Kinect Star Wars
: Terminal Reality
: Lucas Arts
: XBOX 360, Kinect
: Action-adventure, Motion
: April 3, 2012
Kinect Star Wars has been met with mixed reception. Some praise its fun appeal and some chastise its supposed desecration of the films through the gameís well known ďGalactic Dance OffĒ mode. But this is an honest review, and I assure you, a valid one in that Iím both a fan of the Star Wars saga, but also a dedicated gamer. I think other reviews allow the dance portion of the game to really weigh it down, or that the Kinect hardware isnít accurate enough to pick up their motions, and youíll see what my experience was like. Video games are about having fun and we canít seriously hold up Kinect Star Wars to a measuring stick with the films. In actuality, this game worked quite well for me and itís been an entertaining experience and the first game Iíve enjoyed for Kinect since Dance Central 2. I understand your trepidation of the dancing segment, I was there too, but thatís only if you choose to play it, which you can. Besides that I can assure you that Kinect Star Wars is pretty fun. Itís not a perfect game, but itís more fun than what youíve been hearing about it. Iíll be explaining it to you in detail. First we need to go back. Back where you ask?
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far awayÖ.
Kinect Star Wars begins by opening up with everyoneís favorite droid duo, C-3PO and R2-D2, welcoming you to the game. According to their conversation we come to understand that Luke Skywalker has sent them to the ruins of the Jedi temple on Coruscant, as is evident given that C-3PO and R2 preside in the former chamber of the Jedi Council when they welcome you. Although we donít see it happen, Luke entrusts them to recover information that would prove helpful to the future of the new Jedi Order.
Itís at this point that you, the player, choose which of the gameís various modes you wish to play by selecting the appropriate Jedi holocron. Weíll cover that in the gameplay section later. For the purpose of storytelling, one of the gameís modes, ďJedi Destiny: Dark Side RisingĒ serves as the gameís story.
This story covers the missions of Jedi Master Mavra Zane and a pair of her best padawan learners (thatís you and a friend if they choose to play). The story takes place parallel to the prequel trilogy, though it was difficult to tell at what point in the series I was in. I was able to tell when certain elements came together, such as fighting General Grievousí magna guards. I was most aware that I was in Revenge of the Sith when my character participated in the Battle of Coruscant, flying a Jedi star fighter high above the surface of the planet. It may just take place starting at The Phantom Menace but I could also detect at least the latter half of the Clone Wars. The sense of timing threw me off a bit, but I was still intrigued by the story due to some characters like Master Zane.
Kinect Star Wars opts for a cartoon approach, not that far from the Clone Wars cartoon, the CGI one that is. The characters look good, but I canít say the same for some graphical textures. For example, the distant vegetation in the background of Kashyyykís massive forest appeared blurry and hazy. It wasnít a deal breaker for me, but you tend to notice things that donít look quite right.
Again, characters looked all right. I was very pleased to see that the gameís developers used a variety of the alien species seen in the films, and not just focus on humans and Wookies solely. No, we get to see Felucians, Jawas, Dugs, Gungans, and even Trandoshans. Each character looks accurate to the film versions. The gameís color palette is also in the style of the films.
Kinect Star Wars has a few good voice actors bringing the characters to life. Youíll recognize the actor who portrays Master Yoda, as he has been providing the voice for many years now. The first voice I heard was that of C-3PO, and while itís not Anthony Daniels who brings the character to life, the new C-3PO voice has an uncanny resemblance to the voice we all know and love from the movies. I was caught off guard to hear the voice of Jennifer Hale who plays Jedi Master Mavra Zane, but you may also know her for providing her voice for the Female Commander Shephard in the Mass Effect series. Hale isnít a stranger to the Star Wars video games, so to hear her voice again in this game was a pleasant surprise indeed. My only complaint with the voices, or lack of actually, concerns the padawans you play as. There are a variety of padawans to choose from, but no matter whom you choose they never say a word throughout the whole campaign. When I think theyíre about to respond to a command from their master, or a suggestion from another character, they just nod their head in silence instead.
Other than that, the sound effects are what you expect them to be. Theyíre spot on. Everything from the clash of lightsabers, blasters, and star fighters, it sounds just like a Star Wars movie, only youíre in it, which makes it feel all the more exciting.
We canít neglect the masterful music of the great John Williams. Many of his best musical pieces that span the entire Star Wars saga are featured in the game if you listen closely. ďBattle of the HeroesĒ, ďAcross the StarsĒ, ďYoda and the YounglingsĒ, and ďInto the TrapĒ are just a handful of the great pieces I picked up on. Oh yeah, I own the soundtracks, so I know youíll be pleased with the outstanding music if thatís something you want in your Star Wars experience.
