Kinect Star Wars review: This is not the game you're looking for

Game Info
Platform 360
Publisher Microsoft
Developer LucasArts
Release Date 04/03/2012

The last 20 years haven't been kind to the franchise, and for Kinect Star Wars, a game that doesn’t have much else going for it, this is bad news.

Two decades before Kinect Star Wars released, I was 12 years old, and starting up Super Star Wars on the SNES for the first time. I actually called my dad into the room as the digital simulacrum of John Williams' triumphant theme eked out of my TV's speakers and a pixelated prologue crawled across the screen. This was Star Wars, but also ... a video game. For a 12-year-old, that's a lot to process.

The last 20 years haven't been kind to the franchise. The world that Kinect Star Wars enters into is one in which half of the Star Wars movies in existence are pretty darn bad, and simply setting a game a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away isn't going to do much heavy lifting for you.

For Kinect Star Wars, a game that doesn't have a heck of a lot else going for it, this is very bad news.

Ksw_screenshots_23

Jedi Destiny mode is is the centerpiece of Kinect Star Wars, in which the game's many development teams take a shoddy story starring an unknown, unspeaking Jedi, tack on motion controls and then hide in a corner and stand very still, terrified that you'll notice they forgot to design a game to support it.

Kinect Star Wars adopts the "murder hundreds of soldiers" design that has become so common for Star Wars action games (most conspicuously in Force Unleashed 1&2). That's kind of a weird thing for a Jedi to be doing, seeing as how they're supposed to try to stay almost supernaturally chill, but KSW is neither the first or worst offender of the Jedi code.

The action in Jedi Destiny suffers from shoddy implementation. Movement is the most glaring problem, which has the camera automatically select targets for you. To approach an enemy, you either take a step towards them and glide or leap in place to close the gap.

"THIS SYSTEM SUCKS."

This system sucks. Wandered into a group of enemies and getting showered by blaster fire? That's just too bad, because you have no say in the order in which you'll eliminate your targets. Want to take out three Trandoshans standing in a clump with your lightsaber? Well tough noogies, you can only attack one at a time. Maybe it's in the Jedi honor code: "You can go full genocide on reptile men, but you can only hack them up one at a time. Savor it, Padawan."Two decades before Kinect Star Wars released, I was 12 years old, and starting up Super Star Wars on the SNES for the first time. I actually called my dad into the room as the digital simulacrum of John Williams' triumphant theme eked out of my TV's speakers and a pixelated prologue crawled across the screen. This was Star Wars, but also ... a video game. For a 12-year-old, that's a lot to process.

The last 20 years haven't been kind to the franchise. The world that Kinect Star Wars enters into is one in which half of the Star Wars movies in existence are pretty darn bad, and simply setting a game a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away isn't going to do much heavy lifting for you.

For Kinect Star Wars, a game that doesn't have a heck of a lot else going for it, this is very bad news.

Rancor_vert

But when it's just you and one other enemy, that's when you finally live out your dream of 1-to-1 motion controlled lightsaber combat, right? Well, no. That's when you'll live out your dream of flailing wildly until the bad guy dies. At no point does the direction or timing of your attacks in Kinect Star Wars make a lick of difference. The only strategy is frequently leaning right or left to avoid getting kicked.

There are a few half-hearted duels, though only one is against a lightsaber wielding opponent. In these duels, you'll block four times, kick, and then attack your opponent as they stand there and take it. Repeat this sequence three times and you've won the fight. The formula never evolves, and did I mention Kinect Star Wars' blocking controls are imprecise? No? OK, well there you go.

The only Jedi power at your disposal is Force pushing enemies around and it's terribly implemented. If the screen is crowded with enemies or objects it's impossible to select a specific thing to lift, and where you throw him or it feels like a total crapshoot.

The on-foot combat in Kinect Star Wars is occasionally interrupted by a speeder bike chase or controlling the turret on a starfighter and these bits are, at least, mechanically a little more sound. But there's still not a stitch of interesting game design underneath the surface.

You could make the argument that kids wouldn't be bothered by the simplicity of Jedi Destiny, and admittedly I didn't have any handy to test it out on. But I like to believe that most kids aren't stupid. They know when something's not fun. And even if they can't tell the difference, is that any excuse for giving them sub-par junk that they only like because they're pretending to swing a lightsaber?

Ksw_podracing_04

I want to make a folksy cross stitch placard to hang in the home of every Kinect, Wii and PlayStation Move developer. It will read: "Motion controls can make a good game better, but they'll never make a bad game good." The thrill of controlling a speeder bike is great, but it's just that: A momentary thrill, same as hearing the SNES generate the Star Wars theme. Unless there are interesting, challenging, varied things for you do on that bike (you know, the game design part), you might as well leave the parking break on.

There is, however one developer's home that wouldn't need the placard -- I'm assuming they already have one of their own and that they all live together -- and that home belongs to whoever made the rest of Kinect Star Wars.

Hey, do you want to be a rancor smashing up a city, throwing droids into the sun and then picking up people and eating them? Yes. Yes, of course you do. Because that's radical. You want to zip around corners in a podracer as you struggle to keep two massive engines from exploding into a hillside? Sure!

"DO YOU WANT TO BE A RANCOR SMASHING UP A CITY, THROWING DROIDS INTO THE SUN AND PICKING UP PEOPLE AND EATING THEM? YES. YES YOU DO."
Handance

The other modes on Kinect Star Wars take a back seat to the main game, but they represent a fundamental understanding of what works in motion gaming. Even the dancing minigame is a remake of Dance Central, arguably one of the best Kinect titles in existence.

Side note about the dancing: I actually think parodies of pop songs with Star Wars-based lyrics is kind of a fun idea. Seeing Han Solo doing moves like "Falcon in Flight" or "Trash Compactor" as someone sings about carbonite is goofy, but it puts a smile on my face. If you still have enough respect for the franchise that you can get rankled about that sort of thing I celebrate you, I feel for you and I'm not going to argue with you, as I imagine you've had a harrowing couple of decades.

These diversions reinforce my simple, cross stitched rule about button-free gaming: If you simply bolt motion onto a pre-existing model and hope no one notices, well friend, that particular Jedi mind trick isn't working on anyone. Use them well and you might get cool, well-constructed game-toy hybrids like puppeteering a rampaging rancor.

The success of Kinect Star Wars ancillary modes makes Jedi Destiny all the more irritating. What a fantastic experience this could have been if the developers had focused on facets of the Jedi experience that make sense with Kinect rather than trying to make a full action game. To that point: Why not just focus on making really great lightsaber duels, which is the thing everybody wants to do anyway?

Wrap Up:

THIS IS "KINECT" AND "STAR WARS," AND NOTHING MORE

For its few successes and plentiful failures, there is one perfect thing about Kinect Star Wars, and that’s the name. Maybe that would have been enough for 12-year-old me, it’s hard to say. But only one of us is a game critic. This is "Kinect" and "Star Wars," and absolutely nothing more.

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