One of my favorite games of all time is The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. There is just something about watching buildings crumble beneath your will that is exhilarating. While we have a few months left before Ubisoft’s Kinect-powered Avengers title, motion control fans can get their demolition on now with Iron Galaxy Studios‘ Wreckateer.

The latest entry in Microsoft’s 2012 Summer of Arcade promotion might not be the shred-fest of last week’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD or the zombie-filled action of the upcoming Deadlight, but for those looking for an accessible interlude, it might hit the spot. As an apprentice of comical characters Wreck and Tinker, your job is to rid the kingdom of goblin infestations. Apparently, the realm of Fardom doesn’t have exterminators or a militia. It has wrecking crews.

The entire premise of the game is to use a ballista to propel different types of projectiles toward ever larger and more complex castles. In addition to the normal spherical shots, there are bomb, split, flying, speed and lift types. Each of these launches the same way, but is handled differently in the air.

To get your projectile on its way, the motions required are simple and consistent. You won’t need to use all of the play space, and the game features a handy option to lock the Kinect motor in place once you’ve adjusted the angle. To prepare the ballista, you’ll need to step forward and put your hands in front of yourself. To pull back and strengthen your shot, step back. The ballista can be aimed left, right, up and down. To release, simply move your arms out as if you are letting go. Aiming is made easier by a shimmering effect on the target you’re likely to hit.

Once in the air, your hands are represented by gauntlets. By sweeping your hands through a normal and bomb shot, it will nudge it in any direction. For explosives and the other specials, putting your arms up in a “Y” triggers their abilities. Bombs will detonate on command. Flying shots will sprout wings to be guided by soaring through the air with your arms fully extended. Lifts will bounce up and gain a bit of steam. Speed shots will rocket forward in a straight line. Spread bullets are handled differently, though. Once they spring into action, the four chained pieces will stretch between your hands. You can impact a concentrated area or go for a low, wide swath.

Points are awarded for amount of destruction, smashing goblins in the face, triggering satchel charges affixed to structures, banking shots off the surrounding countryside and more.  After each shot, you’re points will fill up a multiplier meter. This is where the game’s limited strategy comes in.

Peppered throughout most levels are a variety of enhancements that bestow additional points, turn regular shots into explosives and bullets. Picking the right time to nab them based on the multiplier meter is critical for rocketing your score higher. This is important because each area of the game has a locked challenge only made available once you’ve achieved a gold in every one of that region’s main levels.

These are dastardly setups that start mild, but quickly become curious puzzles with multiple solutions. Finding the one that awards maximum impact with the single shot you are afforded usually requires some thought. They provide a nice change of pace from the normal load-fire-steer-BOOM that Wreckateer offers.

One of the things that struck me about the game is how intelligently the gestures are designed. While the movements intuitively allow aiming of the ballista, the Kinect simply isn’t well suited to finer adjustments. The device handles the grander gestures used for loading and cocking the weapon with ease. Precise aiming is finicky, though.

The design attempts to compensate by awarding mulligans for every three goblins unlucky enough to take rock to the face or choose the top of a soon to be destroyed tower to prance upon. It’s a smart step, but it doesn’t fix the root problem. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing that holds back the game from greatness.

Destruction games rely on their physics, and it seems like Iron Galaxy didn’t spend quite enough time on that crucial element. Structures crumble the same way no matter where they are hit. Landing a blow high shouldn’t necessarily demolish the base of the tower. Hitting it low and fast should make the building tip forward. Clipping it on the side would ideally make a falling pillar tip left or right as it comes down.

None of these things are present it seems. Additionally, the camera that does allow you to see the results of your work doesn’t track well. There were many times that I found myself staring at what appeared to be a static screen while the shot came to a final rest.  Cutting things a bit shorter would have improved the flow.

The most egregious problem I encountered was an issue with broken menus. I attempted to unlock the Kinect’s tilt motor, and the game would not accept either my (successfully executed) “OK” or “Cancel” commands. The screen showed that I was properly completing the gestures (with the accompanying animation), but I was unable to move forward.  I was forced to restart the game entirely, as I was stuck.

There is a multiplayer mode that gives you access to all 50 normal stages and the 10 challenges without having to unlock them in the campaign. This is a user-friendly design choice that more developers should incorporate. The game is handled with parallel hotseat play, and one player’s damage to the structures does not carry over to the other player’s experience. It would have been interesting to see a few different levels that offered shared damage for a “screw your neighbor” feel. Right now the game feels more like bowling, with competition solely predicated on individual performance.

The presentation of the game is cute and whimsical, appropriate for all ages. My kids had a far easier time manipulating Wreckateer than many other Kinect titles. Wreck and Tinker both have exaggerated personalities that, while nothing terribly creative, prevent the game from feeling sterile and devoid of life. The sound is lilting, but stereotypical, medieval fare. It’s not going to win any awards, but it gets the job done.

Wreckateer heralds the introduction of Microsofts Avatar Famestar program. Players can earn Fame points in titles that support the feature (right now that includes Full House Poker and A World of Keflings) that translate into progression through four ranks and status-based avatar awards. In some ways, the cross-game scoring is reminiscent of Ubisoft’s uPlay service. It won’t add anything to the gameplay, but it does provide an additional layer of feedback and rewards, incentivizing longer play.

All told, Iron Galaxy has created an imperfect, but still enjoyable, game that is charming and family-friendly. Kids of all ages can easily learn to mimic the key gestures, but the aiming of the ballista is where things get tricky. As long as you aren’t terribly concerned with hitting the mark on every turn, there is plenty of enjoyment on hand.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Destruction is always fun, even moreso when you have direct control over the process
+ Simple, consistent gestures
+ Charming aesthetic and voicing
+ All levels unlocked for multiplayer mode regardless of campaign progress
- Kinect simply isn’t capable of tracking finer movements required for aiming
- Physics seem to be lacking
- Destruction camera doesn’t always work properly
- Some broken menus 

 

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

Wreckateer was developed by Iron Galaxy Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios. It was released on July 25, 2012 for 800msp ($9.99). A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.