Everyone who has ever seen Star Wars has wanted to be a Jedi. Everyone, even if it’s only a subconscious desire. The strut of confidence, the air of mystique – the amazing lightsaber that goes ‘hssssssssssss, wwwwwwwmmmmmm, wwwwwmmmmmmm’. Everything about Jedi just screams cool, just begs for emulation. Even the evil Sith are awesome, perhaps more so being unconstrained by rules and able to zap lightning out of their fingers. Lightning out of their fingers – that’s so much cooler than being able to use the Force to lift stuff up. Over the years gamers have been provided with many opportunities to step into the Jedi role, from the acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic to the current Star Wars: The Old Republic, each one offering you a gateway to greatness as you control one of the true heroes of the galaxy. The thing is, as you parried and jinxed on your sofa or chair you were never really part of the action, never really engaging fully with the on screen antics as you watched those heroic duels on screen. And, when it all boils down, this is the real raison d'ętre of Kinect Star Wars – the opportunity for you to stand up and in some small way be the awesome combat machine you see on the screen before you.
Booting into the game you are quickly presented with the various modes on offer, and if the rumours are true then each of those modes was created by a different developer. Jumping right into the story mode ticks the right nostalgic boxes as the scrolling text for Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising sets a scene familiar to anyone who has consumed any form of Star Wars media in the last thirty-five years. Set during the prequel trilogy the action sees you take control of a Padawan under the tutelage of Jedi Master Mavra Zane. Series regulars are shoehorned in, presumably in an attempt to give the story some credence of canonicity, but their appearances are tempered by some sub-par voice acting. Overall the story itself is an example of your general Star Wars fluff, although you have to believe that the chaps over at Wookiepedia are going to start having trouble explaining away the official timelines if companies keep adding to them.
The Jedi Destiny mode is short; the full story should take a maximum of four hours. In many ways this is actually a good thing as many of the action sequences lose a feeling of fun early on. The segment is entirely on rails, split into various mini-chapters consisting mainly of ground combat, land-speeder chases and space battles. The first few times you get the chance to wave your lightsaber around are satisfying, slowly whooshing your fist through the air and watching the swing replicated on screen with only a little lag. Very quickly though the shine is lost; combat is a broken affair, an enforced pause thrown in after you clear every mini-arena. Instead of requiring any tactics at all the majority of fights can be beaten by simply wafting your hand from side to side, and at no time does the game demand that you actually try something like aim your swing. It’s a real shame and one that you can’t get over – for the majority of players the ability to wield the lightsaber would be the major selling point for Kinect Star Wars and the failure of the game to deliver here is unforgivable. You can use Force powers throughout the story, and at certain set pieces you can use them in an impressive way. In the main though using the Force reminds you more of the Kinect’s foibles; crates thrown in combat entirely the wrong way, or items you thought were miles away from your outstretched hand being picked up instead of the juicy target you were pointing at. It’s a frustrating affair, and the experience in Jedi Destiny mode will likely colour the opinion of the rest of the offered modes for many.
Still, parts of the story do shine through – the sequences where you are involved in space battles are some of the most interesting in the entire game, let alone Jedi Destiny. But, as even these are fully scripted and entirely on the rails their replayability is non-existent, with any player being able to quickly master the short sections on offer. In a game full of mini-modes it is confusing why this space combat hasn’t been dragged out, given a polish, some randomness and a score attack concept and sent on its way – it’s no X-Wing vs TIE Fighter but it’s an island of awesome fun in Kinect Star Wars
Annoyingly, the Duels of Fate mode (developed by the creators of Crackdown 2, Ruffian Games) does nothing to address this frustration. While offering a series of challenges, culminating in a battle against Darth Vader himself, at no time do any of the battles feel inspired in any way. Underneath the surface the Duels mode has a decent enough set of mechanisms, but they are either poorly explained back in the Jedi Destiny mode, or not at all. Essentially you have to block, evade or parry three times in a defensive mode, almost certainly deal with an annoying clash move and the move into attack mode, where you are once again reduced to wildly wafting your hand furiously. The fights are formulaic and stale, lacking the ebb and flow of any of the on screen battles you may have wished to emulate – not being able to slash someone once you have neatly sidestepped their attack quickly becomes infuriating. The controls are generally responsive, although we had real trouble in getting the majority of parry moves to register, and the lag seen whenever you need to clash with your opponent just makes you want to give up. As a generic sword fighting game it may have worked, but Duels is simply not the lightsaber experience you are looking for.
