Wreck and Tinker love smashing stuff. The central protagonists of Iron Galaxy’s Wreckateer combine a hearty lust for architectural dereliction with an unhealthy disdain for the green-skinned, pot-bellied goblin tenants of the sixty-plus stages contained within. If there’s one thing that they’re most enthusiastic about, it’s the prospect of firing big rocks – of varying shapes and sizes, at even bigger castles. In their field, they are captains of industry.
But, as is the way of the world, the whole point of having upper management potential is that you don’t have to put in the grunt-work yourself. That’s where you come in. As wreckateer-in-training, your new paymasters have you taking control of your own ballista and launching a bevy of flamboyant projectiles towards goblin-infested strongholds.
The variety of elaborate structures that populate each stage, set amid gaping valleys, rolling hills, and overbearing mountain vistas, all tie in nicely to Wreckateer’s whimsical, oldy-worldy theme. Wreck and Tinker’s friendly – if sometimes irritating faux-Celtic brogue, guides you through the opening stanza as you learn the basics of rock-chucking – all played to jaunty, jovial medieval melodies.
As with many XBLA releases, the fidelity of the well-imagined back drops is rather limited. Sweeping camera moves don’t reveal any pop-up, nor do they display high levels of detail in the environment. NPCs have character – particularly the belligerent, goofy-looking goblins – but they animate within the most basic of frameworks. Similarly, the castles crumble with relish at even the slightest touch, but break into huge chunks that often awkwardly negotiate each other on their way to the ground below. While the aural candy is far from perfect, it goes a long way to embellishing the limited graphical output. As structures collapse, fireworks crackle with vigour – affected goblins, shriek and scream with comical terror, and as ever, Wreck and Tinker endorse even the most moderate success with village-idiot enthusiasm.
Wreckateer’s breezy but basic shell is filled with rather more substance than its slack-jawed veneer might suggest. In the nearly two years since the very loud but not so potent launch of Microsoft Kinect, many of its big sellers have been guilty of over-ambitious motion control – a kind of Hell-spawn of over-imagination and a lack of mechanical fundamentals to support the bright ideas. Perversely, one of Wreckateer’s strongest facets is its lack of ambition – while carrying a very basic idea – fire rocks at rocks, Wreckateer marries this nicely with a control set up simple enough to use effectively, whether looking to beat every stage and challenge fully, or to achieve the basics of each level and move on. As with many of its peers, navigating menus can make you feel like you may have been an octopus in a previous life. I often find myself wondering how many lives would have been lost in the movie Minority Report, had Tom Cruise been forced to solve future murders with motion-menus as erratic as those in most Kinect games (‘We’ve lost another one, Tom’) – Wreckateer is as guilty as anyone.
Dodgy menu controls aside, the gameplay experience is largely responsive and accurate. Standing in front of your ballista and clasping your hands out in front grasps the pre-selected shot and sets events into motion. A step back draws the launcher, and wildly releasing your arms sends the rock-du jour hurtling forth. While in flight, slight sweeps of the hand help brush each shell a few degrees to the right or left, while thrusting your arms into a ‘Y’ shape activates any special functions of that particular item. There are a few other neat features, too – holding a salute, for example, will provide a birds-eye-view of the field of battle. Points are awarded based on how much carnage you cause, and multipliers of up to 5x can be earned – with Bronze, Silver or Gold medals obtained by filling your metre on the right hand side of the screen accordingly. Rocks come in several different guises; from no-thrills boulders, to winged rocks – guidable by dipping and swooping your arms, as applicable. As the levels progress – and the challenge increases, it’s worth taking note of the shots available as different types will help you conquer each stage more effectively. There are six different kinds to use – along with a healthy selection of power-ups that give boosts of speed, explosiveness, or height, for example (not dissimilar to a certain million-selling Rovio release).
Wreckateer does a good job of keeping things social, boasting Avatar Famestar compatibility. There are a multitude of daily and weekly challenges available, to encourage you to come back and replay stages, even if you have bagged all the elusive gold medals. Friends’ high-scores will be displayed on your score metre – shot by shot, and upon completion of a given level, you are instantly shown how your stats match up with your highest-scoring e-pals. The difficulty curve is affable, as well. Only a Bronze is needed to progress to the next stage – and even the slightest touch will cause spectacular destruction. Mulligans are earned frequently, too – allowing you to re-launch any misguided missile. As a PEGI 7, this helps keeps a steady sense of progression for younger kids who, as we all know, are generally rubbish at everything.
While Wreckateer certainly has plenty to keep the score-hungry among us coming back for more, unfortunately the experience is often a formulaic and samey one. There are changes to landscapes, shots and power-ups as the game progresses, but these mask what is a rather staid process of grasping a shot and launching it at the appropriate trajectory again and again. Playing the first few stages offers an almost identical experience to the final few, even the addition of multiplayer modes – which while fun, offer limited options again – choosing from developer or custom playlists and taking turns playing an elongated version of single-player.
Wreckateer’s simplicity is also its sacrifice- offering basic, manageable control but little in the way of invention or progression. Kids will love its accessibility and hyperactivity. Grown-ups might be more inclined to grimace through – enjoying the point-gathering and balanced controls, but only in short bursts. As purveyors of penetrative projectiles, Wreck and Tinker are leaders in their field – captains of their industry. As a stand-out Kinect release, Wreckateer ends up just another also-ran in the motion-control rat-race.
Audio/Visual – 3/5: Quirky and fun, but basic.
Gameplay – 3/5: Cohesive controls, but a largely samey experience throughout.
Innovation – 2/5: Challenging in places, but each level is much like the last.
Value – 4/5: Bags of content and updated Avatar Famestar challenges to beat.
Final Score: 3/5