’t for you. Wreckateer is a great game for all ages of players looking for a simplistic and entertaining experience in bite-sized doses or just love the thrill of the score chase. For only 800 MS Points ($10), it’s perfectly aware of its market placement, and revels in it.