Review: Kinect Star Wars

Now that the Kinect has more than a year under its belt, we’re finally starting to see a true second wave of games for the device that attempt to push the envelope even further. Recent releases such as Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure and Kinect Disneyland Adventures offer up a variety of very polished experiences that really show how far developers can go with the same technology given the time.

Kinect Star Wars was a huge project, involving ten studios and over two-hundred staff working for nearly three years to bring us the final boxed product. A project involving such a wide range of studios can sometimes run into issues, primarily because there can often be a lack of a single clear vision for the project, on the other hand, it does give a lot of freedom to develop each area of the game independently to create a more complete experience. Offering up five distinct game modes offering a wide variety of gameplay, is Kinect Star Wars more than the sum of its parts, or it is simply a disturbance in the force?

Right from the outset there’s a clear love for the source material. C3PO and R2D2 guide you around the Jedi archives as you explore the various game modes ranging from Podracing and Lightsaber Duels, to taking down the Trandoshans in the Jedi Destiny Mode or smashing up Mos Espa as a Rancor…..and then there’s the Dancing.

Each of the five game modes offer up distinct gameplay options and for the most part feel like separate gameplay experiences in their own right. For this reason the review will be split into sections for each of the modes to give a better view of each individual experience.

Jedi Destiny

Dark Side Rising is the core gameplay experience in Kinect Star Wars and offers the longest gameplay experience in the game. Playing as one of a new generation of Padawan leaners, you’ll begin your adventure on Kashyyyk before shooting off across the galaxy to deal with the Trandoshan threat through a number of gameplay styles. Ranging from lightsaber battles to on rails vehicle segments both on the ground and in space, there’s certainly a lot to see, even if it is very scripted and linear.

What Star Wars fans will immediately pick up on is that the story takes place in the style and influence of the Clone Wars animated series. While the game is clearly aimed at the younger audience who will be more familiar with the more cartoony look and feel, the older fans will definitely feel left out. Imagine playing out key scenes from the original trilogy? How about blasting through the Trench Run on the Death Star or taking down the Walkers on Hoth? It seems a missed opportunity, but I understand their decision to focus on the new trilogy.

It’ll become apparent immediately that you don’t have full freedom of movement. Relying on the auto-targeting and gestures to move and close the gap between enemies works well, but it can often feel a little limiting. Using one hand for the lightsaber to swing up, down, left and right, you’ll use the other for the force attacks both defensive and offensive. Dodging and jumping offer up some flexibility in the combat, though it doesn’t feel as free flowing as I’d like. Flailing will get you no-where, and you’ll need to grasp the core concepts of the combat system quickly if you want to stand a chance on the higher difficulties.

When you start to grasp the combat system, there’s quite a bit of variety, even if the tutorial doesn’t prepare you particularly well. It’s becoming increasingly common for the first party Kinect titles to not provide a manual, meaning that you’ll need to rely on the in game tips system. The problem with these being random is that you might miss out on a core concept of the combat until quite late in the game, and this definitely occurred to me. The force powers allow you to both throw objects as well as enemies, though on the tougher enemies they can be used to initiate their power move, often leaving them open to attack from behind. Targeting your Force powers is functional, though an onscreen cursor would have helped here a lot, since the environments can often be full of objects and picking the right one can be tricky.

There’s certainly a lot of cut-scenes and breaks in the gameplay as it moves you from one area to another, and it’s here that Kinect Star Wars displays its lack of polish. The animation transitions are stiff, the sound levels inconsistent, and the switches between in-game and CGI are jarring, not to mention the inconsistent frame-rate.

The on-foot sections are decent enough, but where the Jedi Destiny mode is most enjoyable is through the vehicle segments. Because there’s not such a range of movement, the gestures are much easier to grasp and the action moves at a much higher pace. The space levels in particular are both graphically impressive and fun to play, even if they are just flashy looking on-rails shooting galleries. The lack of tactile feedback can often hurt the lightsaber duels, but it’s hard to hold that against the title.

The biggest fault in the Jedi Destiny mode is the distinct lack of any progression. It’s all well and good being able to replay levels, but there’s simply no reason to do so. Unlike the other modes on offer, there’s no depth or upgrades to speak of, and this really hurts the replay value. The combat system remains the same throughout, and I can’t help but feel that it could have benefited from expanded moves, abilities and unlocks to really give you a reason to work on your Lightsaber skills. It’s easy to fall back on the same repetitive moves, and since there’s no power attacks which require charging or reasons to form combos, there’s a clear lack of a need to come back once you’re done.

Overall, the experience will last you a good five or so hours, and is benefitted from having a friend along too. The scripted vehicle sequences are great fun, but the linear on foot sections lack both depth and the chance to explore. The reliance on particular moves often gets old fast, and some of the longer lightsaber sequences can get a little repetitive. The adventure is worth the playtime, as there’s a lot to see and do with the variety of scenarios, but you’re unlikely to return.

Podracing

Now that you’ve saved the Galaxy, how about a bit of racing?

Probably one of the most solid experiences in the game, Podracing feels fluid and fast paced. The Destiny mode here will take you on a tournament through seven tracks from all over the Galaxy including Felucia, Corassant, Cloud City, finally ending up on Boonta Eve. Giving you a choice of craft and assist levels, the rather floaty controls are as you’d expect. Using each arm to independently provide power to each engine, you’ll pull back to turn, move up to jump as well as bash left and right by swinging in the direction of your opponents.

The sense of speed is great, and the tracks are full of small details and scripted events to keep the action frenetic. Familiar faces including Watto and Sebulba make an appearance, providing a little backstory to the racing action. It’s hardly memorable, but it does add consistency and the cut-scenes look great.

