Review: Kinect Star Wars (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Kinect Star Wars
Developer: Terminal Reality
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Kinect Mini Games
Released: 03/04/12

Traditional games have had a hard time adapting to the Kinect. It’s not exactly a shock when you think about it. The industry has developed all this time with the use of a controller as a primary requirement. Be it mouse and keyboard, a d-pad or its analog controller cousins later on, the gamer has always controlled the action with their hands. Now with the Kinect, developers are being forced to try a new way of doing things, and gamers, diehard gamers specifically, are demanding that if they are going to be forced to use the Kinect that the games be entertaining and have a quality feel to them, which is something that very few Kinect games have succeeded at. Reviewers are seldom kind to games that are barely better than tech demos for an industry figuring out a new way to do things, and most Kinect games have been scorned by the diehard. So along comes Kinect Star Wars into this mess. The first videos were not promising. Could the game rise above, or is it time to update the list of worst ever Star Wars games?

Story/Modes:

I’m going to describe the modes and then the stories attached as appropriate. The first game mode is the one that the developers first showed when they announced the game. Dark Side Rising is the tale of a Jedi Knight and her Padawan learners as they battle their way through the back story of Episode 2 and 3. As stories go in the expanded universe of Star Wars it’s not the worst I’ve seen (That would be Episode 1. Ha!). If you can tolerate seeing Yoda acting more like a Jedi Knight than an old Jedi Master and a virtual retelling of many of the scenes from the original trilogy then there isn’t much else in this portion of the game that would offend. One possible exception is the addition of two more Dark Jedi that seemingly flies in the face of the One Master One Apprentice thing that the Sith are supposed to have going on, but honestly I don’t care at this point. What’s two more after all the others that have appeared before them? Dark Side Rising is often humorous, and treats the Star Wars universe the way I would like to see it. My one complaint comes from seeing Chewie get shafted… AGAIN.

Next up is the Pod Racing portion of the game, which can be played via quick play and in Destiny mode. Quick play is just jumping into any of the unlocked race tracks and giving it a go, while Destiny mode has you competing with some very familiar faces from Episode 1.

The rest of the modes have no story but are worth mentioning. These include Duel of Fates, Galactic Dance Off, Rancor Rampage and finally M-Tag. Duel of Fates has you fighting lightsaber duels against bad guys such as Count Dooku and eventually Darth Vader. Galactic Dance off is a spoof on Dance Central, and Rancor Rampage places you in control of Rancors that have gotten loose in different cities on different planets throughout the Star Wars universe. M-Tag is just a way to integrate your phone to unlock DLC like Anakin’s Pod Racer.

Graphics:

All of the CG characters which appeared in the movies and who make cameos here look amazing. So Yoda, Watto, Sebulba etc, look terrific. All of the non CG characters that appear don’t look nearly as good. So the Jedi Padawan you control, your Jedi Master, any of the Wookies, and so on all look ok at best. And then there is Mace Windu, who looks atrocious. I don’t know, maybe Samuel L Jackson threatened a lawsuit or something, but wow. He looks like a Conehead here.

Outside of character design, the game looks good. It makes use of many of the scenes found in all six of the movies, from Tattooine to Felucia, and includes a few nods to Star Wars games of the past. The YT 2400, the ship Dash Rendar flies in Shadows of the Empire, makes a return here in Dark Side Rising and looks better than ever. There are some levels which take place in the heat of battle above planets like Coruscant, and they look fantastic.

The levels in the other mini games aren’t quite as detailed, but they still do a nice job of conveying the atmosphere. Galactic Dance Off, for example, takes place in Jabba’s palace, amongst other locations. Rancor Rampage puts you in the middle of downtown Mos Eisley at first, and then as you unlock the other planets you can run wild, literally.

Sound:

I don’t think anyone will be surprised when I say that LucasArts knows how to do sound effects like few others in the industry, so when a Star Wars game comes out you just expect it to sound great. While playing through the Dark Side Rising campaign I was kind of stunned, though, at just how good it sounded. The engines and other sounds all had the bass kicked up a notch and rattled my windows while playing.

The voice acting varies. New characters sound excellent, while the sound alikes that they got for the established characters don’t sound nearly as good. Perhaps that’s because I noticed immediately that they were sound alikes, I don’t know.

The musical score is, of course, terrific as always. It is put to good use here, piping up at all the right times, being toned down when it’s not needed. If you’ve ever played a Star Wars game you know I don’t need to continue here.

