Kinect Star Wars
Yes, it's good.
Even leaving aside the argument that any Star Wars labelled title is instantly elevated in quality, it's surprising just how good this is. Fun, even funny at times, and occasionally calling for a level of concentration that conflicts with the family-friendly nature of Kinect (but with customisable difficulty settings, it can still be enjoyed by all).
For the Star Wars fan hitting the third or fourth double-figured age bracket and who sees anything post-Empire as a downward spiral towards marketable mediocrity, you're going to be more offended by this than Greedo shooting first, blinking Ewoks and Kiwi Fett combined.
But as Frankie says, relax. You're not this game's audience. Instead, Kinect Star Wars is for those that have accepted that brand will chase profit margin and not stick to their perception of it. To those the "Holy Trilogy" means religious imagery outside the Force, and to those that the prequel trilogy is simply "the trilogy", this is, as stated, fun, with the entire package leaning on the humorous side of the galaxy.
Kinect Star Wars is five games in one, a chunky main campaign that plays as extended universe to the Phantom Menace and Clone Wars fiction, filling in even more gaps you didn't know existed or think you needed, and four other games that are deemed "mini" only in they're better played in short spurts.
It's been easy to hear snorts of derision as loud as a Star Destroyer hitting light-speed as the game has been demoed over the past couple of years as the technology's poster child, but in execution it works fine.
It's noticeable from the off, on-screen menu icons snapping smoothly to hand gestures with the tightest control we've experience since Child of Eden. Even the camera's perked up: walking off sensor range will quickly have menu guides C-3PO and R2-D2 query your disappearance and tap the screen.
Pod-Racing, perhaps far second in terms of content with a career mode, requires multiple gestures all stemming from movements of two outstretched arms : turns, brake, boost, initiating pod repair, summoning attack droids, even just wiping the screen. Once you adjust to gestures subtle rather than extravagant, you appreciate the differentiation, if not the expected arm burn.
It's closer to Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising, to give the campaign is full title, in matching the extensive but non-yawnsome tutorial, and its tongue-in-cheek nature ("Cross your arms. Done it, yes? Okay. Never cross your arms!") plays better to the younger market - and to be honest, us as well. Maybe it's those phone adverts, but lifting a star fighter under Yoda's instruction has lost its misty-eyed appeal.
Pod-Racing beats out the main galactic adventure for player options, letting you toggle player assists until you're only in control of acceleration and brake. On full manual sharp corners and aggressive AI prove a tense experience, though the rubber-banding is a real ass. Torpedo your ride into a wall and you'll reset near the back of the field. Brilliant when early on to keep you focused, frustrating come the final corners.
Jedi Destiny plays like an extended version of the Clone Wars animated series, and the visuals are a odd mix of cinematic realism and cartoon flash. You'll follow your chosen Padawan (thankfully fighting fit and straight into the thick of it from the start - no Phantom Menace slow-burn here) as they play their part in the Republic/Separatist war.
Is lightsaber control one-on-one? No, though it's close enough, and with speaker volume cranked up, you will get a thrill igniting and slowly swinging yours first time.
Movements are limited, and all based on the prequel trilogy rulebook. Figures of eight will repel laser fire, batting at correct moments will slam them back to their firer. Horizontal and vertical sweeps can also be coupled with lean-forward dashes and leaps for roundhouse strikes. You'll be swarmed at times and speed and precision are of the essence.
In the campaign you're locked into place, predetermined routes travelled through by leaning forward to dash or jumps to either leap behind foes or between platforms. You'll not always be on your feet, and the developer ticks off the boxes of what you'd want to see in a Star Wars experience - five minutes into the campaign you'll be in the throes of your first speeder bike chase.
In all the games we've played with Kinect, the less on rails the worse the experience. We'd rather be concentrating on lifting enemies with Force powers, kicking others off ledges or chopping limbs (or, in post-Phantom Menace fashion, scrapping droids and knocking out organics in bloodless fashion) than wrestling turning circles.
It's also worth playing a chunk of the campaign before heading into Duels of Fate. Despite the prominent Darth Vader art in the menu, as with every mini-game mode you've got to put the time in unlocking later missions/duels/songs (yes, bare with us...), and the big man himself is the duel finale - and no easy feat.
These one-on-ones are built into the campaign, and so as a separate mode doesn't get a proper tutorial past what's buried in Option sub-menus. It's Simon Says in a way, learning enemy movement to pull your 'saber into one of four blocking positions, with faster attacks scoring higher and granting attack openings quicker.
Neither campaign or off-shoot mode quite hit a perfect note in merging Force powers into combat. With camera panned and zoomed to focus in on you and your attacker, it's hard to spot usable objects to chuck at them, harder still to get the game to register your grab and pull with your free hand.
In the side-mode you're timed for potential Leaderboard status. Something similar with the points-driven Rancor Rampage, the most limited of all the modes in its potential. But then it's build with brief barrages in mind, building-pounding stress relief as sweet finisher to a game session.
It works as a power play through civilian population centres, with both a time limit and quick-fix challenges of stomp, destroy, toss or eat. Even the Rancor's been neutered slightly from the slavering horror of Jedi - a beast squashed in the cut-scene opener flattened Acme style, while one wit in the screaming crowd cries out "don't tell me, you're a tortured soul" even as they run for cover. Fun, but limited.
We expect change. As beloved iconic characters change hands and more importantly generations, what we consider as values diminish. Only value, value to the market, remains. Such is the life of a product, of a brand. We have no control over it, nor any say in what's a good fit. We're consumers, but we don't "own" franchises, no matter how much fan fiction and cosplay there may be out there in the galaxy.
This is not a defence, but a way of easing you into the fact that yes, there's a dancing mini-game in it. It's called Galactic Dance Off.
Yes, it is the stupidest idea since Lucas went tinkering with the original trilogy. Modern songs re-recorded with Star Wars-referencing lyrics, and jived to by recognisable characters. Jedi's Slave Leia might just scrape in on plausibility grounds. Han Solo and Lando having a dance off? Might have happened sometime - we don't know if the Falcon was outfitted with a music system. Boba Fett jamming with Stormtroopers? Believability just took a nose-dive into a Sarlacc Pit.
Stupid. Yet really good fun. Taciturn hardcore will have an aneurysm, but this is no Christmas Special debauchery. In fact, the idea's had precedent, and we half-suspect this was hatched with Robot Chicken's own. We definitely laughed as much at the absurdity of it all.
And at least Microsoft has done the smart thing and copied Dance Central wholesale, mapped in dance sets with Star Wars-related names such as Wookie Hug, There is No Try, Dual Blasters. You've just got to let go and give in - because expect to see these routines at the next convention near you.
So, in all, five games, all surprisingly fun. As with most Kinect games this isn't going to stand up to prolonged play, but it's not built as such. Consider it another title that'll ultimately be broken out any time friends or younger relatives are over.
We won't even suggest which of the five you'll be drawn to the most. But we do know its preferable to have a fun game alongside the other hokey titles that takes themselves far too seriously. The galaxy's a big place - we've already got The Old Republic in it - why not a Star Wars game for the whole family?
- System:Xbox 360
- Developer:Terminal Reality
- Publisher:Microsoft, Lucasarts
- Offline players:1-2
- Age limit:From 12 years
- Release date:03 April 2012
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