Carry on Wayward Leedmees (Review)

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

Given the chance, would you help the little guy?  This is a question most people never have to answer, but Konami’s recent XBLA Kinect game, Leedmees, confronts you with.

The premise of Leedmees is that the player, a giant stickman-like figure, one day comes across a line of little figures marching towards an unnamed destination.  Curious about their goal, the player decides to follow and help them along the way.  This proves to be quite the humanitarian act, as the dim-witted little creatures walk purposefully in a straight line, only stopping if they encounter a solid wall or the player.  Any other obstacle, be it spikes, bottomless pits or anything else that could be lethal, they happily march right into, unless the player uses their own body to defend, stop or carry them to their destination.  Players who have had experience with Lemmings, a similar title from 1991, will find the experience familiar.

The visuals of the game are fantastic.  The player resembles a large marionette, gangly with a slightly surreal articulation of the joints.  The Leedmees themselves strongly resemble little bleached Sackboys who, should the player be unable to save them from the dangers present in any given level, give a cute squeak as they burst into rainbow-coloured confetti.  For each Leedmee that meets an untimely end, the screen darkens a little, starting from the outside edges, creeping oppressively inwards.  Should enough Leedmees die to result in failure on a given level (more than half in early levels), the player collapses, strings cut and joints released, into a pile of constituent pieces.

At first glance, the backgrounds are cute and friendly, but a deeper look reveals something more sinister.  In the first few levels, the background is that of an aquarium, with fish swimming lazily in the backdrop whilst the player ferries his (or her) mindless charges to their goal (more on the goals later).  However, if you look more closely, you quickly realize that it’s not fish swimming in the aquarium, but their skeletons.  Later on, they drop all pretence of friendliness, and give settings of stormy, rain swept graveyards while the player helps their charges dodge spikes that launch from the floor and ceiling.

The music follows a similar tack, starting cute and cheery, almost what you’d expect in a tropical cafe.   But as the levels progress, it quickly takes a more urgent tone as the obstacles and backgrounds become more menacing.

But how is the gameplay?  The concept is simple enough; Leedmees spawn at intervals, one to four at a time, from a blue portal on the stage and need to be brought to a red portal.  Depending on the level, the red portal can either be stationary, or reposition itself at measured intervals.  Players must then maneuver their bodies in front of the Kinect to use their arms and shoulders to carry the little Darwin Award Nominees from blue to red portals.  Each level is two dimensional, and contains five gold stars that the Leedmees can pick up for bonus points, and there is a two minute time limit for each level.  Seems simple enough, right?

Unfortunately not.

This game is demonically hard.  The Leedmees themselves fly apart at the slightest provocation.  They brush a spike, squeak-poof, dead.  They fall from too high, splat-poof, dead.  You accidentally step on one, or press one against a wall, squish-poof and dead.  None of this is helped by the fact that the player avatar handles like a marionette on tired rubber bands.  I encountered massive tracking issues with the controls.  There were many instances in which I moved my arms over a foot, and nothing happened in the game.  Or I’d move my upper body while keeping my feet stationary, and the avatar’s feet would lash out and kill Leedmees.  Other times I’d move with glacial speed only to have no reaction from the avatar until it would randomly snap up, launching any Leedmees I was carrying to a rainbow-coloured death.  Many times it seemed that the motion capture had a very select pace it would respond to, and if you moved too fast or too slow it would react as described above.  But maintaining an appropriate movement speed while helping Leedmees dodge environmental obstacles, all the while on a two minute time limit, is very, very hard to do.  Due to this, it often felt like the only time the controls responded properly to my movement was when I lashed out in frustration and began to flail wildly to kill them all, which, admittedly, was immensely more satisfying than actually saving them.

Many of the tracking issues seem to stem from a simple problem.  The game requires full use of the recommended play space for the Kinect.  Any less than the recommended area and you begin to encounter the troubles listed above.  For example, in my case, I have a nine foot play space between my Kinect and my couch, so I usually play at a distance of seven to eight feet from the camera.  For other Kinect titles, that’s more than enough room, but with Leedmees, it simply is not enough.  A co-worker tried the game in his home, where he has access to an eleven foot play area.  While he did notice some issues with tracking, they were not nearly as prominent as in my smaller space.  Similarly, another co-worker with the same amount of space as I have encountered the same issues I did.  So, for this game to work properly, you will need a very large play space and a large distance between you and the camera.

Another highly frustrating game mechanic is the one used to pick the Leedmees off the ground.  In some cases, whether they spawned on the ground or shockingly managed to survive a fall to the floor, the Leedmees had to be picked up to continue their journey.  To pick them up, the player must lean over to the side (not bend over) and reach down.  No matter how far over you lean, the avatar always stops with its hand about two feet from the floor.  From there, the Leedmees must jump to catch your hand.  This was the single most inconsistent bit of gameplay I encountered.  In one instance, I had a Leedmee jump and grab my hand while another kept missing.  I had not moved, and I have had up to four catch and hold on at once, but this one kept missing, jumping over my hand and sailing through my wrist, which normally is a solid surface that they can walk on!  Of course, if they manage to catch your hand, there is no guarantee that they will actually hold on.  To secure their grab, you must slowly straighten your arms, so they can finish climbing up, before they fall back down.  Straighten too quickly, and they will be launched into the air to fall and die.

My final exasperation came in the tenth level, in which the goal is to lift the Leedmees off platforms and deposit them on the floor where the portal is, while avoiding a slowly descending ceiling of spikes.  After dropping the first few I was carrying from a safe height right next to the portal, I remained in position to wait for the rest of them to climb off.  Rather than enter the portal, the first ones turned around and started jumping for my hand!  One would think that they would be programmed to head for the exit first, player second.

In addition to single player, there is a multiplayer campaign for two people.  It is basically the same as single player.  You and a friend each control a marionette-man and must ferry the Leedmees from blue to red portal.  The red portal can vary its position, even so far as being located on the second player’s head, hand, leg, or crotch.  It can be amusing to watch, but all the flaws of the single player campaign persist here, exponentially frustrating, as now two people have to struggle against them.  Additionally, the tracking issues seemed to get worse.  For example, when one of the players leaned to the side, with feet firmly planted, to pick up the Leedmees, the player’s avatar jiggled before its legs collapsed out from under it like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

Ultimately, had Leedmees just been a hard game, I would have loved the challenge.  But when you have a difficult game that does not respond as well in smaller play areas, and where it is more entertaining to stomp the Leedmees than to save them, it’s just not fun or engaging.  I found myself looking for an excuse to stop playing, preferring to do my homework than try a level again – Especially when my arms began to ache from holding them outstretched for extended periods of time.  If you are the type of person who enjoys saving creatures from natural selection, no matter the difficulty, this game is for you, but otherwise…


Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

September 29, 2011 - 8:30 am