What I do need to talk about is the music found in Galactic Dance Off. The game follows in the grand LucasArts tradition of mimicking other games while adding a Star Wars touch. They take a contemporary song like Genie in a Bottle and re-write it to give it a more Star Wars feel, and presto, Genie in a Bottle becomes Princess in Battle, a song about Princess Leia fending off Han Solo’s advances. The songs aren’t terrible, and I appreciate the effort that went into making these songs more acceptable for the Star Wars universe.

Gameplay/Control:

Now to the heart of the matter. How does it play? Well, if we’re being honest here, not terribly. The Jedi portion of the game, where you are moving around swinging your lightsaber at anything and everything, is not nearly as bad as I was expecting, based on all of the negative hype and my own first initial impressions of gameplay videos. It’s not perfect by any means, but once you learn the ways of the force, so to speak, the game is far from terrible. You do have to give it some time though, and understand that not everything works the way it’s intended. Your lightsaber, for example, can follow most of your movements, but you have to allow the system the time to track your movements and incorporate them into the game. Some enemies can block your attacks, and so it’s often better to attack them from the side or behind rather than going at them from the front.

There also are platforming portions to this mini game. I really wish there weren’t, but there are. Some of the platforming is simple, just jumping when commanded to. Other bits require you to navigate through death traps, which is the kind you’re used to fighting through in other platformers, but in that case they can be navigated much more easily due to the movement controls being consistent, which is not so here.

Your control of the force is also not as good as it could be, but still somewhat useful. Pushing outwards with your hands will cause your Jedi to fire off a force push, while reaching out with the hand you aren’t controlling your lightsaber with will allow you to use the force to pick up small objects and some enemies, and then throw them across the stage. This does require the game to understand that you are trying to use the force first, and this is never automatic, but if you fail the first time you just drop you arm and raise it again, and if anything is considered force interactive it will highlight.

The mini game that feels the most fleshed out is the Pod Racing sequence. Holding your arms straight out to run the machine, pulling one arm back to turn one way or the other, leaning in either direction to help steer like a motorbike, these mechanics all feel very natural. Well, except for holding your arms out for long periods of time. That gets old really fast. Still, in short bursts the Pod Racing is very enjoyable, and feels like the best example of what the Kinect can do for real videogames.

Rancor Rampage was the minigame that excited me the most when I heard about it. Rampage is of course an arcade classic, and one that is seemingly dying for an adaptation using the Kinect. While Rancor Rampage isn’t exactly perfect, it does a great job of showing what could be possible if some company were willing to work out the details. You control your Rancor by swinging your arms around and grabbing anything that happens to be nearby, either eating it for health or throwing it for destruction points. The game gives you challenges to accomplish, including things like jumping in the air and landing on someone, or destroying a building. The more you play the mini games the more you level up. This increases the difficulty by introducing more enemies, but also unlocks additional levels and different Rancors. The ultimate reason why this mode disappoints though is the inability to walk in any given direction and the difficulty in turning around. You are placed in a small arena, and you can charge like a stampeding bull across it, but if you just want to walk, or even dash like you can in Dark Side Rising, no luck. You have to stampede or jump. This limits how much fun you can have when targets are just out of reach. Still, there is something to be said for just charging all over the place, demolishing buildings and smacking Tie Fighters out of the sky.

Duel of Fates is the lightsaber dueling minigame that is unlocked once you fight a duel in Dark Side Rising. It is perhaps the hardest mode for Star Wars fans to get their heads around, as it works contrary to how lightsaber duels are fought in the movies and anywhere else you might happen to see them. Instead of a free flowing battle of give and take, it is actually more of a turn based battle. You start the battle off on the defensive, and you must move your lightsaber in the direction the attack is coming from, which is dreadfully slow. You can also parry the attack or evade it completely by dodging, and each successful avoidance of an attack grants you more time when you get to go on the offensive. While on offense you can use the force to throw objects at your opponent and swing your saber wildly to whittle away their shield enough to move to the next of three stages. You have to get very good at fighting these battles in order to unlock the Sith masters I mentioned before, defeating opponents quickly enough to earn the rank required to proceed. I cannot say that this mode is especially fun. It takes the shoddy force manipulation of Dark Side Rising and combines it with a simply terrible mechanic for fighting a duel. Add to that the inability to step to the side of your opponent and attack, thus ignoring the way you succeed in Dark Side Rising against the lesser opponents, and it just seems counter intuitive, which is really how the entire mini-game feels.

