2012-04-18

Kinect Star Wars – Not The Game You’re Looking For

by Yo Snyder

What is it about the Star Wars franchise and motion controls that
gets the imagination going? When the Wii was introduced, one of the
first things people started imagining was wielding a lightsaber in their
living room. The Wii did eventually bring sword wielding to fruition
with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but that was a looonnng time coming, and it still isn’t a lightsaber. When Kinect Star Wars
was announced, again the imagination ran rampant with the possibilities
of swinging a lightsaber and wielding the Force in epic ways in the
comfort of your living room. Unfortunately, like so many of the games
that have come before it, Kinect Star Wars fails to fulfill the
expectations of that particular wish. It’s not a terrible game, but it’s
clear that motion control technology just hasn’t caught up with what we
imagine should be possible when it comes to video games with motion
controls and Star Wars.

1 to 1 controls for lightsabers and swords has been elusive at best when it comes to motion controlled video games. As I said, Skyward Sword has come to the closest to making that a reality in a hardcore game, but we’ve yet to see it done well for Star Wars. Kinect Star Wars
doesn’t fix that. Yes, you have 1 to 1 control when it comes to
swinging your lightsaber, but only to a certain extent. The controls
make wielding a lightsaber feel more like Vader vs. Obi-Wan in A New Hope rather than Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon in Phantom Menace;
that is to say it’s rather slow. You have to make slow, deliberate
moves to attack with your lightsaber. Oh, you can flail around all you
want, but it won’t exactly register everything you do, and it’s
certainly not the best way to succeed. But that slower, deliberate pace
for attacks and defense doesn’t exactly make you feel like a Jedi Master
either.

As for tossing foes around with the Force, well you can do that, if
you can correctly get the game to target what you want and then register
the proper movement. Again, the lack of precision and the slower more
deliberate pace makes this a challenge, especially in hectic battles.
While the idea of flinging objects at enemies sounds fun, truth is for
the most part it’s just impractical and I gave up trying after the first
level. Then there’s the fact that some enemies seem to be Force
resistant, which just adds to the impracticality of ever bothering
trying to toss objects or use the Force against your foes. So, slow
lightsaber action and impractical Force powers pretty much leaves you
with a game that’s more Force neutered than Force Unleashed.
Despite all of this, I must admit that in short spurts I still enjoyed
myself. The on-rails sequences where you man a turret or a vehicle are
simple and fun (though a bit tiring for the arms). There is an option
for a second player to drop-in at any time, but depending on your living
room space and lighting, this can only exasperate the problems of
precise Kinect response, but when it does work, I have to admit that
it’s impressive how the system can read the flailing movements of two
different players at the same time. As always, Kinect has plenty of
potential, but it isn’t fully realized here either due to hardware
limitations or limitations of the software.

If campaigning as a slower type of Jedi Knight who has sporadically effective Force powers isn’t really your thing, Kinect Star Wars
does have other options. You can go pod-racing if you like, and it’s
actually pretty fun. It reminded me a lot of the classic Nintendo 64 Star Wars Pod-Racer
game. Again, it’ll likely tire out your arms, but the controls are
pretty responsive and fairly precise, almost to the point of being too
sensitive. Small, subtle movements serve you much better here than
bigger, more exaggerated ones. The races are fast and tough. The other
drivers are relentless and it doesn’t take much to go from first to
last; just a turn twitched a bit too far, a missed sideswipe of a fellow
driver, or getting smashed yourself by another driver.  All in all,
it’s pretty fun. So is the Rancor Rampage mini-game. I admit I felt a
bit silly stomping around my living room like a Rancor as I destroyed
Mos Eisley, but it was fun. Simplistic, basic, but fun in short spurts.
There’s also a dancing game (yup, you heard that right) that plays like a
Star Wars version of Dance Central (you heard that right too).
It’s silly beyond belief, and the sight of Han Solo boogieing down in
the carbon freezing chamber of Cloud City might be too much for some
fans to handle. Finally there’s the Duel of Fates mode where you can
battle a friend, but all those issues of lightsaber wielding and Force
powers from the campaign show up here, so it’s not really worth your
time.

I know fans were hoping that this game would be the Kinect version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
Well, it isn’t. In fact, it more often feels like Star Wars for
Elementary School. There’s a very light, tongue-in-cheek, silly feel to
much of what takes place in this game, and it’s one that obviously
wasn’t targeted at the hardcore crowd, which is odd, as the hardcore
Star Wars fans are the ones most likely to give this title a try. Is Kinect Star Wars
fun? Yes, in short spurts I did enjoy it. My kids (6 and 9) loved it
and weren’t bothered by the myriad of issues that hindered my overall
enjoyment. If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about where the
true appeal of the title lies, I don’t know what will.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 4 – The game has a stylized, cartoony look that goes along
well with it’s overall “kid appeal”. At times it looks pretty good,
other times not at all. Textures and details can be flat and fuzzy,
character animations are often stiff, and it’s just lacking that overall
“sheen” that more polished games have.

Sound: 5 – The music and sound effects are all vintage Star Wars,
which gives the game quite a bit of charm. Voice acting is decent, but
not remarkable.

Controls: 4 – Once can clearly see some potential for Kinect here,
but it falls well short of it. Movements need to be slow and deliberate,
targeting is pretty hit or miss, Force powers are fairly useless.
Pod-racing controls feel great – precise and responsive – as do the
controls for controlling a Rancor and dancing. Oddly, it’s just the
lightsaber battles and Force wielding that really struggles, and those
are the ones that will draw people to this game.

Gameplay: 4 – The campaign is fun in short spurts, but mostly feels
derivative of more enjoyable set-pieces from the films. The other
mini-games are all enjoyable, also in short spurts, and the variety is
nice to have.

Story: 4 – It’s a decent Star Wars tale, but one that’s ultimately inconsequential and entirely forgettable.

Content: 6 – Is family-friendly Star Wars at it’s most
family-friendly. The only concern may be some of the dance moves and
Princess Leia dancing in her slave bikini outfit.

Final: 4 – Kinect Star Wars is not the game fans are
looking for. There’s definitely some potential here, but it’s never
fully realized. It’s best enjoyed in short spurts, with friends as a
silly little party game, or if you’re under the age of 11.