Kinect Star Wars
Ignore my abysmal rating for one second. I had a good time playing Kinect Star Wars. More accurately, I laughed all the way through it, and most of the people who jumped in to play cooperatively with me left with smiles on their faces.
Some of the comedy is intentional, mostly delivered through minigame diversions separate from the core campaign. Dancing alongside Han Solo to a familiar pop song rewritten with groan-inducing Star Wars-themed lyrics is a strange idea, even for a company that decided Greedo shot first. Watching Han perform moves like the “trash compactor” and “falcon in flight” hurt my inner nerd, but more so made me laugh and shake my head in disbelief. Galactic Dance Off mode is designed to be fun and weird, and it succeeds in being both.
The dance mechanics are similar in design to Harmonix’s Dance Central, but lack accurate motion recognition. I received a three-star ranking doing nothing but crotch chops – some were applauded by the game as “Great.” This mode offers a handful of unlockable parody songs that have no business being a part of Star Wars. Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in the Bottle” is transformed into “Princess in a Battle,” and the Village People’s “YMCA” (which I thought would be “YODA”) is “Empire Today.”
Another minigame, the Rancor Rampage mode, gives you control of the giant creature that Luke Skywalker killed with a steel door in Return of the Jedi. I reveled in dealing massive amounts of environmental damage with its powerful attacks. This hyperactive rampage is mostly free of challenge, but it’s one of the game’s few highlights. The act of picking up a lowly human and inserting him into the rancor’s mouth is hands-down my favorite use of Kinect yet; you can even pick up a human in each hand and devour both of them at once. Humans not deemed worthy enough for lunch can be hurled hilariously far into the distance.
The remainder of the game takes itself much more seriously, and like most Star Wars video games, is a story-driven experience similar to those offered on the silver screen. In a mode called Jedi Destiny: Dark Force Rising, I assumed the role of one of eight silent Jedi padawans – all appearing to be far too old to start their Jedi training. After being wowed by the simple action of extending my right hand to use the Force to grab my lightsaber, the gameplay went downhill shortly after the blade was ignited. Kinect struggles to pick up arm movement most of the time. After a few dozen failed attempts to recognize my intended wrist flicks and raised arm strikes, I switched to short robotic swings and found a higher level of success. Since most foes ran blindly into my attack zone, this strategy worked out well. With most of my focus applied to simply making the game work, I derived little fun from it.
Actions like jumping or lunging run into similar detection problems. Given how much I tried to emphasize my intent, most battles were obscured by Kinect’s “move back” into the field of play warning. The game often lost track of me, resulting in five second delays to reestablish participation.
Excitement and tension also dissolve if you delay a split second when you’re expected to perform an action. At that point, a holographic version of Obi-Wan appears onscreen to show you exactly what to do. In a few instances, he even appears directly in the center of the screen over the action. I never once felt like a Jedi playing this game. Instead, I felt like I was thrown into an elaborate dance line, forced to watch the person standing next to me to figure out what move I should do next.
The worst part of it all is that the cinematics show Jedi doing miraculous things. They spin through the air, bounce off of the heads of foes, and become the unstoppable forces I was hoping to be. As soon as I took control, simple dodges and arm waving replaced those spectacular feats.
Though Kinect Star Wars lacks the spirit of Jedi combat, I still found it to be amusing. A few laughs even came from the story, which spends most of its time recreating moments from the Star Wars films rather than paving its own path. It’s a Frankenstein-like mash-up that includes a sarlacc pit battle (complete with skiffs), speeder bikes zooming through a dense forest, and a space battle that concludes with an “escape the exploding reactor” sequence. Even the Sith warriors, who initially look like new characters, are just re-skinned versions of Darth Maul. They wield double-bladed sabers, and perish before we learn anything interesting about them.
Space battles round out the Star Wars experience. These gameplay sequences move slower than molasses and are more about picking ships out of a busy background than testing your gunning skills. If you see a ship, you usually have a good five to seven seconds to down it.
Kinect Star Wars is a bad game. If you go into it knowing that you are getting full-on camp like The Star Wars Holiday Special rather than a legitimate Star Wars experience, it can be fun, but you do have to tolerate faulty Kinect recognition the whole time. Ever since Nintendo introduced the Wii, I’ve been hoping LucasArts would deliver a great motion-based lightsaber experience, but Kinect Star Wars left me wanting a controller again.