Lastly we come to Galactic Dance Off, or as I like to call it, Dance Galactic Central. Playing this really makes you appreciate just how polished the real Dance Central actually was. Not because this minigame is especially bad, as it’s not. Actually it’s not bad at all… at least, not control wise. No, its just that where Harmonix included a mode to let you learn the dances that you would be facing in the game, Terminal Reality just throws you into the dances, with zero way of learning what you are doing other than repeating the songs over and over. Some of the dance steps (and I use that term loosely) carry over to other songs, so in that way it’s easy enough, but I almost wish LucasArts had just approached Harmonix about letting them do this instead of having someone else do an approximation of it.

Replayability:

Well, some of the mini games have a fair amount of replay, and if you have children who enjoy Star Wars this game will probably get its fair share of use. The pod racing especially is very good, and the main game, while not perfect, does enough to satisfy so long as you are playing it on casual and accept its flaws. The space battles in particular felt very much like Rebel Assault, and while that’s not the greatest game in history, the developers at least didn’t try to force the controls into a different sort of game like Tie Fighter. The Rancor levels seem to be ready made for repeated playing, or at least they would be if it wasn’t for the lack of proper movement controls. The Dance levels, while competent, should probably not be experienced again due to how goofy they are.

Balance:

Each of the games include different difficulty levels, either through timing how long it takes you to defeat enemies, or how much assistance the computer will give you while flying your Pod Racer, or just how much effort will be required to finish the main campaign. Galactic Dance Off can be difficult until you get some practice in, while Dark Side Rising actually becomes easier the longer you play, at least on casual, because you start to get used to fighting the different enemies. As each enemy has a different weakness you learn to exploit them to advance the story. Duels of Fate is by far the most difficult due to the nature of the gameplay. When you cannot attack anytime you like and are trying to beat a time to unlock the next character things can get rather frustrating.

Originality:

It’s difficult to judge just how original a game set in the Star Wars universe can really be. This is, after all, a franchise in the McDonald’s sense of the word. If you’ve got an idea and George Lucas likes it, then the game/book/TV show will probably get made. As a result, much of what occurs in this game has been seen in some way or another at other points in time in the Star Wars timeline. On the other hand, this is possibly the first Kinect title that is not an exercise game or a dancing game that achieves most of what it sets out to do. Controlling a pod racer feels very natural, and I would not be surprised if we see a full fledged Pod Racing game that uses the Kinect controls released on XBLA in the near future. The Dark Side Rising game introduces a control scheme that almost works, and if they could get better at letting the player know when they are in control of the action, as well as finding a way to show the player why the force powers aren’t working when they are attempted, I think there is no reason not to see a sequel to that portion of the game either.

Addictiveness:

A game with this much arm movement isn’t going to be the kind of game you pick up and finish in an eight hour session. It’s just not. Nobody has the stamina to do that. And the awkward controls and Force power usage can be a deal breaker for many people. But if you do put the time into understanding what the game is and what it isn’t, there is no reason to not come back and play through Dark Side Rising again, for example.

Appeal Factor:

If you have children who love Star Wars, then this game will certainly appeal to them. If you are a Star Wars fan who can accept that the controls are really just a work in progress, then there is a certain level of enjoyment to be found here. It’s not Jedi Knight. It’s not X-Wing. It’s not even Star Wars: Demolition. But it isn’t Masters of Teras Kasi or Super Bombad Racing either.

Miscellaneous:

The game does allow for two players to play at any point, but really I can’t recommend it. If there is one thing that becomes blindingly obvious while playing this, is its that game developers have finally found a way for gamers to look uncool again. Flailing away trying to get your character to do something is fine while you’re alone or with your kids. Doing it in front of sane rational people, though, will just get you taken off the guest list for the next party.

Otherwise I feel I should point out that C3PO and R2-D2 are your hosts if you like, and they tell the story from the ruins of the Jedi Council Building on Corsucant. And you’ll notice if you look at all that, it hasn’t been cleaned up at all since the events of Revenge of the Sith. Quite curious for a game that is going to be played by “younglings”.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

A mildly disappointing game, which makes it a massive success compared to the expectations. At times amusing and goofy, the game is not for you. It’s for your kids, if you have any, and if you don’t have any, just accept that it’s for somebody’s kids.

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