Shown at the Kinect debut two years ago was a teaser video of someone playing as a Jedi as he mowed down battle droids before taking on a Sith Lord. The video showed what the team wanted to do with the Kinect, but it was clear that a Star Wars game was in the works. Last year saw the formal debut of Kinect Star Wars at E3 and, as stated in last year's preview, there were glimpses of promise underneath the flaws. After a delayed holiday release, the game is finally on store shelves. Kinect Star Wars is very flawed but still shows some promise — though in unexpected areas.
Kinect Star Wars does a good job of connecting the various story elements. As it begins, R2-D2 and C-3PO enter the ruins of the Jedi Temple. Under Luke Skywalker's orders, they are tasked with viewing the Galactic Archives when they run into you and ask if you want to join them. From there, you choose from one of five activities.
The controls for the menus could have been handled better. Menu selection via hand hovering works well enough, but moving to the next horizontal option isn't done with a swipe like in most other Kinect games. Instead, the user must leave the hand cursor hovering over an arrow before the next option or page is revealed; it feels counterintuitive since the arrow behaves like a button but indicates that it should be swiped. The menus sport the use of voice as an option, but unlike most of the recent Kinect games, the game has a hard time recognizing vocal commands. Given that limitation, gestures seem to work best.
Jedi Destiny serves as your main adventure mode. With a plot entitled Dark Side Rising and taking place at the start of "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," you play the role of a Padawan to the Jedi Marva Zane, who's on a routine trip to hand you to Master Yoda for more training. As expected, the world of Kashyyyk suddenly comes under Droid fire, and it's up to you — and a partner, if you're playing multiplayer — to save the Wookiees and uncover a plot that leads up the events of "Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."
Unlike what is shown in the trailers, there's some variety to this mode. Though you are led down specific paths, you aren't stuck on rails; you can dash to locations, jump over fallen objects and chasms, and duck beneath overhanging obstacles. During this time, you can also rush up to enemy hordes and slice them with your lightsaber, toss them or knock them back with a Force Push, or hurl objects at them with the Force. Boss encounters become one-on-one duels where you try to best your opponent and deflect their shots. When you're not on foot, you'll pilot speeder bikes and spacecraft as you try to avoid obstacles and take down the opposition.
The controls are as varied as the activities. Your left hand is your Force hand, and pulling it back before pushing it forward gives you the famous Force Push. Holding it out in front of you and then pushing forward lets you grab objects and throw it at enemies or other structures. Your right hand controls saber movement, and while it isn't one-to-one controls, it works well enough for basic combat. Movement on foot is handled with ducks and jumps as well as a lean forward with one leg in front for the rush move. When you enter vehicles, pretending to hold a virtual steering wheel works best. Leaning turns your vehicle in that direction. Pulling both arms back lets you brake while shooting is handled automatically as long as you move the stable cursor over the enemy vehicle.
The controls work well when you're piloting a vehicle but falter just about everywhere else. Jumping, ducking and dashing are fine, but turning via shoulder movement is very slow. This is alleviated by some auto-targeting, but it feels like a band-aid rather than a solution. Slashing with your lightsaber is functional, but it doesn't feel fast or forceful; it still feels like painting rather than an actual attack. It could be argued that games like Wii Sports Resort and Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest on the PS3 got this mechanic to work with physical controllers but the release of Puss in Boots last year showed that the Kinect can handle fast and frantic sword fights just fine.
The Force would have been a good equalizer for mediocre sword combat, but the pushes don't seem as effective as they do in the movies. You'll rarely want to grab objects because you can't pick the exact item and must rely on the game to guess. Most enemies also can't be picked up, and that dulls the experience greatly. Throwing an object feels worthless since it doesn't seem to be thrown with any amount of force.
At any rate, the game has a hard time letting you unleash the Force in the first place. The charge time for a Force Push is long enough that you'll likely get hit before you can use it, and Force/lightsaber combos are next to impossible because the game has a hard time unless you make deliberate, separate movements during fights. This makes the kinetic fights slow down to a crawl, so they feel like pale imitations of the real thing.
The duels are easily the dullest part of the game. Rapid-fire fights and parries are transformed into slow, methodical fights where both fighters take turns attacking and defending. It feels more mechanical than organic and gets boring since you're going through routines instead of getting in shots and blocks through skill. Getting lightsabers locked leads to another issue where you'll always lose. You must do a Force push or kick to break the lock and get an advantage, but the game has trouble reading the Force push during these times and takes a second too long before registering a kick. Knowing that you're losing through no fault of your own, the duels lose their excitement and become something you force yourself to play in order to progress.
After you complete the training mode in Jedi Destiny, you unlock Duels of Fate, which pits you in various one-on-one battles against other lightsaber enthusiasts in the Star Wars universe. It is similar to a standard fighting game where you have to defeat a few of the lesser-known characters to go up against more well-known people like Count Dooku and Darth Maul. Unfortunately, the dueling mechanics from the Jedi Destiny fights are still present here, so the fighting is painfully predictable and slow.
