It's not hard to guess which games inspired The Wreckateer. This hybrid of Rovio’s mobile blockbuster Angry Birds and EA’s underrated Wii game BoomBlox casts players as a medieval demolitions expert who must use a ballista to destroy a series of increasingly ornate castles.
The Wreckateer moves beyond its influences in a number of ways. You must carefully calculate your shots before trying to destroy the three-dimensional castles – which is a more complicated process than in the 2D plane of Angry Birds. After aiming and releasing the ballista, most of the shots (beyond the basic shot) also have secondary abilities that you activate by swinging both hands above your head. Flying shots sprout wings that allow you to steer the ball like an airplane. Bomb shots activate a timer that culminates in a powerful explosion. Speed shots get a turbo boost that allows them to pierce through multiple walls or towers. The order of the shots is set out for you at the beginning of a level, so figuring out which shot to aim at certain parts of a castle adds an appealing puzzle element. As the levels go on and score totals required for advancement increase, you must put together a meticulous game plan to make the most out of each shot.
Badge-shaped icons float around the castles and grant bonus points or special abilities to your shot. They are usually placed in trajectories that guide you to high point totals. For example, a 5,000 bonus icon might be placed in front of a speed icon – allowing you to use a basic shot to grab the extra points, then get a speed boost to destroy multiple layers of the castle. It’s a small-but-inspired design element that makes the game for me. The icons serve both as helpful hints and challenges that encourage you try new trajectories in hopes of reaping greater destruction (and point totals).
Like all Kinect games, The Wreckateer lives and dies by the accuracy of the motion controls. You aim by physically walking up to the ballista, grabbing the crossbow with your hands, stepping back to increase tension, sliding sideways to aim, and releasing by spreading your arms out horizontally. It might sound complicated on paper, but it’s easy and surprisingly precise. You can also wave your hands through the shot to change its arc in midair – allowing you to correct mistakes or curve the shot into hard-to-reach areas. While motion controls aren’t absolutely necessary for this type of game, they make the experience more immersive.
Unfortunately, the controls often add a level of frustration that shouldn’t be there. I frequently had problems activating the shots’ secondary functions (like the flight wings or turbo boost). One shot would work perfectly, but the next would fail to activate even though I was standing in the same place. It’s doubly frustrating because you can see semi-transparent gauntlets onscreen that track your hands, so it wasn’t a matter of the Kinect not picking them up. Nothing is more aggravating than seeing a shot fall impotently to the ground as you stand there helplessly waving your arms trying to activate a boost. It gets worse as the game goes on since the more complicated levels require near-perfect planning and execution. Make sure you hoard your mulligans (which allow for a do-over and are earned by hitting small goblins on screen) for later in the game.
The destruction physics also disappointed me. Collapsing towers don’t affect other areas of the castle like they should, and it’s not uncommon to see buildings remain standing in ways that are physically impossible – unless this game is secretly set on the moon. I once saw a rectangular building remain upright after three of the base’s four corners were knocked out. That’s just wrong.
While I can forgive The Wreckateer for lacking innovation, I can’t forgive these lapses in execution – especially in a game that demands so much of the player. I enjoyed the game despite its flaws, but it’s a missed opportunity for developer Iron Galaxy and Microsoft.
The Wreckateer is the Kinect flagship of Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion. Like many Kinect games, its great design concept is let down by spotty controls.