Set for release this week, the long awaited Kinect Star Wars is set to dominate the global videogame charts thanks to the legions of fans eager to adopt the latest interactive experience from the Star Wars universe. Of course, Kinect Star Wars has a much greater potential audience than that however, with the videogame designed to be suitable for family-orientated gaming. While the core audience will quickly warm to the Lightsaber combat, youngsters will take to the destruction offers by the Rancor Rampage mode. Exactly who the Galactic Dance Off is intended for however, isn’t quite as obvious.
The videogame is divided by gameplay mode at the main menu, with each component being its own entity. The core gameplay mode – that which has been continuously showcased since the initial announcement of Kinect Star Wars – is labelled as ‘Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Adventures’ as it is a story led gameplay mode, and that which offers the most gameplay variety. While the majority of the adventure takes place on automatically scrolling levels with battles conducted through the use of Lightsabers and the powers of the Force, they also feature sidesteps such as the speeder section early-on.
The combat sections constantly fluctuate between enjoyable and unresponsive, immediately proving that Kinect Star Wars isn’t in the top tier of technical capability for Kinect, but when it does work it is as any Star Wars fan would hope; one hand commands Force powers while the other controls the swing of your Lightsaber, though both rely on the player learning the speed at which movements can be recognised to function correctly. A step forward moves your character forward, as with left and right movement and dodges, duck and jump work as expected. It’s a simplification of the real world actions by anyone’s standards, but as has been the question proposed many times with Kinect, who would really want to spend three hours running on the spot to play a videogame in the evening?
More successful on the whole is the Podracing gameplay. Playing in a very similar fashion to the Star Wars: Episode 1 – Podracer arcade cabinet released around the time of the motion-picture’s theatrical debut, player control the speed of their pod by holding both arms directly in front of them, withdrawing them by degrees to apply the brake. To turn, the player simply brings the arm on the side of the corner towards their chest, as if applying brake to that engine alone. It’s a simple control system that works well, and the fact that the gameplay mode is given enough grace to have a tournament structure is a wonder as to why more hasn’t been made of it in the run-up to release.
What was originally deemed one of the more questionable design decisions in Kinect Star Wars has actually turned-out to be very enjoyable. The Rancor Rampage gameplay mode is essentially a modernisation of the classic Rampage videogame, with added Rancors. Taking the building destroying, people throwing, rage-inducing gameplay of the videogame from yesteryear and placing it in a fully 3D environment with a series of special abilities would undoubtedly result in something not too dissimilar from this gameplay mode, but without the Star Wars dressing of course. The Rancor Rampage mode is the perfect opportunity to expel five minutes of energy – be it positive or negative – but will rarely be home to anything more serious.
Next on the agenda is the dancing gameplay: while the Galactic Dance Off mode is well developed, one has to wonder why the development team bothered. With the Kinect device having been largely targeted at a family audience and the likes of Dance Central now available at a budget price, if any players were so inclined they would surely adopt a title specifically designed for a dance experience. While Lightsaber combat, podracing and Rancor destruction may be familiar to other videogames in their delivery, they remain intrinsically part of the Star Wars universe; dancing in Jabba’s Palace most certainly isn’t.
Finally we come to the Duels: the gameplay premise which should, for all intents-and-purposes, be the easiest for Kinect to deliver upon. Sadly, just as with the Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Adventures mode, the software has issues with timing, lighting and space that the likes of Kinect Sports: Season Two would have you think are all-but eradicated. Couple the detection problems with what is essentially a Kinect QTE, demanding players hold their Lightsaber in one of four positions to deflect an enemy attack, and the Kinect Star Wars package is rounded-off with a limp riposte, opposed to a strong armed thrust.
Visually speaking Kinect Star Wars fits the bill almost perfectly. It’s never going to be considered a title that pushes the hardware, but the world that is created is unmistakably Star Wars. Every character, planet, location and animation is clearly born of an alliance with LucasArts that’s aimed at pleasing the family audience without disenfranchising the fans, and it performs this job wonderfully. It’s closer to the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series than it is the motion-pictures, but the important characters all remain instantly recognisable. The sound design is also fantastic, with voice actors that clearly relish the opportunity to be part of such a well loved universe.
Despite it’s efforts to the contrary, Kinect Star Wars is sadly not the virtual Lightsaber battling experience we’d all hoped. It perhaps comes closer than any videogame experience previously, but it still remains far, far away from the ideal which it promised to deliver. The fact that the additional gameplay modes were revealed so late in the day suggest that the dancing, rampaging and perhaps even the podracing were in fact added at the eleventh hour when the development team finally realised that the adventure alone would not satisfy the core audience, or when they accepted that the title they were developing would be a more welcome fit for a less passionate demographic. Of course this is merely conjecture based on the evidence laid out before us, but one thing Electronic Theatre is certain of is that Kinect Star Wars is a videogame that will likely entertain many, but be cherished by very few.