The other three modes move away from the serious stuff and into more lighthearted fare. Podracing takes on the famous scene in "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" and expands on it much like Star Wars: Episode I - Racer did on the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast. You'll race along a variety of environments and select a racer to represent you, though the racers only differ in name and looks, not performance. The races have the usual trappings seen in the movies and the old game, including bugs that latch on to your vehicle and marksmen shooting at passersby, but they take on a more casual approach since each race only consists of one long lap.
The Podracing controls bear a slight resemblance to the vehicle portions of Jedi Destiny in that you stick out both arms as if you're piloting a ship. Pods control a bit differently due to their dual-engine setup. Pulling back your arms still slows down your craft, and while leaning helps the machine turn, a better turning radius is achieved when you cut back on one engine. Jerking your arms forward activates your turbo boost, which you'll often rely on since your turbo meter refills quickly. The controls make it accessible to less-skilled players while rewarding more adept ones with good lap times; it's one of the real bright spots in the package. The presence of a play-by-play announcer gives it a televised sporting event feel, but the quips are pretty bad. Since there's no option to turn him off, you can mentally block him or turn down the volume during races.
Rancor Rampage casts you as a mighty rancor as you terrorize a fenced-in area. It plays just like the arcade classic Rampage, where you destroy everything in your path, smash droids, and eat unsuspecting people, but it's done in a third-person perspective instead of a side-scrolling one. While you can't climb up buildings, you can bash them or start a running tackle to knock through them. You can even grab and throw spires or people as you crush everything before completing all of your objectives.
There are a few issues with controlling rancor movement. Forward movement can only be done when you attack or initiate a tackle. Normal forward movement can't be made when there isn't an accompanying action. Turning isn't very responsive. While twisting your body makes the camera change directions, it is so slow that random flailing does a better job of turning your body. One non-control-related flaw comes from your progression in the mode. Your score contributes to a rank, and an increase in rank lets you open up new areas to destroy. However, ranking up is done quite slowly, so you have to play through the same areas over and over again to open up a new location and grind again. The mode is fun enough that the grind isn't too bad, but others who are accustomed to new content at every turn might be put off by this.
The last mode — and probably the most divisive — is Galactic Dance Off, which is much like Dance Central and similar Kinect dancing titles. You pick out your character and song before being whisked off to your location. From there, you follow the on-screen moves, and your score and star ranking are based on your performance.
The mode works well if you can embrace its silly nature. The pop songs have been tweaked with Star Wars titles and lyrics. "Bulletproof" from La Roux becomes "Blasterproof," for example, while "Ridin' Solo" from Jason Derulo becomes "I'm Han Solo," complete with lyrics about having a princess on your side while flying the Millennium Falcon. The sound-alikes do a good job. You'll see stock Star Wars characters dancing, including Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett and a few Stormtroopers. Even your moves take on the theme, as they're named the Chewie Hug, Force Push and Trash Compactor.
There are still some issues that make it a lower-tiered dancing mode. Although you're given the opportunity to choose a character, you'll never see him/her anywhere but cut scenes. No matter who you pick, the environments always sport the same dancers. The different difficulty levels make the routines harder, but the move sets seem limited. Also, just like Rancor Rampage, the various unlocks for songs are set pretty high. The middle-tier songs can be unlocked rather easily, but the higher tier requires a good deal of replaying tracks at higher difficulty levels to unlock. The mode is fun, but it won't replace your dancing game of choice.
There was obviously some care taken into making the game look good, and for the most part, it accomplishes that. The environments are well textured and colorful, and the same can be said for the inhabitants of each world. The animations are good but not as grand and fluid as expected. The human character models have a cartoon-ish look. They aren't as exaggerated as "The Clone Wars" TV series, but they don't strive for realism, either. This results in odd things like Mace Windu having a larger-than-normal forehead. Unlike the other portions of the game, the cut scenes are movie files of the game assets. This isn't bad until you see a few scenes that are very pixelated and look compressed, especially when particle effects are present. They look clean otherwise, but with a series so heavily invested in effects, the quality isn't what it should be.
As far as sound is concerned, the game works well enough. The music isn't always the same John Williams score you've heard countless times, but the new material certainly carries the same vibe of the movies. The same goes for the effects, which have a Star Wars vibe even if they don't rattle the speakers. The voices sound like they were mined from the animated TV series, so fans will be pleased and won't experience too much of a disconnect.
Kinect Star Wars is a decent title only if you ignore the myriad of flaws. Had the focus been on themed minigames and if the controls and objectives were tweaked a bit, this would have been a derivative but enjoyable title for casual Kinect fans. Unfortunately, the included minigames don't feel very fleshed out, and the main focus of the game delivers some underwhelming moments due to flaky controls and boring combat. There's fun to be had here, but you'll have to be forgiving to find it.
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