I’ve gone on record before as stating I didn’t initially have high hopes for Kinect Star Wars, although my expectations rose after getting hands-on with the game again at CES 2012. The final Xbox Kinect-exclusive game has ended up somewhere in between: much better than I’d originally anticipated, but not as outstanding as my hands-on time at CES had allowed my mind to wander. There are plenty of good nuggets in the first Star Wars-themed game for Kinect, highlighted by the game’s tongue-in-cheek humor in certain modes, but the real “meat” of the game, the Jedi Destiny campaign, feels too forced and tedious at times to really earn the whole package high marks.
Playing a full-on Star Wars game sans controller is cool in concept, because using your hands to Force Push and Pull your way through waves of droids is just plain badass. Using your arm to swing a digital lightsaber seems neat too, particularly since the game detects slight nuances such as the angle of your swing and deflections to accurately re-create the motions on screen. The problem arises with the campaign because that’s all you do — push, pull and swing your arm — for the better part of eight hours, which gets both tiring and tiresome.
The Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising story takes place appropriately in the prequel setting, and in doing so skips from planet to space to planet again, including the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk. Regardless of the terrestrial skin, you’ll find yourself swinging your arm and Force Something-ing your way through the world at hand — even jumping at times in some clever Kinect-powered platforming — but the story doesn’t have enough oomph to help you forget that you’ve been doing the same basic thing for hours on end. Playing as a Padawan, you have as your task saving some kidnapped Jedi, some additional Padawans and (let’s face it) the fate of the galaxy as well. It’s kind of ho-hum material, although in the developer’s defense, that’s really all George Lucas himself as worked with for decades, and he’s made a mint doing so.
The vehicle-based battles get slightly more interesting. Several missions have you piloting speeder bikes through forests and hills and taking aim at incoming craft, while other missions place you in a Millennium Falcon-like turret taking out enemy fighters. Such gameplay diversions certainly mix things up to a degree, but they also don’t happen very regularly, and the aiming mechanism using your hands alone is a bit hit and miss. Again, had the narrative been stronger it would be a tad easier to overlook these shortcomings. Instead, it’s frankly quite hard to will yourself through the entire campaign.
Kinect Star Wars includes four other modes, each of which is essentially a glorified mini-game but still manages to deliver more overall enjoyment. The first, Podracing, puts you in the driver’s seat of young Anakin’s podracer as you cruise through the canyons at ridiculous speeds. From turbo boosting to bashing opponents to finding (very, very minor) shortcuts, this mode provides just the kind of experience you’d hope to have with a Kinect-powered podracing game, so although it can handle a bit squirrely at times, it’s still fun. Duels of Fate is the requisite lightsaber battle mode, with your Jedi taking on the likes of Magna Guard, Sun Guard, COunt Dooku, Ror (like Darth Maul) and Darth Vader. Most of these need to be unlocked, but once you play against one you’ve basically battled them all. As in the main campaign, you need to move your arms in the appropriate direction to block the (overly slow-motion) incoming attack, then unleash (at an equally slow pace) your own attack until the game tells you its time to play defense again. It’s hardly a natural experience, but at least you’re battling with sabers.
The last two modes, “Galactic Dance Off” and “Rancor Rampage,” provide the most memorable moments, albeit not necessarily the most exhilarating from a gameplay standpoint. Galactic Dance Off is an absolute riot, more for its ability to poke fun at the Star Wars franchise than from introducing anything to the dancing-game genre. Why’s it fun? Because it has you dancing to Star Wars-ified songs such as “Hologram GIrl” (instead of “Holla Back Girl”), “Princess in a Battle” (instead of “Genie in a Bottle”), “I’m Han Solo” (instead of “Ridin’ Solo”) and “We No Speak Huttese” (instead of “No Speak Americano”). Like most dancing games, you’re graded on your accuracy for following the on-screen prompts and characters, and while the dancing mechanics are decent, the real enjoyment comes from the hilarious remixes. It’s also funny to see the bikini-clad Leia dancing as your coach/competition in Jabba’s palace, or watching Han Solo and Lando Calrissian take to the stage in the carbonite chamber on Cloud City. The humor in this mode is just great.
Still, Rancor Rampage is probably the most aggressive, Kinect-fueled mode you’ve played in any game to date, and as such is the most novel. In this mode, you play as a Rancor destroying every possible structure in the environment (watch out, Mos Eisley!), munching on bystanders, tossing droids, swinging at speeder bikes and all in all causing mass mayhem. The mode couldn’t have been any better named, and it’s simply awesome. The rounds are short and sweet, and therefore so is the mode (so it seems repetitive after a bit), but for those five minutes of mayhem, Rancor Rampage is hard to beat.
As I said in the beginning, some of the modes or moments in Kinect Star Wars are true gems, but they’re too few and far between. Oddly, Kinect Star Wars is one of the few games you’ll encounter in which the total is actually less than the sum of its parts. The campaign grows tedious in spite of its mixed-up gameplay, and the remaining mini-game modes are enjoyable more for their novelty and humor than for their actual gameplay. I’d still recommend the game for serious Star Wars fans, but if you’re more of a casual fan and/or just have a passing interest, it’s better worth renting than a full-on purchase.
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360 (Kinect exclusive)