Thankfully, there’s a little more depth here than the Jedi Destiny mode as you’ll be offered upgrades as you progress, as well as being able to choose from a number of defensive and offensive abilities. Ranging from ‘Droid Swarms’ to ‘Shield Generators’, you can improve their performance by using them often, and they can really give you an advantage over your opponents when combined with the boost ability. You’ll really need to use these though, as the AI is pretty aggressive even on medium and you’d better be hitting most of the shortcuts if you want to end up in first place. The lack of pod customisation feels a little limiting, but the choice of vehicles in the Quick Race mode does give you something to experiment with. It’s hard to shake the comparisons to the original Star Wars Episode 1: Pod Racer, though this certainly isn’t a bad thing since that was a fantastic game. A friend can also join you in this mode for competitive racing which works pretty flawlessly given the simple controls.

Podracing is one by far my favourite aspect of Kinect Star Wars. It’s great to look at, fast, fluid and there’s enough to keep you going for a few times round the tournament mode. There’s only seven tracks, but the multiplayer mode adds a lot of replay value.

Rancor Rampge

It’s time to cause some havoc across a number of planets as a Rancor out on the rampage! The fully destructible environments crumble with satisfying physics effects seemingly taken right out the last Red Faction. The upgrade system allows you to unlock higher ‘Alert Levels’ and Score Bonuses, though it’ll take a while before you’ll be able to pick the Rancor with wings!

The large scale destruction certainly gives you a lot of choice as the full-body-control lets you smash where and what you want with a number of gestures for the power moves such as charging and smashing to turn the buildings into rubble. The ability to munch on civilians keeps your health topped up, and the constant challenges that it throws at you makes the action non-stop. You’ll need to destroy certain enemies, throw things, eat, smash and charge to rack up the high scores, and the post-game bonuses all feed into the progression system. It’s not all force fed to you however, as the more open Fury mode lets you smash at will for as long as you can stay alive. The gesture recognition works well, though a certain few moves such as the charge didn’t always pick up.

The Rage power lets you walk through buildings as if they were butter and can also help you get out a sticky situation. It’s really all about going mental, and having a good bit of destructible fun, either solo or with a friend. The four levels might not last you long, but the levelling system means there’s always something to work towards.

Duels Of Fate

Definitely the weakest game mode on offer, Duels Of Fate simply rips the duelling mechanic from the Jedi Destiny mode and gives you a rather small number of opponents to work through, though the finale against Darth Vader is a nice touch. The rather tough time limits will take some practicing to hit, but since the core mechanic is identical, you’ll have a head start on how to dispatch the various foes.

The core gameplay of a duel is one on one combat with a boss character. You have the ability to block up, down, left, and right against your opponents to fill your action bar. Once full you’ll enter a clash and once you’ve overpowered your enemy you can unleash your lightsaber on them as they sit and take it. Rinse and repeat three times, and that’s that.

This mode taught me a lot about the duels combat system, including the ability to jump and dodge your opponents attacks which I didn’t feel it had described well in the Jedi Destiny mode. Enemy attacks are easy to anticipate, and it all comes down to getting a grasp on the ‘Win The Clash’ sequence which I never quite got the hang of.

Duels Of Fate is a pretty straightforward mode which definitely lacks depth and substance to keep you interested for long.

Galactic Dance Off

By far one of the most ‘controversial’ game modes in Kinect Star Wars, Galactic Dance Off offers up an experience a little too similar to Dance Central, but is surprisingly fully featured and a lot of fun.

Taking popular songs and giving them a Star Wars spin, you’ll be joining famous faces such as Princess Leia and Han Solo as you groovy your way through fifteen well produced songs as you rack up the stars either by yourself or with a friend. The core gameplay simply has you following the cue cards, giving you feedback on which body part is not quite feeling the groove.

It’s definitely a hard pill to swallow for Star Wars fans, but at least they went the whole way and really put the effort in to make it surprisingly comprehensive, if pretty barmy. To quote some of the song titles, the parodies include ‘Hologram Girl’, ‘Princess In A Battle’ , ‘We Speak No Huttsee’, ‘I’m Han Solo’ and ‘Blasterproof’. The lyrics of course have been completely changed to better suit the Star Wars theme, and you’ll be hard pressed not to smile as you dance to these recognisable songs.

It’s not just the songs that have been the Star Wars treatment, as the moves you’ll be following are also very well themed. Who knows, you may even find yourself breaking out the ‘Mind Trick’, ‘Chewie Hug’ or ‘Double Blasters’ in your nearest club.

Definitely a first for the series, Galactic Dance Off is one to break out for those new to the Kinect experience as the moves are easy to follow and there’s a wide variety of songs to work through. As mentioned, it’s hardly original, but at least they put the effort in.

Overall

Kinect Star Wars is a hugely varied experience which definitely feels like it was produced under a wide variety of studios. The difference in depth provided between the modes is pretty drastic, though overall there’s lots to keep you busy. While it may not quite have been worth the wait for classic Star Wars fans, it’s sure to appeal to the younger audience and since all the modes offer multiplayer options, you can easily hop in and help out at any point.

The various modes will take you in and around the Galaxy through many recognisable locations, and the huge variety of content is pretty impressive for one title. Not all are given the same care and attention however, with the Podracing feeling very polished compared to the main Jedi Destiny mode. It’s easy to say that the lack of tactile feedback hurts the lightsaber gameplay, but since Microsoft is against Kinect peripherals, it’s hard to hold against it, even though it never feels like it reaches its true potential.

A solid game which may be lacking in certain areas, though overall a good experience.

7/10


Author

James Steel
James Steel

James likes games! So much so, his collection spans 19 formats and near 2500 games. Keen to progress in both video games journalism and video production, he often finds himself tracking down games of all formats in the local charity shops.


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