Remember the first time you held a Wii Remote? I do. The loose hilt of a controller nestled in my fleshy hand, I instantly started making mid-pitched slobbery hums from my mouth as I pulled my arms into a slow Jedi defensive stance awaiting a blow from an invisible enemy.
Considering how iconic the gestures within the Star Wars universe are, it's pretty easy to see how a full motion controlled Star Wars title could be a great fulfillment of every geeky daydream from a galaxy far far away. Sadly, the promise of Kinect Star Wars far overshadows the actual product.
Kinect Star Wars is thinly disguised mini-game collection incorporating most of what you would expect in Kinect gameplay dyed in Star Wars mythos. The five activities harbored within Kinect Star Wars range from the obvious (Podracing, Duels of Fate) to the frankly bizarre (Galactic Dance-Off) with the Jedi Destiny mode acting as the narrative based gameplay sampling anchor for the whole experience.
Jedi Destiny casts players in the role of baby-faced Padawans who are thrust out of their training into full scale combat against insurgences of the galactic civil war detailed in Episode II. Players are quickly put through the paces of lightsaber combat, summoning all their midi-chlorian Force powers, piloting a Speederbike and finishing up with a light bit of outer space turret gunning and X-Wing piloting. The motions for most of the actions are pretty obvious even to the most novice of Star Wars followers, Lightsaber swings and arm stretched Force telekinetic actions work well most of the time with the slight delay that has become the standard in Kinect software. I must register my complaints with the touchy shoulder lean mechanic which allows you to dodge during lightsaber battles or turn when piloting an aircraft. It's a plain crapshoot much of the time. I swear the degree of motion exaggeration varied per stage leading to dozens of over or undershooting.
Surprisingly, Kinect Star Wars fumbles at player identification recognition. Between level loads, the game seems to "lose" the player; requiring the players to log back in through the Kinect Tuner. I also could not get the vocal command aspects of Kinect Star Wars working for the life of me; thanks for making me look like a crazy person shouting at an inanimate object, LucasArts. Differentiation between finicky hardware and poor software recognition is a tricky tight rope to toe when critiquing a Kinect title, but when compared to other titles- such as Harmonix's Dance Central and Double Fine's Once Upon a Monster-it's easy to see Kinect Star Wars just is not up to snuff.
Minor issues with controls aside, the most damning aspect of Kinect Star War's gameplay is just how brutally repetitive the Jedi Destiny campaign truly is. Despite a run time just a hair longer than most of the source films, this mode will test any Jedi's patience with endless harmless waves of fodder battle droids for the slicing. With zero hyperbole, I mashed my way through all of the large scale battle sequences by wildly swing my right hand (which both attacks and allows hasty reflection of blaster rounds) and occasionally making a forward stepping swoop to dash to the next bland set of enemies. The game seems to urge you to apply some side-stepping or other shallow strategies, but death posses no penalty beyond a momentary respawn...so I felt no need to change up my mindless flailing. Occasional platforming sections attempt to break up the monotony to a mixed degree.
Jumping and crouching over obstacles work as intended but the set pieces fall short in both visual impact and reward. The vehicle sections nearly cut off the circulation to the player's limbs considering how hard Kinect Star Wars holds your hand. All you have to do is line up the on-screen crosshair and the game takes care of the enemy for you. This decision is understandable from a development point of view-Kinect is nowhere near responsive enough for thumb depressing fire motions--regardless it is still really disengaging and a bit of counter-intuitive to the idea of building the player up as a powerful Jedi war-machine.
Even worse is how lackluster and patchwork the flimsy narrative within Jedi Destiny. Not to sound snobby, but it's barely worth recounting...let alone experiencing. Just know that there is next to no pay-offs you would expect (no dueling the major baddies of the film universe) and the sprinkling of fan-favorite cameos are brief and unsubstantial. Things hit a level of almost impossible stupidity in a cut-scene where your player character frees their fellow padawans from imprisonment...including a duplicate of themselves.
The other modes fare a bit better-likely because the embrace their short burst mini-game nature to the fullest extent. Rancor Ramage is a third person objective based romp that plays like a slightly-unresponsive remake of the classic Ramage arcade title. It's a quick burn, but any game that has an "eat this person" gesture in it cannot be a complete failure. Duels of Fate excises the Punch-Out style sequences of Jedi Destiny and gives players the chance to clash glowing lightsabers with heavy hitters like Count Dooku and Darth Vader. Things can get finicky in parry recognition on the Kinect end and there is a general lack of direction when grappled in a sabre crossing.
And finally; Galactic Dance-Off...a Dance Central clone set to Disney Radio-eqe Star War theme parodies of pop hits from the last few years. Christina Aguilera's "Genie in the Bottle" is transformed to "Princess in the Battle" and Jason Duerlo's "Ridin' Solo" gets a roguish twist to "Han Solo". A few un-spoofed licensed tracks appear such as DeadMau5's "Ghosts n Stuff" and Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic". All of this is complimented with dance club tinted Star Wars locales and grooving Stormtroopers. It truly needs to be seen to be believed. When the novelty wears off; it's a functional dance title that is really anemic in features. In fact, a practice mode is suspiciously missing.
Kinect Star Wars is very inconsistent in it's presentation. Textures and character models are hit or miss throughout the game-Yoda looks fantastic with his distinct facial wrinkles and home-spun cloth full rendered while the other characters feature awkward aliased self shadowing and a contrasting cartoony art style. Like most Kinect titles, animation can get goofy on the player character; often times I had my arm clip right through my midsection. The use of full screen swipes between sets helps establish the aesthetic of the famed film trilogies. I encountered a good half a dozen or so issues with lip syncing. I cannot tell if this is an issue with the game's graphics or a very persistent audio bug.
Jedi Destiny is far too repetitive and lacking in challenge or focus to be worth the experience even when considering it's two hour run time. The other modes definitely work out for the better, if only because the work in short bursts. Unfortunately there are only four or so other activities, make Kinect Star Wars a really rotten value proposition. With zero pretension I can say Galactic Dance-Off is both the most amusing and well realized game on the disc, though after a few songs I decided to pop Dance Central 2 in instead. I have seen other voices on the Internet attempt to place the game underneath the untouchable umbrella of "Children's Game" to defend some of the short comings of Kinect Star Wars. I don't buy it. Even the most appeasable of kids while likely grow tired of the pandering one-note gameplay. The lack of any feedback-visual or otherwise-really stunts a lot of the wonder and spectacle displayed so keenly in the films.
Kinect Star Wars really wants you to rope in a buddy for two co-op at all times. Full disclosure; my time entire review time was spent alone. Perhaps with another poor suffering soul, the experience works a bit better...if only because you can run a make-shift Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode out of the odds and ends of Kinect Star Wars.
Kinect Star Wars is a game that deserves no recommendation. Die hard Star Wars fans will likely be insulted by the blatant plastering of their beloved universe onto another unremarkable Kinect minigame collection. Children will grow bored of the short list of mini-games and the dreadful Jedi Destiny campaign. And Kinect owners comping at the bit for another justification for their Kinect investment will continue to be bummed out by this hyped-up over-priced hollow product.
Avoid this game at all costs, young Padawan...and may the force be with you, always.