Star Wars Kinect
Developer: Terminal Reality
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
Price: $49.99 – Available here
As it happens, time and again, the release of new titles integrating motion sensor technology are often met with mixed reactions from the modern gaming market. Many of us will know the feeling all too well when we express our feelings regarding a new Wii, PSmove or Kinect title with either indifferent shrugs or moans of disdain. However, when title involves a particularly famous brand name or intellectual property, that’s when gamers get interested. Additionally when a particularly renowned and well-loved series such as Star Wars is given the motion-control treatment, the ever watching eyes of a highly devoted fanbase immediately turn to see if the game is worthy of publicising itself as a product of this much loved universe.
If you’re anything like me, than the odds are that you’ve often spent childhood days swinging around a stick, or picking up a flashlight only to suddenly name yourself a Jedi and actively attempt to move objects with your mind. So naturally, the idea of playing a game that had the potential to turn those childhood antics into virtual-reality was an opportunity not to be passed up. From the very launch of the control system itself, it was made clear to Xbox fans the world over that Star Wars Kinect would be one of the large titles to look forward to. Dreams and nostalgia value aside does Star Wars Kinect deliver on providing that quality gameplay experience fans yearn for, or does the Kinect control scheme spell the downfall or another potential winner?
The core gameplay of Star Wars Kinect is actually divided up into 5 different control schemes for 5 different gameplay modes. In light of that, it is best to describe Star Wars Kinect not so much as a singular linear game, but more so as a collection of mini-games, each with their own distinct control styles, goals and challenges. However, odds are that any hardcore Star Wars fan will want to jump straight into swinging their lightsaber around in Jedi Destiny mode.
This first gameplay mode tells what is essentially the official “story” of the game. The plot is set after the events of The Phantom Menace, and during the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Players take on the role of one (or two) of the Jedi academy’s newest Padawans as they head for the Jedi training grounds on the Wookie homeworld of Kashyyyk. Long story short, the Separatist forces attack and the player is sent on a mission to uncover what is going on and why in the Jedi Council’s usual ‘throw-students-into-immediate-danger’ policy. For what it’s worth, the story sticks to the canon of the universe without challenging any of the pre-established plots, which goes to show that the developers truly do care for the intellectual property they’re handling. However, the story itself is bland and forgettable. Characters are given little development and the events that take place in the game have a largely negligible impact on the player’s understanding of the universe. It feels like watching the Clone Wars cartoon. It exists, but the ultimate canon of the movies holds up perfectly well without it. An unfortunate downfall of most Star Wars game stories as of late.
The core gameplay has the player utilise the motion control scheme to move through levels using a combination of thrusts, jumps, steps and slashes to move throughout each stage. Occasionally the hack-and-slash functions are also replaced with speeder bike piloting and turret manning. Props to the developers for getting creative with gameplay and pacing, but the major criticism that most players will have is in regards to the Kinect’s control scheme. Surprise surprise. There were often too many times in my playthrough of Jedi Destiny mode where this reviewer had to wrestle with the controls to make the on screen avatar do what I wanted. For instance, attempting to perform a defensive movement to deflect blaster bolts with the lightsaber can be difficult when the associated movement is very close to that of a horizontal slash attack. Even when the player is able to grasp the controls, the only strategy likely to be implemented is that of “rush in and swing wildly at everything”. The result is the removal of any sense of control on the part of the player. This unfortunately also applies poorly to the Duels of Fate and Rancor Rampage game modes.
Duels of Fate is a game-type that pits the player against several iconic and less than iconic foes in a 1 on 1 lightsaber duel. (The most iconic villains have to be unlocked, like Darth Vader). Rancor Rampage places the player in the oversized feet of an escaped Rancor. The goal of this gametype is to achieve the maximum amount of destruction as the player is encouraged to smash, slam, munch and charge through a collection of environments on planets such as Tatooine and Felucia. Both of these gametypes suffer from similar control flaws as Jedi Destiny in that the player will be in a constant struggle with the controls to perform particular actions. Duels of Fate is especially frustrating not only in terms of gameplay, but also appeal. What is usually the most epic aspect of the Star Wars movies unfortunately makes up the most bland section of gameplay. The duels are often flow in a turn based defend and attack format broken up by a simple saber-lock to let the player know when it’s ok to start flailing their arms wildly. I actually had to grab one of my own model lightsabers to help emulate my afore mentioned childhood experience. (Though a helpful tip to players who have one on hand: it helps!)
The two other gametypes: Podracing and Galactic Dance-off are much more reactive to player input, mostly a result of the simpler gameplay mechanics. As the names imply, these game modes revolve around achieving victory in the galactic podracing circuit and undertaking dance-offs against other famous characters in the Star Wars Universe. While these game types are commendably more reactive to the Kinect controls, chances are most players aren’t going to think of dancing and racing as the iconic ‘Star Wars’ gameplay experience.
The unfortunate drawback of the control schemes makes the game feel less of an epic Star Wars experience, and more of a string of Star Wars themed mini-games of differing quality. While the game has clearly made a strong attempt to emulate a motion control experience while staying loyal to the canon of the series, the Kinect’s motion control scheme has once again brought down the game’s playability. In reviewing this title, I was continually trying to establish which market this game was intended for. Old school Star Wars fans? Young Children? Families? I ultimately settled on this being a game intended for the younger Clone-Wars watching masses. This is accentuated in one of the space battles where I passed the whole level without moving my body in the slightest. I simply folded my arms and watched the level essentially pass itself. This removes any sense of challenge or incentive to continue. Very little of the original Saga is to be seen here, and the parts that are shown do are poorly executed. And while the dance and podracing game modes do work well, it’s a sad commentary on the overall quality of the game when these gametypes are the best experiences to be had in a Star Wars title. Old school Star Wars fans are unlikely to find much video game love here.
AUDIO AND VISUAL
Now, despite the letdowns of the gameplay in several of the game variants, the audio and visual quality shows off surprising attention to detail. The game features a plentiful variety of musical scores from the movies to capture the movie moments in gameplay or cinematics. For instance, adding the speeder bike musical score from Endor in Episode VI to a strikingly similar in-game situation on Kashyyyk. The voice acting of the game is relatively faithful to the characters of the movies, which can be taken as a good or bad thing. Let’s just say having to deal with C3PO every time you start up the game doesn’t stop being annoying.
One of the best, and most surprising aspects of the game is to be found in the visual quality. Despite the slightly disjointed flow of gameplay resulting from the Kinect controls, the visuals are surprisingly well detailed and extremely fluid. The entire game is quite well animated and the graphic quality is able to accommodate many different elements at once without sacrificing processing power for detail. If nothing else can be said for it, this game looks damn pretty.
What enthusiasm I had going into reviewing this particular title was unfortunately sucked out of me as I wrestled with the controls. This is not so much the fault of the game itself, but that of the technology that it is attempting to accommodate. That said, the game honestly felt like it contributed nothing as a Star Wars experience, at least in terms of story. It’s rather disheartening to think that the most playable section of the game is to be found in dancing, something which nerds the world around are notoriously bad at. Sometimes, it can be said that a game is not so much bad as it is disappointing, which I feel is the case here. Again, for a control system sold largely on potential, the Kinect has hardly delivered on its promises of being the future of gameplay. Certainly, there is potential to be found here, but it is expressed as a mere shell of what it could be with a bit more refinement and a better developed scheme of controls.