Since the late 1970s, George Lucas‘ behemoth Star Wars film franchise has been a force to be reckoned with. With five other films released after its emergence, A New Hope blew away fans of science fiction storytelling. Its rich content, diverse themes and great characters set a mark that has proven tough to beat even to this day, and the two sequels that followed it added to that greatness. Unfortunately, those standards were not met by the more modern Prequel Trilogy, which has been maligned by fans and critics alike; however, one thing remained consistent throughout all six films: each one made us want to be a Jedi. While it isn’t a possibility in reality, video games have attempted to make us feel like a Force-induced warrior, with LucasArts‘ newly-released Kinect Star Wars being the latest addition to that list. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fully succeed in that venture, ending up as a mediocre-at-best release for a peripheral that desperately needs a new must-buy piece of software.
The Kinect Star Wars experience is a unique one because it makes gamers move like a Jedi, trading in controller-based inputs for real-life gestures. Going this route means the player actually becomes his chosen avatar, tasked with the responsibility of maneuvering the character through quite a few different situations. While the idea is a great one, the technology doesn’t seem to be fully there yet, and the game suffers as a result. Movement tracking issues have marred the peripheral since its debut and they pop up intermittently throughout this galactic adventure, occasionally resulting in frustrating losses of life. Although many hoped that this would be the amazing game that would define motion gaming, it fails to achieve that status, and will end up being lumped in with the majority of the movement-based genre’s mediocre releases.
Upon inserting this disc into their Xbox 360 console, users will be introduced to an archive by C-3PO and his beeping sidekick, R2-D2. The two iconic robots introduce every aspect of the experience, mixing some jokes in with mode-specific back stories and other forms of information. Their existence helps add familiarity and timeless charm to a game which strangely focuses on the series’ prequel films. If there’s one major complaint that I have, which outweighs all others, it’s that the Original (and best) Trilogy is noticeably absent here. Sure, familiar characters from those films make appearances in certain modes, but the majority of the gameplay action presented chronicles newly-written events that take place between Episode I and Episode III. Unless a sequel has been planned since these elements first hit the drawing board, this focus is a surprise, given fans’ reception of those films.
Jedi Destiny is the name given to the core, co-op enabled campaign mode found within this game, which allows fans to take control of a young padawan whose training is cut short by enemy attacks on the planet of Kashyyk. Thus begins a quest to put an end to evil plans involving the Sith. This three hour-long storyline contains around 20 different stages, culling from varied facets of the Prequel Trilogy’s fictional events. The provided interactive scenarios present multiple combat sequences, in addition to speeder bike chases, space shootouts and one-on-one duels. There’s a decent amount of variety to be found within the mode, but its safe mechanics and poorly-developed storyline leave quite a bit to be desired. Still, it happens to be the best part of this disc-based adventure. Despite suffering from movement detection problems and the above-mentioned issues, a relatively enjoyable gameplay experience can be found within its combined designs if you avoid entering with high expectations.
When Kinect was first revealed, it was thought that the sensor would allow for great lightsaber replication. The on-foot sequences presented in Jedi Destiny feature tons of combat with the sword-like beam, but the immersion we all dreamed of is only there in principle. Swinging your right hand will move the saber, allowing for attacks, blocks and redirects to be completed, while left-handed force push movements can propel enemies and throw items. This entire concept was delivered in an underwhelming fashion, complete with lame-looking slices and encounters that can devolve into arm flailing exercises. Using finesse to block oncoming attacks works well, but that’s because holding an arm out in one direction is all that’s required for success. Only having limited use of the force was also underwhelming, with iffy motion tracking marring its helpfulness.
In an attempt to expand the game’s ground-based structure beyond lightsaber duels, Terminal Reality added basic movement mechanics to a predominantly on-rails design. Lengthy walks are handled automatically, but close-range advances can be controlled by stepping forward to engage a dash – a movement that is used repeatedly throughout the game, in order to get close to enemies. Jumps provide a helpful way to flip over them during combat, allowing for backstabbing attacks, while sideways leans result in evasion maneuvers. Generally speaking, these basic movements work quite well when you’re avoiding traps or happen to be attacking a small amount of enemies. However, when larger groups and more chaotic action combine, frantic movements can result in sensor tracking failures, creating unnecessarily cheap deaths and frustration. Repeatedly stepping forward can also take the player out of the game’s rather small viewing square, which causes it to lose track of the logged-in profile. Needless to say, being forced to sign in more than once per game session becomes annoying quickly.
