People love to destroy things in games. Whether it's ploughing through crates and enemies alike with a wrench in Ratchet & Clank, or smashing up the environment for bricks in the Lego games, there's a certain cathartic joy to be found in permission to break things without having to worry about the consequences. Iron Galaxy has taken that simple idea and formed a fun game around it with Wreckateer for Kinect.
You play a new recruit in a destruction company, tasked with clearing the Kingdom of Fardom of its goblin infestation by levelling the castles in which they've taken root, which is apparently the only way to get rid of these pests. This background plot isn't particularly complex, but there's enough light humour to give the game personality: 'An achievement?' Wreck or Tinker – the owners of the company – will say, 'For that?' Or, if you activate a shot too soon, 'It's fine, it happens to a lot of Wreckateers. Not to me, of course.'
Wreck also demonstrates how to control each shot. Since you play Wreckateer solely with Kinect, flinging projectiles at the castles (and the goblins) is a matter of whole body movements. You set up each shot by stepping forwards and bringing your hands together – to grab the launcher – and then step back to increase the force of the throw. Once you've thrown your hands wide to release the shot, you then control the path of the projectile by batting it in the desired direction with your magical gauntlets.
A variety of projectile types makes things more interesting. With a flying shot, you hold your arms out to the side in an impression of an airplane to guide the projectile wherever you want it to go. A bomb shot explodes when you lift your arms in a V shape over your head – time it to do so the moment the shot hits the castle wall to win extra points. For a split shot, activation breaks one projectile into four that stay between your gauntlets and can be guided to hit multiple targets for increased devastation.
Surprisingly, the Kinect control method is probably the best thing about this game. Stepping forward to 'grab' the launcher gives that feeling of immersion that developers using Kinect are aiming for, and guiding the flying shots – as long as you don't embarrass easily – is the kind of fun most adults don't get to experience very often anymore. Having to walk around the living room rather than press buttons does make the game take longer, however. And no matter how well-implemented, Kinect controls do tend to make it harder to be as precise as you might like, which can get a little annoying in the later, more complicated levels.
Unfortunately, the above-average Kinect implementation is balanced by below-average performance where it counts. In a game all about wrecking castles, you would hope for impressive displays when the buildings come crumbling to the ground. But Wreckateer is cursed with poor physics. Sometimes a castle will come down like a house of cards, but other times one tower will fall against another and the latter will – inexplicably – stand its ground. It's incredibly satisfying when your well-timed, well-aimed shot sets off a chain of destruction that wipes out half a castle, but when things don't work out so well, it can feel like the game has failed at what it should really do best.
Your motivation for playing comes from a basic point system – with certain scores to aim for and comparisons to be made with Wreck, yourself, your friends – boosted with bonuses for certain kinds of shots. Hitting one of the little huts gives you the 'homewrecker' bonus. Flying close to an unsuspecting goblin earns you the 'terrifying' bonus. Missing the castle or any of its buildings completely gets you a bonus called 'pacifist', causing one of your superiors to say, 'You know we're a destruction company, right?'
You can also improve your score by guiding your shots through shield icons. Some shields just give you extra points, but some transform your shots, giving you extra speed or height. These shields – as well as the taunting goblins – give you something besides castle wall to aim at, which makes the similar levels a little more interesting, though having to steer towards them with your arms rather than a standard controller may detract from the experience.
This is especially true for the later levels, in which you're encouraged to examine the layout of the level – by giving a 'salute' with your right hand – and carefully plan each shot. Guide that bomb shot towards the shield that gets you extra points, then bat it around until it hits the shield that boosts its speed so that it bursts through the three towers lined up together, and activate it to explode on the last one for maximum damage. This strategising gives the game an edge. But only when it works. Luckily, every time you kill three goblins you earn a Mulligan, so you can retry a tricky shot by just sticking your left hand up in the air once it has crashed and burned.
There will be a limit to how much time you're willing to put into a level in order to get enough points for the bronze score needed to progress, however. With no real story to speak of, and little variety in the levels besides the occasional addition of snow or a waterfall, this isn't the kind of game you'll play for hours. In fact, Wreckateer is highly reminiscent of a smartphone game, the kind of thing that is a lot of fun, but only in short bursts. But while the draw of a smartphone game is in its accessibility, it takes a little more time to fire up a game for the Kinect, especially if that involves rearranging some furniture. At only 800 Microsoft points, however, it's worth buying just to try it out, especially if you've got kids. Just make sure you've got enough floor space for that imaginary catapult first.