Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Kinect Star Wars

Has there ever been a franchise more iconic than Star Wars? Indeed the magnificent sci-fi story transcends mediums from film, games and even to music – Star Wars is in the blood of modern culture and I believe always will be. With this in mind, nothing pains me more than taking the characters, the environments and the ideals that I love, mashing them into an incoherent mess, sticking a Microsoft Kinect Sensor in the middle and calling it a video game. Make no mistake, the sense of adventure you were probably looking for can’t be found here, instead Kinect Star Wars offers a linear third person on-rails adventure coupled with a bunch of basic mini-games and wait for it, a dance rhythm game.

Your first stop should naturally be the campaign mode Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising – set between Episode One and Episode Two, this adventure puts you in the shoes of a young padawan hoping to move up the ranks of Jedi-hood. From the offset things look pretty good for Kinect Star Wars as you pick up a lightsaber and that reminiscent sound fills your living room as you activate your weapon. The Kinect handles your movements quite well as all your swings are recognized and implemented on screen. Things take a pretty strong turn for the worse when you actually put your Jedi skills to the test in real combat however.

Things immediately feel off as you tackle your first set of droid soldiers on Chewbacca’s beautiful home planet. The Kinect has a very difficult time keeping up with fast-paced movements forcing you to slow your swipes down so it can register and catch up. Not only is this frustrating and inconvenient, it’s also irrelevant because any swiping movements will take out groups of enemies as absolutely no skill is required – this is nothing more than a frenzy of flailing hands. While later levels do introduce some more advanced enemies that can block and maneuver more efficiently, a challenge rarely ever arises and nothing more than flailing is ever required. Even the pseudo-boss battles against the Sith are dull and uninspiring. In an attempt to change the tempo of the combat even more, Kinect Star Wars forces you to parry an assortment of slashes from your foe in times sequences and then when their guard is broken unleash a barrage of arm flails to finish them off.

Environments throughout Kinect Star Wars are for the most part visually appealing – it’s a shame however that the on-rails mechanic constricts your movements significantly. When you are unleashed into a small area to do battle, you once again are limited to small movements and dashes to get near your enemies and finish them off. A nice touch however is the ability to use the Force to move objects around the battlefield. A similar mechanic was implemented in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed but this time you have the ability to command the Jedi powers with your non-sword wielding arm. The item detection is certainly hit and miss and it’s very difficult to aim precisely where you want something to land, but you can’t help feel pretty awesome after you’ve successfully hurled a massive object across the map – pretty impressive for a padawan!

These gameplay elements are all supplemented from time to time with vehicle sections, be it the Millennium Falcon, Pod Racer or a Speeder – these segments are relatively entertaining as you use specific hand gestures to avoid destruction and finish off your enemies. Ultimately however all these gameplay elements combine into one rather mundane, forgettable and monotonous package. The story that intertwines these elements is lacklustre and attempts to play off various key moments of the films but with no avail. It’s just a real shame to see such a poor attempt at bringing Star Wars to life on the Kinect, which is potentially a very nifty piece of kit.

Once you get out of the campaign mode there are a host of mini-games you can try, at your own peril. Perhaps the most enjoyable of these is the Rancor Rampage – giving players the opportunity to cause serious Godzilla-like destruction. This mode is very similar to games like Rampage: Total Destruction where there is no depth, just pure carnage – accumulate points by causing as much havoc as possible and surprisingly it’s actually quite entertaining.

A spot of pod racing is also on offer if you’re looking for something a little more engaging. With a bunch of tracks to check out and a cool set of motion controls to implement, the pod racing is actually very similar to the experience in Episode One and as a result, is probably the most nostalgic game mode present in Kinect Star Wars.

I warn all of you now, take a deep breath before continuing with this paragraph. There are times in all of our lives when something we loved and cherished growing up, gets completely destroyed, forever tainting our fond memories. If we’ve learned anything about Star Wars in the past decade is unfortunately, the series is ripe for abuse. Well ladies and gentlemen, the Kinect Star Wars ‘Dance Mode’, yes you read it right, ‘Dance. Mode.” Does just that. Taking our favourite characters and forcing them to dance while listening to classic pop songs with Star Wars themed lyrics, is just, well unbelievable. This next sentence is neutral, I promise – the dance mechanics are enjoyable and precise, the songs are nostalgic and quite fun and playing with friends can be entertaining. This sentence however, is bias – what were they thinking, seriously?

Ultimately this is a very disappointing Xbox 360 exclusive. I admire Microsoft’s willingness to support their Kinect peripheral and games like Child of Eden in particular really do suggest that motion control has a future in the market, but not when it’s packaged with a pile of shallow, repetitive and at times quite visually offensive games. Kinect Star Wars does everything to an absolute average, nothing more, nothing less. Those of you looking for a nostalgic Star Wars trip will find it here in bits and bobs but overall, it’s very difficult to recommend. It says something when the most efficient gameplay mechanics of a Star Wars game, are the dance motion controls…

5.0 | Gameplay |
There is no depth in Kinect Star Wars, and that’s a huge problem. The campaign mode is mindless as you swing away pointlessly, which is a real shame considering that’s the meat of the game. Pod racing and Rancor Rampage are also relatively shallow in depth, but at least they provide some instant gratification and fun. Finally, as much as I hate to say it, the dance element of the game is technically very tight (which is not surprising considering 50% of Kinect’s library is dance games), but that’s not to say I’m not angry with them making a mockery of Star Wars. If you like to boogey and enjoy cheesy music whilst watching Han Solo thrust his manhood all over the show, then go for it you’ll have a blast.

7.0 | Presentation |
There is absolutely a Star Wars vibe present here. From the orchestral soundtrack to the familiar sounds of lightsabers clashing against each other. A visually pleasing artwork was used for the characters that doesn’t necessarily go along with the tone of the movies or the animated series Clone Wars, but is nevertheless quite pretty in its own right. For the most part the Kinect controls do suffice, especially in the mini games but unfortunately they suffer in Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising.

4.0 | Replay Value |
There is literally no way you’ll ever go back to the campaign mode so you might as well forget about that straight away. The pod racing and Rancor mini-games can provide a small level of replay value but unfortunately again, it’s the dance mode that sits on top of the pack as the only game mode worth reliving, if you dare.

5.0 | Final Thoughts |
I think the major issue with Kinect Star Wars is it rarely ever feels like a complete package. I also get the impression that it’s almost a bad tech demo for the Kinect camera. If this came out as a launch title I’d understand the issues regarding difficulty in picking up fast movements and so forth, but there’s been plenty of games that have technically excelled with Kinect, so why does Kinect Star Wars feel so rushed and below par? There are glimpses of entertainment here but overall there’s more here that can and will frustrate, rather than entertain.

Igor Kharin.

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