Kinect is nearly a year old now, and still there isn’t really a standout game that defines it. There’s no one single piece of software that justifies the purchase alone. With many developers seemingly confused as to the best way to make use of Kinect functionality and the increasing likelihood that the platform will eventually end up with Wii-like levels of shovelware, Xbox LIVE Arcade provides a great outlet to toy with different mechanics and ideas. The uptake has sadly been slow for Kinect games on XBLA, but with Leedmees, Konami have tried something rather interesting.
There isn’t one really, which is a shame. You’re a man who finds himself inexplicably in the world of the Leedmees and being the curious type, you decide to follow them. Whilst a game like Leedmees arguably doesn’t need a narrative to hold it together, some sort of explanation as to why you are trying to help them get from A to B would be welcome. You feel a little disconnected from them at times and I think Konami missed a trick by not tugging at your heartstrings when you lose a Leedmee for whatever reason. As it stands they feel expendable and your only punishment for not keeping them alive is having to restart the stage.
Leedmees art style is certainly unique, and every bit as fantastical as you’d expect from a game set in a fanciful world full of little white men with over-sized heads marching about. It’s not the prettiest game to be found on XBLA, but it’s not far off it either. The ability to customise the display window (the small panel on the left hand side of the screen which shows your body) from being a silhouette to just a map of you as a player, up to a full display of your play space or even to turn it off altogether is a great addition, and should certainly be brought into other Kinect titles.
The sound is equally as charming as the visuals, and you’ll quickly fall in love with the squeaky noise the Leedmees make with each step. In fact, you’ll probably do that with all of their audible outbursts from their cheery celebration as they meet their goal to the cry they let out when they die. The background music does tire after a while, but it’s upbeat and fits perfectly with the world you’re playing in.
In each stage there a variety of goals to complete to progress. Primarily, your target is to ensure that a set number of Leedmees make their way from the starting point to the goal, avoiding obstacles along the way. You also need to collect stars to work your way towards the dreaded S rank, the catch being that each Leedmee can only carry one star. You’re also against the clock, but that’s not usually a concern, there always seems to be plenty of time to complete each stage.
Outside of the core mechanic of creating bridges and carrying the Leedmees to their destination, you’ll find yourself stretching around, creating circuits to stop spiked devices from squashing your Leedmees, dodging ghosts that dismantle your avatar when they touch your head and pushing switches to move platforms that change the layout of the stage.
Overall the puzzles are varied and for the most part are well designed, but the in-game Kinect implementation is surprisingly poor. Something made even more baffling by how excellent the menu navigation is. The game is quick to switch between left and right hand navigation and the cursor is pin point, yet somehow in-game things feel clunky and you will fail stages purely because your on-screen avatar isn’t doing what you want it to. A quick look down at the display window will show you that your posture and avatar aren’t in sync. This leads to situations where you unwillingly crush or swat Leedmees to their demise. It’s frustrating to say the least and really spoils what would otherwise be a unique and fun experience.
This is highlighted even more in multiplayer. The game just doesn’t seem to be able to keep track of two players properly. You’ll find yourself easily and unintentionally sandwiching Leedmees between your bodies, making them pop in a shower of confetti. If you’re playing with your significant other (like yours truly), you might just find him or her make the jump from “let me play” to “this just isn’t fun with two people” in the space of five minutes.
For all the gameplay flaws mentioned above, somehow you’ll find yourself hovering over the retry button rather than the exit one. You’ll eventually come to accept the fact that Konami have tried something really novel with Leedmees, and that should be applauded. The frustrations actually lessen as you progress through each of the three worlds and get to see the best the game has to offer. If you’re a Kinect owner, at the very least, check out the demo. If more developers took a chance like Konami, XBLA might just end up as the go to place for unique Kinect titles.