Publisher: LucasArts / Developer: Terminal Reality / Price: $49.99 / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Teen [Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence]
By this point in the Kinect’s lifecycle, most gamers don’t expect much out of the Xbox 360’s motion-tracking peripheral, and for good reason. The majority of Kinect-centric games have been disappointing due to hardware limitations, half-baked software implementation, or both.
While interest in the Kinect-exclusive Star Wars title was pretty high before the device launched two years ago, the game’s development delays and lackluster real-world experiences with the Kinect have caused most fans to lose whatever faith they may have had in this title.
Like the prequel trilogy, there are elements of Kinect Star Wars that remind you what’s so cool about the franchise, but ultimately what you’ve got is more for kids and families than those craving the authentic, original Star Wars experience.
There are a few different gameplay modes at your disposal when you first boot up the game: Jedi Destiny, Rancor Rampage, Podracing, and, God help me, Galactic Dance-off. A fifth mode, Duels of Fates, is unlocked after beating Jedi Destiny, though it’s more or less just an expanded portion of Jedi Destiny, which itself is the real draw for Star Wars fans.
In the Destiny mode, players take on the role of a Jedi Padawan (that’s nerd-speak for trainee). As they learn the ways of the Force, players are taught different fighting techniques and powers while hacking and slashing across the galaxy.
Lightsaber combat is as basic as swinging an arm around, while using Force powers lets players toss some enemies around on-screen, or levitate objects for use as projectile weapons. Players dash, dodge, and jump through environments and enemies, sometimes piloting speeder-bikes, sometimes taking control of starfighters or manning the guns on a Corellian ship piloted by none other than Chewbacca.
Lightsaber duels also pop up every so often, which require players to anticipate their enemy’s moves and block accordingly.
Duels are by far the clunkiest part of the otherwise surprisingly solid and fun Jedi Destiny mode, so when Duels of the Fates is unlocked, there’s little incentive to check it out, even if you eventually get to test your chops against Darth Vader. Dueling requires more precise movements than the rest of the Destiny gameplay, and when movements fail to get translated accurately on-screen, the sense of immersion and power of wielding a lightsaber is lost.
The overall adventure in Destiny is also a bit repetitive as time goes on. Enemies consist mainly of Trandoshans (lizard-guys) and those really dumb robot soldiers from the prequels, with a few variations on those basic models.
Fortunately, fights are broken up with the aforementioned speeder chases and space fights, and basic platforming that requires little in the way of aiming or timing to account for the Kinect’s weaknesses. If Kinect Star Wars was dependent on Jedi Destiny alone, it wouldn’t be nearly enough, which is where the other modes of varying attraction come in.
Rancor Rampage is pretty fun, if shallow. Players take the role of a rancor monster (as seen in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi) and are set loose upon a fleeing populace to try and cause as much destruction as possible. Following on-screen directives—such as hurl a bystander 75 meters or crush a robot—within as short a time as possible offers point bonuses, and new worlds and rancors are unlocked as players progress in level.
While podracing isn’t anyone’s favorite component of the Star Wars universe, the game mode of the same name provides a relatively tight racing game, albeit with some exhausting controls (more on that later). I was surprised by how deep the racing elements went: racers can earn upgrades, repairs, and weapons as they progress through races, as well as attack other pods on the track.
Podracing, like Jedi Destiny, would be too little on its own, but as part of a larger package, it’s a nice addition to the game.
Last and most certainly least is the Galactic Dance-off. By now, everyone’s seen the pretty terrible dancing Han Solo video from this section of the game, and if you think it looks dumb, you’re absolutely right. That said, as a dance game, it’s actually pretty competent.
I can see kids and parents (or drunk Star Wars fans) having a really good time with this, but I won’t pretend that this Dance Central-style minigame is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. If you like dance games and Star Wars-themed song parodies, then you’re in for a great night. Otherwise, the less said, the better.
The framing device for the entire collection of modes seems to be set post-Return of the Jedi. Players are an anonymous New Republic commander who, with C-3P0 and R2D2, is combing through Luke Skywalker’s data archives, which offers the tentative explanation for the disparate settings and game modes in Kinect Star Wars.
While the majority of the modes dispense with the pretext that they’re anything but games, Jedi Destiny seems bent on telling a brand-new, never-before-seen adventure in the Star Wars universe.
Set between the events of Episode I and Episode II, Jedi Destiny takes players through their paces in the service of the Jedi Council, and ultimately facing off against bounty hunters, the Trade Federation (I think), and Sith warriors. The specifics of the story were pretty much lost on me—I rarely knew what I was doing or why.
The fact that this game mode takes place during the prequel timeline should tell you all you need to know about the comprehension of the story. But the story does seem to provide players with opportunities to experience approximations of iconic moments from the films. There’s running around the bad guy’s ship! Shooting down enemy fighters from not-quite-the-Millennium Falcon! Other parts from Star Wars!
Above all, the story is window dressing to allow players to do new things that feel like the movie parts that everyone knows and loves. It doesn’t do anything particularly amazing, but it doesn’t hurt either.
When the Kinect works, it works great. While swinging my lightsaber at evil robots, flinging enemies with the force, and jumping and dodging, I couldn’t help but have a really good time. It didn’t take too long to get lost in the game and actually feel like a Jedi—especially because of the sweating and heavy breathing that comes with swinging arms and jumping around the living room.
Unfortunately, the Kinect’s body-tracking capabilities are notoriously finicky, and that hasn’t changed much here. I’d say that the Kinect accurately reads body movements about 65 percent of the time—which is usually okay, since most fights don’t require much precision. A quick jump in place sends your on-screen avatar leaping forward into battle, while leaning forward results in a dash. An outstretched left arm results in force grabs of enemies, while pulling your arm back charges up a force push that can be fired.
Podracing presents its own problems. While the basic control scheme is intuitive—pull back with the left arm to turn left, pull back with the right to turn right—holding your arms out front for the duration for a race is torturous, turning what should be a fun racing game into an endurance test.
Worse still, activating power-ups by reaching back with one hand or the other seems to wreak havoc on steering. This could’ve been a good time, but the controls try to do too much. That’s kind of one of the advantages of using controllers: they have many buttons.
Ugh. This is one of the biggest surprises and disappointments of Kinect Star Wars. While the graphics are barely passable in many instances, the frame rate inexplicably drops to a total crawl with every other in-game cutscene.
The character models themselves look like they came from last generation hardware, and every once in a while there’s a texture that seems to have been blown up and stretched onto the screen, looking pixilated and awful. It’s a shame that the graphics in this game are so crappy, especially considering that Star Wars was known for its special effects wizardry.
The music in this game doesn’t suffer nearly as much as the visuals. Throughout the game, the franchise’s action-packed soundtrack helps keep players feeling as though they’re taking part in an epic battle. Solid voice acting helps—while it’s clear that Frank Oz isn’t giving voice to Master Yoda, no one sounds out of place.
And the droid that accompanies you on your quest in Jedi Destiny actually manages to bring fun and charm to the proceedings. This is a game that sounds really good through a nice set of speakers.
If you’ve always wanted a lightsaber simulator, this is about as close as you’re going to get. It’s far from perfect, and while some of its shortcomings can be blamed on the limitations of this first iteration of Kinect technology, the shoddy visuals and ill-conceived additions don’t do much to make this game a must-have.
At the same time, there are definitely some genuinely fun moments where, yes, you may in fact feel like a Jedi. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’ll probably have a good time, and if you’re looking for something to play with your kids or younger siblings, Kinect Star Wars has you covered.
But if you were hoping that this might be the game to finally make you happy you bought a Kinect, well, you’re better off finding a new hope.