Since Star Wars first appeared on screens back in 1977, it has captured both our imaginations and our wallets. We've consumed t-shirts, lunch boxes, action figures, books, pillowcases, soft toys, cartoon shows, coffee mugs, and even shoes (I myself have a sweet pair of X-Wing Adidas sneakers).
But more importantly to us here at NZGamer.com, the Star Wars franchise has also spewed forth a mixed bag of video game tie-ins over the past three decades. Some have been brilliant, such as the original line-drawn Star Wars game, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, Jedi Knight,The Force Unleashed, and the recent MMORPG The Old Republic. Others less memorable, including Masters of Teräs Käsi, Yoda Stories, and few would argue that Super Bombad Racing was one of the worst creations in the Star Wars universe since Jar Jar Binks (who naturally featured on the cover in bobblehead form).
When Microsoft announced their motion-capture technology Kinect late in 2009, it was accompanied with an untitled Star Wars tech demo showing players dueling with lightsabers. The reaction was huge. Finally, a game that will allow us to unleash our inner-Jedi. People probably started sewing hoods on their dressing gowns in anticipation. Unfortunately though, despite the years in development, Kinect Star Wars makes even The Star Wars Kid look coordinated.
So what's it all about then? Kinect Star Wars is essentially a collection of mini games inspired by scenes from the six Star Wars films, including Cartoon Network's animated Clone Wars series. Players will be piloting starships, racing Podracers, harnessing the Force, and even... dancing? All sans a traditional controller and instead moving their entire body to interact with the game, thanks to Kinect’s motion tracking.
For example, racing through the dusty canyons in your pod racer is performed by holding your arms out in front of you, as if gripping the handlebars of your vehicle. Turning requires you to intuitively twist your upper body as if you were the driver, while pushing both arms out in front of you mimics the turbo boost. Just like in the movies.
It works fairly well and this is one of the highlights of the game. But the main attraction of finally being able to wield a lightsaber like Mace Windu falls extremely short of the mark. While Kinect Star Wars features plenty of duelling, including a toe-to-toe with Darth Vader himself, you never feel like you’re fully in control. All those hours practising with a broom handle in front of a mirror will mean diddly squat here as all of the animations are pre-recorded. You can trigger any of them with preset movements and, if you’re disciplined enough, you’ll adapt to play how the game would like you to. But if we’re forced to perform a set of pre-recorded swipes, then what is the point of it being motion-controlled? You end up feeling like a puppet on invisible strings.
This might sound harsh, but remember that back in 2009 we were taunted with 1-to-1 motion tracking that could correspond to on-screen lightsaber movement. The Kinect technology is technically capable - although we realise there are limitations. But why are fans left so painfully impotent at being able to live out our Jedi dreams?
The mini game Jedi Destiny, that includes the lightsaber action sequences, is essentially the campaign mode of Kinect Star Wars. On the plus side, apart from the clunky lightsaber duelling, it does feature better motion control action that suits Kinect perfectly. For example, using your force powers - such as push or pull - are activated by raising your arm and levitating objects on screen through the air like a Yoda wannabe. But once again, this Kinect title falls short in the movement department. Because most of us don’t have a lounge the size of Endor, the game is primarily set on rails, moving you from one place to the next automatically as you clear the screen of enemies or complete objectives. It’s not awful and it’s something Kinect users should be getting used to, but it’s another disjointed aspect that removes you from the action.
As you’d expect with LucasArts behind the wheel, all of the minigames are well polished and brimming with Star Wars detail in the visuals department. But there is an overwhelming sense of awkwardness in Kinect Star Wars. At times it feels like a children’s game, letting little ones wreck havoc as a giant Rancor that can destroy buildings by stomping and waving their arms about. Even hooning through forests on a speeder bike is fun for all ages. But then later on, you’ll be living out every adult geek’s wet dream by watching a metal slave bikini-clad Princess Leia jiggle around in a sleazy dance-off. Which brings me to my next point.
The dance-off minigame in Kinect Star Wars is bound to get Star Wars fans angrier than a Wookie in heat. One could easily argue that there is no place for a dancing activity within Star Wars, but many could let it slide as it’s a kids game and Kinect is all about the little ones, right? But it’s the sheer audacity of bastardising well-loved characters that really grinds our Deathstars. For instance, one of the characters you can unlock is Han Solo... who will hop onto the dance floor and start shaking his scoundrel-esque money-maker like there’s no tomorrow. This is the same guy who won’t hug an Ewok because he thinks it’s gay. Now he’s boogying down to an intergalactic rendition of ‘I’m Han Solo’? You can watch the horror here.
For those who don’t, here are some of the amazing lyrics:
I'm feeling like a star,
You can't stop my shine
I'm loving Cloud City,
My head's in the sky
I'm solo, I'm Han Solo,
I'm Han Solo.
I'm Han Solo. Solo.
I felt as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. Maybe this is purely intentional as the Star Wars films have always blurred age boundaries, gaining audiences both young and old. With the exception of Episode One, which felt more like Muppets in Space featuring Darth Maul. But surely this is going too far? It’s almost like George Lucas wants to slap every fan of Star Wars over the age of 12 across the face with his flaccid member.
So, Kinect Star Wars isn’t great. It’s not the ‘ultimate Star Wars experience’ a lot of us hoped for since it was rumoured back in 2009. In fact, there’s enough blasphemy here to put you off the franchise for life. But there is some good news for Star Wars fans at least... It comes in the form of Microsoft’s superb limited edition, pimped-out Xbox 360 Kinect Star Wars console.
The limited edition console features a sweet custom blue and white paint job to mimic the barrel-shaped robot, R2-D2. The green LED lights of the original Xbox 360 have been replaced with a stylish blue glow and the console has unique feedback sounds of R2’s iconic beep and whistle when turning on or ejecting the disc tray. Finally it even includes an eye-catching, metallic gold controller modeled off his robotic pal, C-3PO - which is so uber cool it’s probably worth the price alone. Everytime I look at it I get a geek-boner and it almost makes the pain of seeing Han Solo’s audition for the Pussycat Dolls worth it... but not quite.