“Understanding existence and physical form as an interpretation of light energy through the physical eyes will open up greater potential to explore the energetic boundaries of color, form and light that are perceived as immediate reality.”
The Kinect can be a study of the player’s body when it isn’t a struggle with the peripheral’s detection hardware. You are the controller, as the Kudo goes. Yoga, then, must be a natural extension of this technology; a focusing of the physical self to improve the spiritual self. Deepak Chopra’s Leela taps into that potential, gently guiding players to “Play” and “Reflect.” The balance of activity and rest are admirable. The intention fails to achieve full realization.
Short of Nirvana, Leela accomplishes most of its stated goals. Play intrigues, then blossoms, then frustrates. Players twist at the hips to sculpt the earth in the Origin movement, representative of the root chakra, Muladhara. Once sculpted, the process repeats with added barriers and opportunity, like mountains or moonlight. This happens seven times for each movement, similar in control but varied in presentation and purpose.
Shoot space rocks with hadouken imitations, guide a love energy ball across floating bubbles with a good lean and stretch. None respond to movements without flaw; Kinect users will find the infrequent frustrations of their body-controller similar to other those of other Kinect titles. In this way, Play is contemplative and stressful. The themes are clear, coherent, and promote inward examination. The mechanics do not.
Reflect is an instructional yoga video nesting in a game. Listen to Chopra’s low hum of a voice guide meditative thoughts, or set the silent meditation timer to infinity, which is actually an option. Learn to breathe deeply – belly, core, and chest – and receive form feedback from the Kinect, which doesn’t work, thankfully. If Microsoft can sense our breathing, can it also smell fear?
To pass judgment on the success of the gaming portion of Leela is to misrepresent its value. A committed practitioner, green or veteran, would find the half-hour breathing practice enriching. A casual participant will not, which is the quandary of Leela.
The purpose of any game built to focus on play – Angry Birds, Skyrim, Madden - is presumably enjoyment. The purpose of health and wellness games – Wii Fit, EA Sports Active, My Fitness Coach – is to improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state of the player. These are only successful when they’re able to motivate the player to participate in order to achieve the personal benefits.
I submit that to criticize such a game for failing to achieve the pure mental fulfillment of a traditional video game is misguided. However, Leela occupies space in multiple genres, only completely beholden to the laws of wellness games during guided meditation (for which motivation must originate outside the game). During its Play segments, movement assumes the trappings of self-exploration and gentle exercise, but the challenge of obstacle-oriented gameplay. By intentional design or not, Leela is so uncomfortably noncommittal that it mirrors the struggle of the human experience to find joy in rest and in action – a confused, existential search for happiness.
For the yoga devotee, Leela is a natural, in-home extension of a healthy habit. To the Chopra-curious, Leela is an unassuming, private introduction to fumbling controls, Hindu-inspired aesthetics, and the practice of meditation. It’s wonderfully unique and refreshing in its commitment to principle, but a bloated moose of ideals unrefined for gaming.
Review based on Xbox 360 release.