Now the lyrics and music in Galactic Dance Off might have any diehard fan cringe but, again, just skip it if you want. You donít have to play it or listen to it. However, for what it is, the music suits the dancing style appearing in the game and itís good that itís at least Star Wars centric in terms of its lyrics. You just have to remember that this game is targeted towards kids.
Thereís a variety of play styles in the game, but the best way to describe them would be one at a time. I will say this though: my experience with Kinect Star Wars gameplay was a positive one. This is why: the calibrations for my Kinect were spot on, and it was very responsive to my movements and I was surprised with what I was able to do with my optimum Kinect settings. I probably was killed a handful of times in my play through, no fault of Kinect but rather my tiredness due to having a good time with it, having to catch my breath just for a bit. I honestly think people put the game down because itís hard to control or that Kinect is just unresponsive to oneís movement and gestures. That wasnít the case for me. Kinect is in its sophomore year. I donít expect amazing things to happen with it. Motion gaming is quite new and we canít be so quick to judge it. Kinect Star Wars is another step in motion gaming. Itís not a big leap forward, but itís a step. In fact, the gameplay scheme is very easy to learn and equally easy to set up. If youíre having difficulty getting Kinect to register your movement, then take the time to recalibrate your settings including the area youíre playing in. It doesnít take long and your experience is much better because of it. Also, Kinect can register voice commands when navigating the gameís menus. This feature is very responsive and didnít take long to register. The only problem I had with it was when C-3PO would speak and I had to talk over the characterís voice to activate the feature.
Kinect is able to register multiple movements and it does so very quickly. At first I thought all there was to lightsaber fighting was hacking and slashing with your right arm. Oh no, Kinect can do much more than that. Dashing to the left or right, or rather just a quick lean in either direction (you wonít have to move your feet far, if at all) will allow your character to dash to your enemyís side for an opening to attack. Some enemies will block your attacks, but you can kick your leg out and your character will mimic the move onscreen. Thereís more to offense than just your lightsaber and I think that others may not know that. Thatís not all, a quick, but small, jump in place will allow your character to jump over an enemy and deliver a blow to the head with a lightsaber and then finish them off with a surprise attack from behind. You control it all. You can motion your hand in a sideways figure eight to deflect blaster bolts too.
Letís talk about the Force. Man, I was impressed with Kinect here. I loved that I could catch an enemy thermal grenade in midair and ďuse the ForceĒ to push it back in their direction. Most notably, Kinect is able to detect your left hand as you duel with a lightsaber using your right hand. I was surprised to see that I could Force pull objects towards an enemyís back as I fended them off with my lightsaber, damaging them multiple times using the same tactic. That was really cool. I wasnít expecting that I could do that, but I did. It came in handy with some of the more powerful bosses. A one-on-one lightsaber duel seems like a game of rock, paper, scissors, meaning that you go from blocking attacks, to a lightsaber clash that you must break, and then to attacking freely. This doesnít need to be a strenuous pattern. You have the Force at your disposal after all. If you just canít break your enemyís defenses you can get creative by Force pulling objects into them, Force pushing them away from you, shoving them by thrusting your shoulders forward, or kicking them to break their defense.
Speaking of Force pull and/or push, Kinect can understand whether you want to throw up, down, left, or right. I could even hold an object in the air for a good amount of time and then push it. Kinectís response time was very good, and it encouraged me to use the tactic repeatedly in my play through. A direct Force push is not as effective against a group of enemies but it is against a single enemy and itís fun to do regardless. This is done by holding your left hand inwards and then thrusting it outwards. Just as it looks in the movies is how you can make it happen in the game. You can tell that Kinect understands your desire to use the Force when an object or enemy glows blue. As soon as you see that visual cue surround an object you can do what youíd like with it: push, pull, or throw sideways. Itís really fun throwing battle droids at each other as if theyíre bowling pins. I really have to praise my Kinect for being able to register these movements pretty accurately as well as being able to see it happen onscreen no more than a second after I made the appropriate move with my body. This was my experience, and it certainly was enjoyable.
Thrusting your shoulders forward triggers a Force dash, allowing you to close in on a group of enemies quickly. Kinect will automatically adjust your stance towards another group of enemies after taking one group out. Thereís never a need to lean or turn your body to adjust your direction, so itís perfect that Kinect does it for you. However, this feature does not occur in Rancor Rampage and you will, in fact, have to turn slightly to reposition the Rancor in the direction you want to move.
Well thatís pretty much the bulk of the core gameplay that appears in the campaign. Now weíre going to highlight each mode available in the game, any of which can be selected from the main menu. The way Kinect operates may differ from one mode to the next, but Iíll explain along the way.
