Kinect Star Wars is the game that old Star Wars fans fear the most. Luckily, for LucasArts, they don’t really seem to care about the relatively small number of original trilogy fans who bemoan anything new to their once-beloved galaxy far, far away. Star Wars has gone in another direction and it is still incredibly popular, albeit to a different crowd.
Kinect Star Wars is for those new Star Wars fans. The people who don’t think Jar Jar Binks should be force choked until his big floppy ears fall off. The people who couldn’t care less whether Greedo shot first. The people who think The Force really is something to do with bugs in your blood. Kinect Star Wars is for fans of the Clone Wars, prequel trilogy and Dance Central.
Shameless in its similarities, it could easily have been an add on skin pack for the dancing game. There are a selection of pop songs, mostly adapted to feature Star Wars related lyrics and themes. You pick one and dance to it, using all the Dance Central moves, which now have suitably Star Wars-y names like Jedi Mind Trick and Double Blaster.
To an old Star Wars fan it’s horrendous, from the ridiculous set up – an attack on the Jedi archives corrupted some data to make it erroneously show Star Wars staples dancing – to the conclusion. And yet, it will be very popular because it works just as brilliantly as Dance Central and it looks like the Clone Wars cartoon series. The Galactic Dance Off mode might have stolen all the hype in the weeks before this game’s release but it is only one game mode.
The other modes include a few glorified mini games. Rancor Rampage is an incredibly entertaining stomp-a-thon in which you score points by stamping about pretending to be an escaped Rancor, wrecking the scenery and swatting away the terrified populace.
It works well because it requires big, bold movements so your actions map effectively to the on-screen action. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to the Duels of Fate game mode, in which you engage in lightsaber battles with a series of foes.
A lightsaber duel should be all about precision and timing. You should spend the duel closely watching your opponent for the first hint of movement to strike so that you can block and strike back. It should be fast and fluid and natural. In Kinect Star Wars, it’s none of these things. Opponent attacks are usually telegraphed seconds before they actually strike, meaning that you have plenty of time to move your imaginary lightsaber over to block. Or you would have, if Kinect was picking up your movements with the necessary precision and speed.
Too often, the sensor doesn’t detect an arm movement and translate that to the screen quickly enough. The sensor’s inability to accurately track things like wrist angle and smaller, faster movements makes the lightsaber battles too reliant on vague arm-flapping and that is exactly opposite to what an older Star Wars fan would want from a lightsaber duelling game. Younger kids might still enjoy the experience because, after all, waving your arms to make a cartoon Jedi swing a glowing lightsaber around is likely to be captivating to a certain age group.
Definitely not as cool as it looks.
Add to that the inference that Yoda, who was always the Star Wars universe’s paragon of virtue before his days of peddling call plans for mobile phone operators, is now totally fine with Padawan child soldiers and you can see how traditional Star Wars fans might not be too happy with this addition to the brand. Perhaps it won’t matter though, since the narrative is so easily forgotten anyway.
The gameplay for the Jedi Destiny mode is a kind of amalgam of the Podracing game mode and the Duels of Fate mode with a little extra thrown in. You step forward to force dash ahead, swing your arms around for that laggy lightsaber control and jump, gesture, duck and dodge your way through enemy attacks. It’s fairly enjoyable but the controls aren’t responsive enough to make it anything more than a casual interest for most over a certain age.
Pod Racing provided one of the least egregious moments of The Phantom Menace and has, in the past, been the subject of at least one quite passable game in its own right. Here, it works better than expected, with controls being mapped to your outstretched hands – just like holding the control sticks of a podracer. You boost by thrusting forward, brake by pulling back and steer by leaning. All with your hands out in front of you. It was surprising how quickly the ache set in and that made the frustration of the non-racing controls even more niggling.
You must, at times, use a hand to wipe your screen clear or launch a droid. So you would raise your right hand to wipe and find you’re steering right too. Quick correction to your course and have another go at that wipe gesture but be quick because if you’re slow or raise your hand too high, you might launch a droid. No, now you’re breaking.
Mapping all of the controls to two hands was a good idea, right up until the decision to include these extra gimmicks, and that breaks it. Luckily, the Pod Racing is so easy that you can fail in this way several times and still win the race by a distance.
It’s all presented like a spin off from the cartoon series and it’s clearly aimed at younger audiences, so we shouldn’t be too harsh about its dalliances away from what Star Wars was before 1999. Silly things like the slightly dodgy Anthony Daniels impression being performed for C3PO’s voice over are grating to my old ears but kids will just hear a camp English butler and love it. It’s very easy to forget that this isn’t a product for ageing Star Wars cynics but a collection aimed at the new breed of Jar Jar-loving pre-teens.
Rancor Rampage is actually a great game mode and would probably have been better released as a smaller downloadable title by itself.
Podracing works better than expected and has some potential but you can’t shake the feeling that it would be more enjoyable with a traditional controller. The excess of controls reliant on just two hands is an unnecessary spanner in the energy binders. The racing is fine and, as an addition to a larger collection of games, it would have been enough but the decision to add more mechanics and still only track two fists hampers the quality of the core racing.
The Galactic Dance Off works as well as any of the other Kinect dancing games, even with two players, but adds nothing new aside from cheesy Star Wars references and cringe-worthy cutscenes. It feels cheap, like a knock-off karaoke DVD that has a court case pending from the makers of Dance Central. There’s no innovation here and that just makes it seem even more obviously like an afterthought.
Rancor Rampage is the only game mode that seems largely unhindered by control issues or baffling irrelevancy but it isn’t strong enough to hold up the rest of the disc’s contents, though it would have been an enjoyable downloadable Kinect Arcade game on XBLA. The bold movements required and the oversized character you control makes for a fun distraction which could be hilarious if played surrounded by a group of friends.
- Rancor Rampage is enjoyable and could be great for parties.
- The dancing works as well as Kinect dancing always works.
- Kids will love the art style and forgiving controls.
- Controls are slow, laggy and often not translated accurately enough.
- The narrative in the story mode isn’t interesting enough.
- Some odd control choices make Podracing barely playable at times.
- It makes lightsabers feel slow, boring and awkward.
Kinect Star Wars had some potential but the direction in which Lucas has taken the franchise over the past 13 years, coupled with the seeming inability to use Kinect control for anything other than dancing or broad stroke movements has resulted in a product that is often exactly opposite what I, as an older Star Wars fan would have wanted.
Partially, that’s on purpose, this is aimed at the new generation of Star Wars fans. Partially, though, it’s just a failure on behalf of some or all of the numerous studios involved in the game’s production to fit any new ideas into it or even make existing ideas control in an enjoyable way.
There’s no doubt that Kinect Star Wars is aimed at a younger, more forgiving audience but even for that group, there are signficantly better products already available that do similar things, albeit without the LucasArts license.