I’ve talked about a company called Virtual Air Guitar a few times on this blog, first in my review of a 5-star game called Kung Fu High Impact for the Xbox 360, and then in their first entry for the Xbox One called Boom Ball, which I said at the time was probably one of the games that best demonstrated the true capabilities of the Kinect 2.0’s motion detection capabilities. Boom Ball was hardly an “exercise game”; while it simulated the physical motions of handball, you really only moved your arms and not your legs which didn’t make for a very intense workout. Still, it was a great, and maybe the only, example of a company that understood what the Kinect 2.0 could do.
Squid Hero is their follow-up title. In it, you play a rocket-powered squid from outer space who falls to earth and accidentally crashes into the South Pole, spewing big chunks of ice all around the world (including the Carribbean, the Sewers of the world, the Grand Canyon, the rivers of Europe, and the rivers of Canada). In a vertical scrolling game (a two-dimensional world that continuous scrolls up, much like Spy Hunter or Xevious), your job is to float up a stream of water, reach out with two of your long and stretchy tentacles, grab ice, and throw the ice to destroy other chunks of ice of the same color or rescue creatures that have been trapped in ice and need to be broken free. The graphics are simple cartoon-like images, and yet you notice some astounding use of the Xbox One’s graphical capabilities, such as the ultra-realistic view of the rippling water.
Now for the gaming media who’s running to their typewriters to complain that there are no such things are rocket-powered space squids or who would point out that even big chunks of ice would probably melt in the Carribbean or the sewers of Europe, I think they’re missing the point. The premise is supposed to be ridiculous. But the star of the game is in its motion detection.
In the tutorial, you’re given the very basic instructions. You move both your arms up, down, left, or right to move your squid (and in fast-moving bonus rounds you lean your body left and right to navigate). You reach out with your arms to control your tentacles, and you “fling” your arms in the right direction to throw the ice. The result is a game that’s a little like bocce, curling, or lawn bowling in that you need to throw an object as precisely as possible to hit a target. Hit your target, and it explodes, leaving a pile of coins in its wake. Collect the coins and you can accessorize your little squid with hats. You can get bonus points for longer shots or combo shots.
The motion controls are very precise. You can tell that the developers worked hard to take complex acts like reaching out, grabbing an object, aiming the object, throwing the object, and reaching out to collect “coins” and try to make them as intuitive as possible for the Kinect.
Still, I can totally see some people getting frustrated, especially as you progress to higher levels and gameplay becomes a lot faster and more frenetic. Because you don’t feel the same kinds of force and resistance as you would, say, of you were throwing something like a curling stone in real life, you really need to “re-learn” how physics works within the game world, which will come easier to some than others. Otherwise, you’ll probably get thrown of by how herky-jerky the controls are. Similarly, in those parts of the game where you’re swaying your body back and forth to avoid objects, it takes a lot to get used to using your body to control the action, and often the responsiveness feels too sluggish, especially as the action becomes faster.
As far as gameplay, this feels more like a mobile phone app than it does an Xbox console game–each level is quick and fairly repetitive, and the biggest incentive to keep at it is by doing things like collecting coins. This isn’t a knock on the game–after all, mobile games have proven this to be a winning formula. Still, you might be hard-pressed to pay $9.99 for a game that feels a lot like a free game you’ll play on your mobile device, where you’re basically using your body to “swipe” instead of your fingers.
As far as the workout quality, you do get a bit of an aerobic workout as you move your body left and right and move your arms in every direction, especially at the higher levels when things are moving quickly. While it’s not the most intense workout, if you’re like me and get obsessed with completing levels to collect coins and achievements, you’ll get an extended period of light physical activity going.
As I said with Boom Ball, Squid Hero is a fantastic demonstration of how to build games “right” for the Kinect 2.0, but in this case the gamepay may be a bit too far of a stretch from the “real world” to feel very intuitive for a lot of users. Once you get used to the gameplay it’s 4 or 5 of 5 stars, but it takes a lot of practice and trial and error to get to that point, and until you do you’ll probably rate it more of a 2 or 3. Bottom line, it’s not for everyone, and I probably wouldn’t recommend it as one of your primary fitness games for Kinect 2.0. But it’s a great diversion and if you don’t mind the price tag I’d say it’s worth having as a secondary game in your collecting to pull out from time to time.
I appreciate Virtual Air Guitar taking chances on games like this when all other big developers seem to be petrified at even acknowledging that the Kinect 2.0 was meant for motion gaming. I look forward to seeing more great things from them.