Leedmees hands-on preview

Based on the glut of Kinect games that have players wielding invisible swords or swinging imagined golf clubs, it often seems like the potential-packed technology’s creative pool has prematurely run dry. That’s why it’s so refreshing when we experience a Kinect-enabled entry that utilizes the controller-free hardware in ways we never expected. Leedmees, an original XBLA entry from Konami, fits that bill perfectly.

A Lemmings-like puzzler, Leedmees is not a Kinect title you can lazily play from the couch. Requiring full-body participation, the title turns players into a movable on-screen stick-person that must guide the titular little guys to safety; so, essentially, you become a moving part of the level. Unlike Lemmings, though, Leedmees grants you zero control over your minions. Instead, all navigation is handled by moving your arms and legs.

The Leedmees enter a stage from a glowing portal on one side of the screen and mindlessly march–much like the mini Marios from the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series–toward an exit portal on the other side of the level. In early stages, players’ arms work as a bridge, allowing the Leedmees passage to their destination. Of course, things get tricky when your limbs must be raised or lowered slightly to keep the drone-like dudes on the straight and narrow. The challenge ramps further when they must be propelled to the exit with a quick flick of the arm. Executing this boost move gave us a good feel for the responsiveness of the mechanics, as reacting too forcefully sent the poor little suckers flying off screen or reduced them to confetti.

Later stages add even more challenges and obstacles. We experienced moving ceiling spikes in one level, and another whose floor was completely covered in Leedmee-skewering threats. There are also ghosts to be punchd, stars to collect, and puzzles to trigger. We got to navigate movable platforms by making our stick-guy pound on columns, although we later discovered this task could have also been accomplished with our feet. Despite the game’s unassuming aesthetic, the experience can get pretty intense, especially when you’re managing movable objects, avoiding ghosts, and trying to keep your Leedmees from being impaled.

That said, you’re allowed to sacrifice a few every stage, so losing a Leedmee–while a bit heartbreaking–does not equal instant failure. Players are tasked with getting a set amount through the exit portal within a time limit, but plenty of onscreen indicators track their progress so they can concentrate on the limb-intensive action. The final game will include over 30 increasingly challenging levels as well as a few dedicated to cooperative play. We didn’t experience any of the latter, which have two player characters working together simultaneously, but injecting any kind of teamwork into this crazy concept can only be a good thing.

Beyond the neat gesture-based gameplay, the title packs plenty of personality. Leedmees walking passed your feet can be accidentally stepped on, reaching a hand out to one will prompt it to leap into your avatar’s palm, and just seeing your moves mimicked by a character that looks like he (she?) may have just jumped out of a hangman game is entertaining. Additionally, the dream-like backgrounds evoke everything from Tim Burton’s work to ancient cave drawings. From its imaginative gameplay to its charming presentation, Leedmees looks like a fun-for-the-whole-family entry worth getting off the couch for.

Aug 25, 2011

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