I'll admit a fair bit of trepidation in approaching Wreckateer. The Kinect has had a few fine moments in its life so far, but the device has lost steam and some sour experiences -- like the absolutely dreadful Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor -- have made me wary towards Microsoft's motion controller. Despite all that, I was happy to find that Wreckateer is everything a Kinect game should be: accessible for newcomers, hard to master, and genuinely a blast to play.
The game revolves around a simple play mechanic -- cocking and firing a ballista at structures that have been taken over by roving goblins. You'll need to plan the arc of your shot, and use several different brands of special shots to inflict serious damage on the goblin castles. Each stage awards Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals for scores, but only Bronze is require to pass to the next level. Score bonuses are granted for a variety of actions, from near misses to hitting a goblin squarely in the face.
This might all sound incredibly reminiscent of Angry Birds, and that's for good reason. Wreckateer wears its influences on its sleeve, and even the special shots might seem familiar. One splits into several shots, another fires off in a straight line, and so on. These are all sensible additions to the game, especially in how they're translated into taking down structures in 3D space. Still, it's no coincidence that the most fun I had was with the Flying Shot, the one especially catered to this format.
The campaign is a lengthy 50 stages across 10 lands, along with bonus Challenge levels for each area. While I scored Gold medals across the early stages with ease, the difficulty ramped up considerably. By the time I hit the last few sets of stages, I would have to retry a handful of times before I passed with even a Bronze.
However, I never felt like I was cheated or fighting with the Kinect. It was, surprisingly, perfectly responsive to my commands, and my mistakes were my own. In fact, once in an early tutorial stage, the game told me to trigger a special shot at a specific moment. I dutifully hit it a little early expecting input lag, and was surprised to find I had made an errant shot due to my own mistrust of the device.
I did hit a few more errors in multiplayer, and it seemed to need a larger play area to function. The multiplayer options also seemed a little lacking, with no co-operative mode. Instead, it was limited to competitive single-serving stages, or a playlist of various stages in a theme. It's nice that we can create our own playlists, but I would like the option to take down a castle with my friends, instead of only against them.
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This game also serves as the debut of the Microsoft's new "Avatar FameStar" initiative, a cross-game promotion that counts points toward a running tally to unlock items like Avatar outfits. Functionally, this only amounts to Achievement-like goals in addition to the standard set, but it's unobtrusive and adds a few extra challenges to chase.
Wreckateer may not turn heads for its visual style or sense of humor, both of which feel a bit flat and generic. However, the mechanics work remarkably well and smashed my doubts about the Kinect. If Microsoft has more smartly designed, purely enjoyable experiences like this in the works, I say bring them on.
This Wreckateer review was based on a Xbox 360 digital version of the game provided by the publisher.