Gorillas. Scorched Earth. Worms. Angry Birds. Turn-based artillery games have been around nearly as long as computers have existed, and with the success and omnipresence of Angry Birds (seriously guys, Angry Birds Cheese Nips?) it looks like they’re the new big thing. Thus, we have Wreckateer, a downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade that is part of Microsoft's annual Summer of Arcade promotion as of the date of this review.
Wreckateer does a few things differently in order to mix things up: it takes place in a fantasy setting, has a 3D perspective, does not require all the baddies to be destroyed to finish levels (destroying Goblins awards mulligans, or do-overs), and uses the Kinect.
Another important twist is that you can alter your shot's trajectory after launch using your hands to push the projectile around a little. While doing so can't save you from a really bad shot, it does allow you to make slight mid-flight adjustments which can make a good shot an even better one.
You play as a new recruit of the Wreck & Tinker Destruction Company, which has been tasked with destroying castles occupied by goblins. Your avatar takes command of a device resembling a large crossbow called the Ballista and uses it to launch various types of projectiles at said castles in order to reduce them to rubble.
Uses Kinect Controls Well - The controls in Wreckateer are well thought out and even add a layer of immersion to the game. The play area is broken up into two zones. To launch a shot, you first stand in the forward 'loading zone' and extend your hands in front of you as if you are grabbing the projectile (football fans can imagine a quarterback preparing to take a snap in shotgun position). Next, you back up into the 'firing zone,' aim your shot by moving your hands around, and then open your arms to release. The player's avatar appears on-screen and stands atop a bright area that represents the play area, making it easy to figure out just where you are. While aiming, areas that can be hit by your shot light up, though some mid-flight adjusting will more than likely be needed to put your shot just where you want it.
Addictive - Wreckateer sets point goals for the player to meet in order to win bronze, silver, and gold medals. More destruction increases the score multiplier, so players will want to cause lots of destruction quickly. Bonus points are awarded for hitting targets and performing other actions such as causing massive damage, destroying houses, and smacking goblins right in the face. The player will need to at least reach the bronze level score in order to advance, and a 4th 'score to beat' is also provided. Wreckateer has that 'I know I can beat that last score' quality to it that had me playing levels over and over in order to get better medals.
Variety of Projectiles - In addition to your garden-variety regular shot, Wreck and Tinker will invent various projectiles for you to use in your missions, and as the game progresses, you may be given a few of each type to use, making think about just where to aim each one for maximum damage. Most of them are activated by raising your arms up to make a 'Y' while the shot is in midair, and other gestures are used to manipulate the projectile in various ways, so its hardly 'fire and forget.'
Funny - Wreckateer is a silly game through and through, with cartoony graphics and lighthearted music to set the tone. Your guides throughout the game are Wreck and Tinker, a pair of happy-go-lucky guys with Scottish accents who joke around while offering assistance and also throw the occasional barb, such as "You know we ARE a demolition company, right?" which I received after missing completely. The hosts don't get too mean-spirited and its all in good fun.
Price is Right - At 800 MS Points, Wreckateer is a pretty good value with 60 levels total: that’s 10 areas with 5 levels each and a 6th bonus level unlocked after getting all gold medals in an area. The levels start off easy, but will get challenging as you progress through the game. It will take probably 5-6 hours to get through the game and longer to unlock all of the levels.
Flaky Controls - As is the case with most Kinect games that work in real-time (as opposed to games like Dance Central which has a slight delay) the controls can get a little unresponsive at times. Wreckateer compensates for this by being fairly generous with awarding mulligans, and allowing the player to quickly restart the level by holding their right hand up for a few seconds, so it is possible to recover from a bad shot.
A Few Bad Angles - Placing one of your hands above your eyes while in the Loading Zone, as if you are shielding them from the sun, will make the camera pan over the level so that you can survey it and plan your next shot. Unfortunately, there is no way to manipulate the camera once you have done so, and the chosen angle does not always show you the area you want to see. There were also a few instances when the camera remained focused on the area where the projectile landed, so I could not view any of the wanton destruction I had just wrought.
While many will dismiss Wreckateer as being 'just an Angry Birds clone,' I think that it does enough differently to stand on its own. Let's also be honest, at its most basic level, Angry Birds is a derivative as well. Wreckateer is a well-polished game with addictive gameplay. It makes good use of the Kinect, as well as compensating for some of its shortcomings. The medieval setting and lighthearted tone fit together well, and the Kinect controls, while being a little bit finicky, do not get in the way and even add to the fun. There is a good amount of fun to be had here, especially for those of us who aspire to beat our high scores. If you aren't a fan of artillery shooters, Wreckateer probably won't make you one, but those of us who haven't yet tired of judging angles, launching projectiles and watching stuff crumble to the ground will have a wreck-tastic time.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.*