Name: Kinect Star Wars
Genre: Motion-Controlled Adventure/Party
Platform: Xbox 360
Price as reviewed: £31.99 from Amazon
It was first announced a long time ago (June 2010) at an E3 conference far, far away (Los Angeles) but Kinect Star Wars sadly is not the game you’re looking for. Read on to find out why it’s got more in common with Jar Jar than Darth Vader.
Kinect Star Wars’ main premise is a sound one that many fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi space opera have longed to be able to partake in since first seeing the original movie way back in 1977; wield the Force, and slash up baddies with a lightsaber in a way marginally less embarrassing than the Star Wars Kid managed. Many games over the years have of course offered these abilities, but all have previously tethered you to a controller. The unique difference with Kinect Star Wars is that it exclusively uses the Xbox 360’s motion controller to direct the onscreen action.
Sadly, the game rarely manages to accurately track a players movements, leading to a title that frustrates far more often than it entertains, with a patchwork selection of game modes that are as inconsistent as the controls that are designed to support them.
The main part of the game is the Jedi Destiny: Dark Side rising campaign. Set in the Episode One era of the series, you play as a Padawan Jedi-in-training that gets caught up in a galactic plot to shake the Republic. As far as story-telling goes, it’s not too bad, with decent voice acting and visuals that take their cues from the Clone Wars TV show.
Playing the game however, is far less compelling. As previously mentioned, the entire game is controlled by the Kinect sensor. You’ll use one hand to wave a lightsaber and slice through enemies, another to use Force powers, and leaning and jumping movements to direct your character through the linear pathways of each level. All again in theory fine, but in practice it’s a mess; even when taking great care to accurately pull off the gestures required to attack the game regularly failed to track my actions. When it did recognise what I wanted it to do, it suffered from awful lag, meaning any sequences that needed careful timing were maddeningly difficult. Use of the Force is also disappointingly underpowered; many enemies are immune to it, meaning its usefulness is only really limited to heavily scripted sequences that, for instance, see you clearing a pathway using a Force lift.
Pacing is jarring too. Guiding you from one scripted battle to the next, there’s never a real flow to the action, to the point where sometimes you’ll wonder if you’ve even regained control of your character yet. Apart from a few missions that see you take control of a star fighter (showing the obvious potential that there is in the game’s concepts) it’s all just very disappointing.
The main story mode is short with a 5 or 6 hour length at most, give or take innumerable re-runs through areas caused by cheap deaths. To compensate for this, the game also has a number of mini-game modes to extend the game’s lifespan. For the most part, these fare much better than main story mode.
The least successful minigame is the Duels of Fate mode, putting you, as you’ve probably guessed, in a lightsaber duel against the likes of Count Dooku and Darth Vader. As with the main game, it suffers from a lack of subtlety in strikes, and is generally unresponsive. It’s an exercise in arm-flailing.
Next up is the Podracer mode, which is a fair revamp of the great N64 racer. Holding your arms out ahead of you and pulling them back as if pulling on levers, you’ll boost around tracks in six races across five planets. It’s not much of a challenge, but the pace is fast and the tracks are fairly detailed. It’s one of the game’s highlights.
Next up is the Galactic Dance Off mode, a bizarre addition that sees Star Wars characters pulling shapes on dance-floors across the galaxy, featuring 15 real world pop tunes with their lyrics changed to fit the Star Wars theme. It’s frankly a bit weird, but considering the scorn Star Wars fans have poured on it since it was first revealed, it’s actually probably the best part of the game. Dance moves register smoothly, a host of familiar faces make tongue-in-cheek cameos; it’s perfect party fodder.
Lastly is the Rancor Rampage mode, a homage to the 1980s arcade classic that sees you control a Rancor monster (as seen in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi) and terrorise the inhabitants of Mos Eisley, Naboo and other familiar locations. You’ll stamp down buildings and throw aliens around levels. It doesn’t require much finesse, but its destructive simplicity is enjoyable.
It’s not all bad therefore, but let me stress that there are problems at the core of this game, and that these aren’t the ramblings of a wizened old Star Wars fan. Indeed, I’m a big fan, but not one that’s against squeezing as much joy out of the franchise as possible. While plenty of detractors on the internet for instance have been up in arms following leaked videos of Han Solo getting his groove on in the dance mode, that’s not too big a deal for me. Sure, it’s a little incongruous (Star Wars is hardly known for its ballroom scenes), but the series has always been as hammy as it is cool. It’s part of the charm. What’s not charming is a disregard for the people who are invested in the series; there’s a definite “cash-in” feel here, and the sense that broken controls and weak content can be labelled “good enough” for fans so long as Star Wars branding is liberally emblazoned on the cover.Still, the game may find a welcome place in your collection as a family party title to entertain the “younglings”, as Yoda calls them, for a short while. Each of the game modes (aside from Podracing) can be played alongside a second gamer and, as is often the case with games of this nature, raise more smiles as a shared experience. It’ll also double the amount of curse words when the failed controls lead to a cheap in-game death too, so perhaps put a pair of ear muffs on your kids while playing with them. Regardless, the young Star Wars fans that this game is predominately aimed at will likely be more forgiving, and hopefully less cynical about inclusions like the Galactic Dance Off mode, but fans of well-built games in general will feel patronised.
It sounded like a sure-fire recipe for success, but Kinect Star Wars is ultimately a failure. We’re not against a motion-controlled Star Wars game, but any future attempts will have to be far more polished than what’s being offered here. While there are few alternatives when it comes to Star Wars-themed party games, we’d encourage older gamers looking for a digital Star Wars fix to grab one of the Knights of the Old Republic games, Podracer for the N64 or maybe even one from the Star Wars Battlefront series if you’re after some action.