First up is my favorite mode in the game, Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising. Again this is the main story of the game. The details I covered in depth prior to this point are all in this mode, so I donít need to specify how combat works. However, there are a few more features that require simpler movements that are still as fun. In this mode you can also pilot a speeder bike. You hold out your hands as if you would ride a bicycle. Thrusting them forward activates a burst of speed. It takes some getting used to to loop through trees and dodge rocks, but I was able to get it down easily. My advice is when you need to move to the right or left, donít overdo your movement as if youíre panicking to dodge something fast. Instead just lean easily to one side and back again. Itís quite smooth after some practice. Youíll also get to pilot a Jedi star fighter that responds similar to a speed bike. Both vehicles will automatically fire at any enemy that gets in your way. If you thrust your hands forward while piloting a Jedi star fighter, you can fire a homing missile. You can also take charge of a shipís turret; much like Han and Luke did when they escaped the Death Star and took out the chasing Tie fighters. There were a few quick time events that were sprinkled in to keep me on my toes. I wasnít expecting it, but it felt great when I pulled them off. These moments included jumping onto an enemy tank, cutting off its turrets with my lightsaber, then jumping off just as it was about to explode. Another cool moment was when I was on Kashyyyk. Towering spider droids crawled across a massive lake and Chewbacca, driving this hover craft, opens a case of sticky grenades for me to use. I use the Force to pick one up and throw it at one of the spider droidís legs, it latches itself on. We zoom past it as it explodes behind us in a shower of sparks. Itís moments like these that left me satisfied. The action didnít stop and I enjoyed every minute. This campaign was a decent length.
The next mode is Rancor Rampage. Youíve probably seen previews. You just destroy everything in your path, buildings, droids, people, and Storm Troopers alike. The point is to rack up points in the time allotted. Tasks are given to you randomly, such as who or what to target. The faster you destroy a target the more tasks youíre given which makes your score go higher if you keep it up. There are a few planets that you, as a Rancor, can wreak havoc on. However, it holds your attention for so long. Itís better as a stress reliever.
Another good mode is Podracing. I found that it was slightly easier to control a podracer over a speeder bike, but the basic fundamentals still apply. You compete with other racers to come into first place. You control the left and right engines of the pod with each hand and turn, break, or speed up as you see fit. You know how Anakin boosted and used the brakes in the movie? Thatís how you control it in the game. Raising one of your hands in the air allows you to use a power up.
Duels of Fate is purely centered on one-on-one lightsaber combat. There are six characters you can face and each gets progressively difficult after the other. Youíll be going up against the likes of Count Dooku, a pair of Sith Lords, and the final fight with Darth Vader himself. Youíll actually have to rank up to unlock these battles, but it doesnít take long when you know what youíre doing.
Finally there is Galactic Dance Off. Remember before Princess Leia was enslaved by Jabba, that he had a Twiílek dancer who entertained him? In this mode youíll be dancing along with Leia to modern music in the spirit of Star Wars with a dancing vibe. Youíll visit Tatooine, Bespin, Coruscant, and finally the Death Star. It plays similar to Dance Central in that youíll have to follow cue cards for the appropriate dance moves and if youíre movements are off, the onscreen avatars will inform you by turning red.
Thereís not too much to keep you coming back for more after a total play through of the game. However, there are some modes, such as Jedi Destiny, that allow two players to play simultaneously. So this is good if you donít want to go it alone. There are a few unlockables such as new enemies to have a lightsaber battle with, or new places to terrorize people as a Rancor, but they can be done in one play through so itís not like you have to work for them. Finally, there are plenty of achievements that can be unlocked and a few of them youíll have to work for. Itís a good excuse to return if youíre an achievement hunter.
Kinect Star Wars most appealing feature is its Jedi Destiny campaign. This is the gameplay I enjoyed the most. I never felt bored and I knew I could expect nonstop action as I progressed. The fundamentals of gameplay are easy to learn and Kinect responded to my movements accurately and in a very good timely fashion. This was the result of Kinectís settings being optimized prior to playing. Gameplay didnít get stale because I knew there was much more to combat than only using your lightsaber to hack through enemies. There were so many moments from the movies that I got to experience in the game, such as fighting a Sith Lord with a double bladed lightsaber, using the Force to manipulate people or things in the environment and subduing them with this ability, even piloting a star ship into the bowels of a ship to destroy its power core and escape before it explodes a la Lando Calrissian and the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. My only wish is that this mode lasted longer, because the other modes couldnít entertain me as well as the campaign did. Kinect is far from perfect. Motion gaming is far from perfect. Kinect Star Wars is not perfect, but man were there plenty of times when I felt my younger self pleased with feeling something remotely close to a Jedi Knight. This may not have been a great advance forward in the motion gaming genre, but itís certainly a decent step in that direction. If you canít stomach a certain part of the game, remember that you can choose whatever mode you want to play. I recommend that you first rent this game. Understand when I say that Kinect is capable of delivering a good experience with this game, you just need to iron out the settings which can be done quickly. This may have been a lengthy review, but I assure you that my experience went well and every word I wrote, every detail, was how it played for me. Kinect Star Wars isnít amazing, but itís not bantha poodoo either.