This post contains major spoilers for Rez HD.
Child of Eden arrived from GameFly recently. I've been interested in it ever since seeing Tetsuya Mizuguchi demonstrate it for the first time using the Kinect. As a Kinect owner myself, I was excited to see something that wasn't some sort of fitness trainer or minigame collection. Hearing Child of Eden described as a spiritual successor to Rez made me finally decide to check it out, so after buying $20 worth of Microsoft Points and using half of them on the Dragon Age II: Legacy downloadable content, I used the other half to download Rez HD from Xbox Live Arcade.
I knew very little about Rez beforehand. It was something I'd heard mentioned enough times to know it was sort of a cult classic, though, and what I did know I learned years ago, having seen a few screenshots and forum posts about it. I knew the game had an odd graphical style, that it had something to do with music, and that there was a vibrator peripheral released for it. This little bit of knowledge didn't tell me much other than that the game was weird, and I felt it was something that would be difficult for me to grasp and play or even understand. It didn't even seem like much of a game in the traditional sense I had known at the time, and all of this was enough for me not to investigate further. Thankfully, all my preconceptions were wrong.
Rez is weird, but only in its visual design and use of music; from a gameplay perspective it's pretty straightforward. To put it plainly, it's a rail shooter - you hold the A button, hover a cursor over the enemies/objects you want to shoot, and release to fire, all the while being guided on a predetermined path that never changes. Shooting red power-ups give you the ability to use an Overdrive, which, when activated, automatically shoots everything on-screen and is useful for the more hectic parts of the game when you have dozens of things flying toward you. Shooting blue power-ups (known as Progress Nodes) fill up your "life" meter, in which you level up into the next form when full. These forms basically act as your health bar, with every hit you take devolving you into the previous form, and the game ending if you get hit at form 0. I'm glad I watched the tutorial video before playing, as none of this information is given in the actual game. It took me until my second playthrough of Area 2 to fully understand everything. I remember thinking during the Area 1 boss fight, "I don't know what's going on but apparently I'm doing good!" as I watched its health bar drop. I hadn't even known that I had to be hit by things to devolve, thinking that maybe it was based on how many enemies I failed to shoot as they flew past me.
Well, actually, there was one thing I didn't realize until completing the first four areas. Feeling like something was missing, I did a quick search to find out I had to get 100% analyzation on every level to unlock Area 5, the game's last level. See, each Area consists of 10 layers, and to travel to the next layer, you can either shoot the Password Protectors (in the form of a cube) that appear, which are what give you the analyzation points, or you can do nothing and wait a little longer to travel to the next layer automatically, gaining nothing. I thought that the Password Protectors were just a way to jump ahead more quickly, not realizing they were necessary to complete the game.
The lack of explanation goes for the story, too, with everything told through text on a separate menu outside of any gameplay. Rez is about your infiltration of a network run by Eden, an A.I. that has recently become self-aware and shut herself down. Your goal is to bypass Eden's security, find her, and reboot the system. It's slightly more complicated than that (and I really mean only slightly) but that's the gist of it.
Even with the confusion the game wasn't very challenging, as I only failed and needed to restart an area three times throughout the whole game. They were all for dumb reasons, too. On Area 2 it was because I didn't realize I needed to turn around when the boss came out of its shell, on Area 3 it was because I didn't use Overdrives correctly on the final stage of its boss, and it also happened right before finishing the game at Area 5; I used all my Overdrives at the beginning of the encounter with Eden, not realizing that it was a total boss rush. It makes complete sense that a boss rush would be in there, actually, but I thought I was defeating her for good right then and there. The game doesn't have any checkpoints, but the areas are all fairly short, so having to replay them wasn't a big deal. I actually enjoyed it, as it gave me more time with an otherwise brief game. I've never been into score attack modes or anything like that, so I knew that the story mode and the few extras I unlocked after beating it was all I would get out of it.
There were a couple of specific moments that reminded me of some other music-based games, as well. There is a form that Mars, the Area 2 boss, takes that gave me a heavy Everyday Shooter vibe. The targets you shoot prior to Mars coming out of its shell look exactly like something out of that game, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Jonathan Mak was influenced by Rez, with the similarities the games share in regards to how the actions of the player and music are tied in to each other. There were also some camera sweeps during other boss stages that reminded me of Space Channel 5.
A lot about Rez just emanates a feeling of cool, whether it's the way your character pulsates with the beat of the song, or how your every action is timed rhythmically with the music. The game appropriately hits its high point with the final level as you progress through the evolution of life on Earth, from its beginnings in the sea to the exploration of outer space, with it all ending in a showdown with Eden as you face off forms of all the previous bosses you encountered. It's also my favorite use of music, featuring "Fear" by Adam Freeland. All of this is enhanced with an additional Xbox 360 controller laying on your crotch with the trance vibration functionality activated. That is what I was supposed to do, right? Either way, I recommend it.
I'm glad I decided to play this before starting Child of Eden. I learned while doing some research for this that Child of Eden is actually a prequel, so that'll be interesting. I'm sure I'll feel even cooler controlling everything with my hands, but I'll have to see how well that actually works. Regardless, Rez HD was a fun, albeit short experience - not that being short is a bad thing. I prefer a game that's tightly knit as opposed to one that drags on, and Rez never felt dull. 800 points well spent.