Rancors Rule, But Lightsabers Whiff In Kinect Star Wars

Kinect Star Wars has been in the works ever since the Kinect itself was originally announced, and it truly is a perfect showcase of all the Kinect can do. What it does well, it does really well — and some of the game is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is also a showcase of all the Kinect can’t do, which makes for some serious frustration. And the main story in the game falls disappointingly, almost embarrassingly, short of the quality the franchise demands.

First, The Bad

The game’s main story is called “Jedi Destiny: Dark Force Rising,” in which you play a padawan joining the Jedi order in the time between Episode I and Episode II. You learn how to fight with your lightsaber and how to use the Force, and then are promptly dropped into the middle of an invasion of the Wookiees’ home planet of Kashyyyk.

You start by taking down battle droids and dueling with Trandoshan fighters, and progress from there into a speeder chase and eventually to a space battle followed by more droids and melee duels. The story is completely on rails: You don’t even get to pilot the ship in the space battle, or even fire the gun — you only get to aim it.

Stories on rails aren’t necessarily bad — witness the excellent Uncharted series, for example — but this one is, lacking anything to draw you in. And, most confusing of all: Your character (whichever one you choose) never says a single word, even in cut scenes. Not one single word. Chewbacca gets lines, but you don’t.

Jedi Destiny: Dark Force Rising.

That might even be acceptable, if the action in the main story was fun. But sections with repetitive action are too often followed by sections that require too-precise timing. And all that is compounded by the limitations of the Kinect itself.

In lightsaber fights, you’re meant to swing your primary arm as though it held your weapon, use the on-screen lightsaber to block your enemies’ attacks and attack them back. But the Kinect missed so many moves I made that it quickly became frustrating, and using my other hand to manipulate enemies and objects using the Force was no better.

The only gestures that worked well were ducking left and right and jumping over my opponents — which is accomplished by merely making a tiny hop in real life — but those just weren’t enough. The experience of being a Jedi is the chief thing Kinect Star Wars promised, and it just doesn’t deliver on it — this seems to be in no small part due to the limitations of the technology, but that doesn’t make it any more fun.

The Kinect’s limitations also bring down the “Duels of Fate” mini-game, which was provided as a means of allowing you to fight enemies like Count Dooku and Darth Vader. This would have been impossible to integrate into a storyline set as early as the Jedi game’s story is. Here, the poor tracking of the player’s movements is compounded by the game being played in turns. Have you ever seen a lightsaber duel in which the parties take turns on offense and defense? Of course you haven’t, so why does this game work that way? The design only serves to make it frustrating and repetitive, and thus best avoided altogether.

Podracing

The podracing part of the game is available either as a quickplay mini-game or as a story. The story brings back Watto and Sebulba from Episode I, which isn’t a bad thing but isn’t exactly something the fans have been crying out for. The podraces themselves are fun at first, but quickly become repetitive, and are altogether far too easy. I dialed down the degree to which the game would help me steer, and found myself taking turns too widely or not widely enough, falling out of bounds, and such — and still finishing the race in the top three!.

There’s no encouragement to learn how to pilot the pod any better when your mistakes have essentially no consequences at all. I did notice that my kids had more fun playing this part of the game than I did, so that’s something in its favor.

Dancing against C-3PO

Now, The Good

Kinect Star Wars is certainly not all bad. Two of the mini-games are enough fun that they justify the game’s $50 price tag. The first is the weirdest inclusion in the game, the “Galactic Dance-Off.” In this mini-game you travel to Jabba’s Palace, Cloud City, and other prime spots to — yes — dance against certain characters.

This mini-game is easily the equal, in terms of mechanics, of any other Kinect-based dance game I’ve seen. It has the added benefit of allowing you to dance against Princess Leia in her most famous costume, not to mention Lando Calrissian, Han Solo (try not to laugh at the idea of Captain Solo being a great club dancer, I challenge you!) and C-3PO.

The music is for the most part parodies of real hit songs (you start out with a takeoff on Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” titled “Hologram Girl,” for example), and is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The dance moves are all derived from the Star Wars stories, and include “Trash Compactor,” “Jedi Mind Trick,” and “Chewie Hug,” among many others. The game is just a heck of a lot of fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

Rancor Rampage

Which brings us to my favorite part of the game: “Rancor Rampage.” If you’re old enough to remember the arcade game Rampage, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear while playing this, and even if you’re not I’m sure you’ll have a heck of a time. You can play as several different rancors, including the one that Jabba attempted to feed Luke to in Return of the Jedi.

The Kinect does very well in this game, letting your movements guide the rancor around, destroying buildings, munching on people and droids, resisting the battle droids brought in to stop you and just generally causing mayhem and destruction. The game presents you with a series of challenges that you’re meant to meet in order to gain points that will take you to the next level, unlocking new settings and types of rancor. But in general it’s just one heck of a lot fun, and a great stress release. It’s also pretty fun to listen to the things the citizens you’re killing and/or eating say as you, the Star Wars universe’s answer to Godzilla, knock down buildings all around them.

Finally, The Indifferent

Kinect games in general, and Kinect Star Wars specifically, have a factor that requires consideration that conventional games don’t: physical exertion. I’m admittedly not in the best of shape, but this game is one heck of a workout. After you’ve held your arms out in front of you for minutes at a time, I’ll bet you, too, will find yourself actually relieved when the loading screens come up — and they do, fairly often.

The game is built to allow easy drop-out and drop-in, and even has some fairly amusing little sequences from the (thin) wrapper story involving C-3PO and R2-D2 that play out on the screen while you take a rest. Unfortunately, the game often takes a few minutes of frantic waving to wake back up when you return to the playing area. This physical aspect isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. It certainly encourages sharing the game, though most of the games allow you to play side-by-side anyway. And many gamers, myself included, could use more exercise — but that doesn’t mean they’ll want to get it.

The Bottom Line

This is not a game you should run right out and buy, but you could do worse than picking up a copy when you get a chance. “Rancor Rampage” and “Galactic Dance-Off” are honestly worth the game’s price by themselves, and you may find the rest of the game more fun than I did. And the odds are good your kids will have a lot of fun with those games, too, and probably more fun than you’ll have with the podracing. I recommend trying out the Jedi games just to confirm that you have the same troubles with them I did, but I’ll be shocked if you don’t stop playing them after only a short time.

I can definitely see the dancing game being a great thing to have around for parties, and the rancor game makes a great after-work stress release. And that’s enough to make this worthwhile. But until Kinect technology gets significantly better, Kinect Star Wars will remain on the whole a disappointment: The promise of making you feel like a Jedi is, ultimately, broken.

Check back on GeekDad later this week for my interview with Craig Derrick, the game’s producer. I spoke with him before I received my review copy of the game, so I want to give him the chance to respond to my review before I print the interview.

Kinect Star Wars retails for $50, and is available only for the Xbox 360 with Kinect. The game is rated T (for teens and older), but the violence is mostly analogous to cartoons and there’s really no sexuality beyond Princess Leia’s scantily-clad dancing — essentially, if your kids are old enough to see the films, they’re old enough for this game.

Disclosure: GeekDad was provided with a review copy of the game.

Box art and screenshots courtesy of LucasArts, Microsoft Studios, and Terminal Reality.

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