Our next mini-game stop is Rancor Rampage in which you take control of a giant rancor and rampage (see what I did there?) through locations famous from their previous appearances in Star Wars media. There is something a little cathartic about being able to trash Mos Eisley, munching away on the odd Trooper who flies too close. The ability to free roam through the arenas is appreciated, if a little clunky at times, but it just serves to hammer home the lack of freedom experienced in Jedi Destiny mode. Most of the special movements you can perform as a rancor are intuitive enough, but there was real trouble having the Kinect register a simple clap. Even with an attached suite of experience levels and unlockables the wanton rancor destruction doesn’t manage to keep your attention for long, the action quickly becoming too repetitive for anyone but a hardened grinder to approach the mode with any emotion.
From jumping and waving your arms around trying to catch incoming TIE Fighters to now sticking your arms in front of you and steering in thin air we move from Rancor Rampage to Pod Racing. Older fans may roll their eyes, the all too fresh memories of Episode 1 scarring them still, but the fact is that this racing mode is a definite step up from the options presented before. The mode offers a mini-campaign called ‘Destiny’ which essentially strings six races together, or a freeplay mode in which you can race any maps or pods you may have unlocked from Destiny. The racing controls feel tighter and the interaction between yourself and other pods (i.e., you can destroy them if you want) is a nice touch, but (probably as a result of the control system) the races never really feel challenging and small control additions such as having to move a hand in front of your face to clear water from your visor only serve to detract from the actual racing. As with much of Kinect Star Wars Pod Racing feels suited to dipping your toe in and playing only for short sessions rather than offering hooks to keep you in-game. The visuals here are pretty enough and the pod abilities give you plenty to check out each time you return, but you are simply beset with the feeling that a more traditional pod racing game could be great, especially with the accuracy offered by a traditional controller. It’s a better effort, but still below the bar of expectations.
This leaves us with just the final mode, the one which you have all been waiting for. Galactic Dance Off. And, in a move that will see me lose any credibility I may have held anywhere, I actually quite liked this mode. While a million nerds have raged tears of fire at the mere thought of their precious franchise being merged with a dance game it actually works; it works as a game, the Kinect manages to track your moves fairly well and the re-written Star Wars lyrics are more Weird Al than just weird. Playing it with fellow geeks in front of your wives works wonders for the level of humour in the room, their appreciation of some of the hip swivels knowing no bounds. Fine, it’s not a real alternative to Dance Central but it provides oodles of fun with each of the songs chosen providing an excellent base for the Star Wars additions. The thing is though, Kinect Star Wars wasn’t meant to be about making do with some dancing and a half serviceable racer, it was meant to be about being totally awesome in your living room and the ghost of this expectation never really leaves you.
Imaginations have been running wild since the launch of the Kinect and the announcement of Kinect Star Wars, but the alarm bells have been going off since the news came out that the game would come with a collection of modes instead of one big meaty story. In a recent interview with MCV Microsoft’s Creative Director for Kinect Kudo Tsunoda talked about trying to please every Star Wars fan, no matter where they came into the franchise, and tellingly he also spoke about Kinect Star Wars being an ‘evergreen’ product, one that will continue to sell and sell. Instead of putting time and energy into creating the game that could have finally put the Kinect on the map for the core gamer base the myriad of dev teams have instead created a Frankenstein’s Game, a collection of whatever they thought would be cool with a little bit of everything so as to appeal to everyone. Clearly aimed at the younger market the game rolls out a disappointment to many older gamers, a title to throw on to show non-gamers why you have a camera in front of your TV.
If only they had used the Force