Star Wars is everywhere. The Lucas empire extends far beyond the reach of any traditional franchise, with our friends C3PO and R2D2 being as ubiquitous as the kitchen sink. Some of the ancillary elements to the Star Wars world are great - Knights of the Old Republic, we're looking at you. Others, however, can be depressingly abysmal, ruining what is one of the greatest fantasy universes ever created.
Eyes turn to the likes of Super Bombad Racing and the Star Wars Holiday Special, both of which form their own unique blend of awfulness. Now in the build-up to Star Wars Kinect’s release, there has been a bit of controversy - particular among hardcore fans - that the game just isn’t going to deliver. Then videos of the Galactic Dance Off mode appeared on the internet. It made people very angry.
We have been playing Star Wars without our fanboy hats on. Our love of Yoda and his chums would make reviewing a game where Han Solo has a dance-off before being frozen in carbonite just too upsetting. This has meant that we have been able to deduce a few things - first, that on no account should anyone who likes Star Wars go near Galactic Dance Off and second, that it’s actually a rather good Kinect game.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...
...Someone invented Kinect Adventures. It was a fun game which showed off what Microsoft’s new motion-sensing technology was capable of. Suddenly every family the world over wanted a Kinect. Now the device is at the forefront of nearly everything Microsoft does, with even hardcore titles like Mass Effect 3 getting support for it.
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We liked Kinect Adventures. It was great fun. Thankfully then Star Wars Kinect is very much an extension of this title, just with much more loveable characters. The magic is all there, the iconic music, C3PO and R2D2 guiding you through the Jedi archives. Heck, the pair will even quiz each other on master Luke’s (you play as him in menus) whereabouts, should you step out of range of the sensor.
Above all though, it's fun. Playing with a light sabre is fun, beating Sebulba in a pod race feels cool and attacking Mos Eisley as an escaped Rancor is great. A lot of the gameplay concepts at their core are flawed, but then we can’t see how else they could be handled, given the limitations Kinect creates. Take light sabre battles for example, there is just no way you could be back flipping around your living room swinging your arms all over the place. So the alternative they have created is actually rather clever.
The greatest story in the galaxy?
How does Kinect Star Wars actually work? Well, rather than just randomly hopping into Star Wars-related events, there is in fact a story mode, as well as other quasi mini-games. Starting out as a Padawan on Kashyyk, Yoda and some other Jedi masters send you off on a quest to stop an invasion by a race of reptile people called the Trandoshans. Cue light sabres, speeder bikes, Force powers and some epic music as well as the odd cameo from some series favourites.
For the most part the story experience works, although don’t expect the tale told to be anywhere near the level of the movies of KOTR. Still, it gives you more than just a set of mini-games to get your teeth stuck into.
On top of the story mode are other selectable gameplay types - Podracing, Jedi Duels, Galactic Dance Off (don’t even look at it) and Rancor Rampage. Most are pretty fully featured and offer enough different gameplay options to provide a good few hours' entertainment on top of the normal story itself. They are also perfect for those who want to pick at the game rather than engage in a longer play session.
We particularly like the podracing. Although you are practically guided around the track, it just feels great controlling different racers. You are fairly limited in your track choice, which is just six, but there are other drivers and their pods to unlock.
Rancor Rampage is also quite a laugh. It is basically a game in which you use your various limbs to smash up famous sets from the Star Wars universe. A choice of four different rancors, each with unique abilities, stops the mode from getting stale too quickly. We also really enjoyed being able to trash Jabba’s Palace, just because he is such a bad guy.
Do you really feel like a Jedi?
This is the question that every fan wants answering. Galactic dance off aside, if Kinect Star Wars can even get close to what it might feel like to wield a light sabre, then most will be sold on it already.
First up is the question of movement. This is a difficult one to handle with Kinect because your living room can only be so long. No one can run more than a few steps forward or back, so moving your character on screen is either done by jogging on the spot or lunging. They have gone for the latter with Star Wars Kinect. It works, most certainly, but you are entirely on rails throughout because of it.
The Force is handled with either your left hand, should you want to push things about, or with both if you are lifting them. Kinect found this side of things particularly dodgy, making the Force feel a bit flimsy in reality.
But what about the light sabre? It essentially comes in two modes: either when you are duelling or deflecting bullets. When enemies are blasting away at you, swinging forward into blaster bullets will deflect them back at them. You can also do things like kick, run or jump. It works well enough and the movements we were making were translated nicely on to our character. This does mean then, that for a while, you feel like you are holding a light sabre.
Duelling is not so great. It would simply be too hard a game if you re-enacted taking on someone like Darth Maul exactly. Kinect just wouldn’t cope. Instead what you do is either deflect swings, or attack by swinging, though not at the same time. In order to attack you need to wear down an enemy's meter by blocking their attempts at hitting you. The result is a sort of back and forth battle which is exciting enough.
Graphically Star Wars Kinect isn’t great. It has gone for a rather clean look that clearly draws on the Clone Wars cartoons. Textures are fairly bland and character models lack detail, apart from C3PO and Yoda who look great. There is also noticeable slowdown when lots is going on on screen. Voice acting matches nicely with a character’s facial animations, which while not quite Mass Effect good, are certainly convincing.
A lot of us really don’t want to like Star Wars Kinect at all. The films have been so bashed and bruised by blatant cash-ins that 99 per cent of the time we would avoid games like this. At its core, however, it is a fun game and we suppose that is what really matters.
We may have given it a 3.5 stars, but for an 8-year-old this game would easily be a 5. Why? Because you can swing a light sabre , or be in a pod race. These are cool things which every 8-year-old dreams about after watching the movies. They might not be executed as nicely as they could have been, but this is a game clearly aimed at the younger crowd. It is super-easy for starters and you will have got through the story mode in just a few hours.
A game to sit and watch your kids play then - just make sure you leave when they play galactic dance off.