After a while, the combat sequences became a bit dull, and I found myself looking forward to the campaign’s two different types of vehicle sections. Each of its space combat occurrences became enjoyable highlights, requiring slight hand movements to control powerful turrets with the aid of auto-targeting. Being able to hone in on just one movement mechanic allowed the developers to create tighter controls for the four final frontier stages. Additionally, each of the mode’s speeder bike chases were also quite fun because they didn’t require a exaggerated movements, using slight sideways leans for steering. Issues did end up creeping in, resulting in some trees being hit, but I found the high-speed action to be pretty fun. Auto-aim is also present in those, locking onto and firing at any vehicle that is in the playable pilot’s field of vision at a given time.
On top of its brief story campaign, Kinect Star Wars contains several stand-alone modes, with each one having its own progression system. The aforementioned one-on-one duel system can be played by itself, requiring deft blocks and varied melee moves (kicks, headbutts and force push shoves.) Inspired by fighting games, this option happens to be the most basic of them all, with a ranking system that focuses on time. Its several opponents can be battled over and over again, but the mode runs off of a quick play mentality, which is the same way that the destruction-based Rancor Rampage mini-games work. However, instead of grading players on time, it uses a point system and levels up enemies’ security intensity as players improve their destructive and murderous ways. Being a rancor is more fun than dueling, but its controls aren’t as tight.
Since the archives are keen on showing C-3PO and R2-D2 content from the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that podracing has its own career mode. Lasting for approximately six races of customizable lengths and difficulties, it attempts to replicate the high-speed thrills that Anakin Skywalker would have felt in The Phantom Menace. With assists turned off, both arms must be used independently, in an attempt to control each of the racer’s engines. Achieving full throttle speed requires the player to stretch his arms out in front of him, with right and left-hand turns created by pulling one arm back slightly. In keeping with this design, slamming on the brakes occurs when both arms are pulled back completely. These mechanics definitely stay true to the driving process that is portrayed in the film, but they’re imprecise and floaty, with a very steep learning curve. Using assists is the superior way to play, although it still has one major issue in common with its peers: the arm-specific gesture used to activate an offensive, defensive or repair power-up only works about twenty percent of the time.
Last up is the now infamous dancing mode, where the fiction’s popular characters (Han Solo, Leia, and others) boogie to galactic parodies of popular songs like Gwen Stefani‘s, Hollaback Girl. This strange and out of place addition is obviously targeted towards younger kids who own Kinect, as opposed to the franchise’s hardcore fans. Since it’s a lot like what you’d find in Dance Central, except not as precise, fans of that series will have fun doing the sci-fi boogie. Of course, most seasoned gamers will avoid it completely. After all, watching a stormtrooper dance like a club-goer is tough to forget.
If you’re going into a motion game expecting to find a visual marvel, then you’re better off looking elsewhere. The movement-controlled genre, which lets players become on-screen characters in a unique way, is not known for producing amazing-looking games. Like its peers, Kinect Star Wars is mediocre-looking, with texture work that definitely could have been better. It looks dated, and features character models that look to have features that were made of plastic. There are some above-average cutscenes, but even they have a major detractor in the form of pixelation. This trend of mediocrity extends to the game’s voice acting and script writing, which are serviceable yet underwhelming as a whole. For every quality line spoken, a cheesy and cringe-worthy one is emitted later on. Thankfully most of the utilized sound effects sound like they should, with good fidelity and a solid accompanying score.
Unfortunately, Microsoft‘s much talked-about Kinect sensor will have to wait for its next must-play release, of which there are currently very few. With Kinect Star Wars, LucasArts and Terminal Reality aimed to channel a strong force current into the motion gaming genre; however, the end result is yet another mediocre release that is neither good nor bad. Certain aspects of the game are decent, and it certainly doesn’t lack variety. The problem is that none of the included modes are presented with great quality, creating an experience that does a lot of things without doing any particularly well. Hardcore Star Wars fans will want to check this one out for its film-companion storyline and the chance to become a Jedi through physical movements, but those folks will be turned off by the included dancing mode. Putting more of a focus into modes that the license’s target audience would enjoy would have benefited this release, but more time in the proverbial oven would have been a much greater asset.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.