It's long been every geek's dream to become a Jedi Knight and wield a lightsaber and manipulate the power of the Force to take down armies of evil-doers. A Star Wars experience that lets you literally wield a lightsaber with a clenched fist or summon up the Force by lifting up your palm has never been done before.
LucasArts' Kinect Star Wars (henceforth dubbed KSW) is not your typical story-driven Star Wars game. It's not as expansive as Bioware's seminal Knights of the Old Republic or its massively multiplayer successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic or as insidious as The Force Unleashed series. It's a Kinect game, and as one, it's limited to the hardware of Kinect's sometimes-but-not-always responsive skeletal tracking.
Motion gaming seemed the perfect answer to tackling the challenge of making lightsaber dueling feel more precise than any Star Wars game has ever been before, but sadly we'll have to wait a bit longer. Read on to find out why KSW falls short on being the ultimate Star Wars video game.
Like all Kinect games, KSW is a feel-good family game. Actually, it's five mini games in one. We broke down each mode, reviewing it on its own merits. Here's what playing KSW feels like:
Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising
Jedi Destiny is one of two modes that let you play as a young Padawan, tasked with learning how to use a lightsaber and mastering the Force. As a Padawan in-training, you get a lightsaber that can be used to slash enemies hordes by swiping at the air. You can deflect laser shots by swishing around imaginary figure eights, perform aerial leaps with a jump, kick enemies with a frontal leg thrust, dash by putting one leg forward and even perform Force throws by charging up your left hand and thrusting it forward.
Sounds like fun, right? Hold your lightsabers for a sec. While most of the moves do register, there's no motivation to combine cleverly-timed lightsaber slashes with kicks and Force throws when enemies can be bypassed by simply dashing away. Although I did have a lot of fun kicking droids and blasting them with Force energy, I can't say my right wrist was too happy with all the figure eights that it had to perform.
Combine the poor AI with the excruciating long levels and you feel like you're just mindlessly slashing brain-dead enemies and dashing forward to advance. With no way to control the camera or even turn left or right, Jedi Destiny is about as on-rails as it gets.
Jedi Destiny does tries to mix up the lightsaber and Force levels with segments that let you control a speeder and starship for space battles, but I found the steering and gun turret-shooting portions during these parts to be much too unresponsive (frame rate often glitching and locking up).
I wanted to love the Podracing because Lucasart replicates the feeling of being in a podracer so perfectly, it feels like it can't fail. Piloting a podracer feels so "authentic" it fails to work: you hold up both arms and pull them back and forth to control turning left and right, respectively. A quick boost is handled by pumping both arms forward, attacking opponent racers is just a swift nudge to the left and right and doing a quick jump is well, a jump. If you were to drive a podracer for real, that's more or less how it'd go.
The main problem is that you quickly get tired of holding your arms up while maneuvering around race tracks that feel like they're endless. Shorter tracks may have been better, but wouldn't have helped the problems that arose thanks to the controls. Too often, I found myself simply trying to turn by tilting my arms out left and right, which seemed more natural to me. It'd be alright if you could sit down while racing, but it screws up the tracking and if you try to bring your arms down too much, the Kinect sensor thinks you're making turns.
Making matters worse is just how difficult actually piloting a podracer is. KSW lets you set the amount of autopilot assistance you want, but even for a fan of racing games like myself, I couldn't find a sweet spot that felt like I had some autopilot assistance to stop me from crashing, but also enough control of my podracer to feel like it's me who's doing the actual driving. In short, I felt like I was choosing between playing bumper cars or a racer on rails.
Without a doubt, Rancor Rampage was the most entertaining game mode in KSW, partly because it felt the most responsive.
As a deranged Rancor, you are let loose on one of four different planets to smash the living daylights out of everything. It's not a random smash-a-thon, though. You do have to complete on-screen missions like jumping on top of buildings and picking up droids and throwing them 77 feet away or charging town folk, but it's generally a very fulfilling and satisfying experience. Who doesn't want to just let off a little steam by bringing a town to its knees? It's like being Godzilla, only you're a Rancor.
Galactic Dance Off
Yes, the songs are knockoffs of hit songs with Star Wars-ified lyrics — such as Jason Derulo's "Ridin' Solo" turned to abominable "I'm Han Solo" — but if you give it a chance, especially in co-op mode, Galactic Dance Off provides some serious geeky fun. Even my girlfriend got into it and she's not into pop music or any Kinect dancing games. If you can't stand watching Han Solo and Lando Calrissian bust a move to a few butchered songs, it ain't for you. But I can almost guarantee the little ones will have a blast.
Duels Of Fate
Lastly, we arrive at the second mode that lets you become a Jedi. One of the first ideas that popped into every Star Wars fans' head when the Wii Remote and PlayStation Move motion controllers hit the scene was a 1:1 lightsaber dueling game. Doing justice to a lightsaber battle was a challenge for Lucasarts and with SWK it's never been more apparent why we haven't gotten a decent lightsaber game. The technology to make it happen still sucks.
Duels of Fate is proof why a lightsaber video game is better off unrealized (for now). Instead of giving us true 1:1 control over a lightsaber (or even anything resembling 1:1), KSW just lets you duel with Siths by performing lightsaber blocks and parry moves that never feel like they actually functoning. Essentially, you feel like you're blindly swinging your imaginary lightsaber until the game decides you magically performed an action it recognizes (wiggles won't work). It's very much a hit or a miss experience. If you do manage to get in those successful blocks, the game quickly prompts you to take the Sith down with any random slashing moves that might or might not register. In the end, you just feel like you're just slashing a whole lot of nothing in the hope that something registers.
Bottom Line: Worth A Rental
I admire LucasArt for trying to live up to the expectations of fulfilling the dreams of Star Wars fans everywhere, but KSW tries to do a lot of things, without many of them being very successful. When the most entertaining aspects of a Star Wars involves me making a fool of myself by attempting to dance to cheesy songs and going all Hulk-like on some village as a monster most people don't even recognize, you know something's amiss.
Despite all of KSW's shortcomings, it does have some surprisingly accurate voice controls that work very well even if many of the Jedi Padawan and alien podracer names seem impossible to pronounce.
KSW isn't the worst Kinect game out there. For $50, it's definitely one of the more polished Kinect games since Microsoft released the sensor two years ago, but if you're looking for a true 1:1 Star Wars game, KSW isn't it. Ultimately, the game fails in the distinctively Star Wars modes and succeeds in the modes that have little to do with the franchise. Rent KSW if you must play it or buy it used, but it isn't a responsive enough game with enough replay value to warrant a shrink-wrapped purchase.