What a ridiculous, attention-grabbing headline! Everybody knows game reviewers have already succumbed to the dark side; it's a job requirement. Looking at the scores Kinect Star Wars is pulling in I'm beginning to wonder if there's an even darker side.
The fun thing about Kinect Star Wars (at least from a review perspective) is that not one person I knew expected it to be anything more than a steaming load of bantha pudu. That means that any small iota of enjoyment one can squeeze from the game is amplified 200 times.
For instance, I hate the dancing sequences so much that mocking them while playing them is an active form of entertainment. I'm enjoying hating them. Certainly that's worth something.
*looks at review scores* Or not.
There can't be a person alive in the Western world that doesn't know what Star Wars is, whose father Darth Vader turns out to be, or what a lightsabre does. There must be barely fewer that have not secretly tried to turn the bath taps with the Force or wished they were a starship captain and their best friend was a space monkey.
Kinect Star Wars aims to make those dreams come true, but unfortunately it's about as on target as the average Stormtrooper.
Jedi Destiny is the story-based core of the game, but it's also the weakest element. You're a padawan, embroiled in a thin narrative about an attack on the Wookiee homeworld. In gameplay terms, that means you lurch through a series of on-rails scenarios with one hand guiding your lightsaber while the other struggles with fussy Force gestures.
It's a gauntlet, basically, as you clear room after room filled with battle droids and Trandoshan troops. Control is clumsy and vague, however, while Kinect simply can't cope with any fancy fighting moves. So you're stuck with broad, simple strokes, but even then it feels like the action on-screen is always one move behind what you're actually doing.
Later levels introduce enemies that kick, punch, and defend themselves with swords, requiring side steps to break past their forward defences. It's all rather sluggish, though, so you never feel like you're taking part in an epic battle so much as going for a leisurely stroll through the jungle. And, as if that weren't disappointing enough, duels against staff-wielding enemies and the Sith—what should have been the most fun part of the game—are incredibly dull. They're very much like a Jedi version of Punch-Out, minus the clever, fast routines. Instead, you wait while your opponent takes a strike from one of four sides, each accompanied by a five-second delay. You hold out your lightsaber to block their attack and eventually break down their defence, letting you finish them off with a bit of random flailing.
Kinect: Star Wars doesn't aid player immersion with constant gameplay interruptions, either. In the campaign you are largely on rails, either moving from arena to arena as a jedi, or just aiming guns or doing minor course adjustments when controlling vehicles. The vehicle parts work well enough, and let you play at length, but the jedi segments constantly remove player control. The resulting gameplay feels awkward, with regular moments where you play for only a few seconds before it wrestles control away from you. Even when it does hand control over to you it's to do the same thing over and over; fighting enemies (and often the controls) in an arena before it marches you to the next. Every game is repetitious in its design, but Kinect Star Wars' stifling pacing doesn't do anything to mask it.
Even when it recognizes inputs perfectly, any part with a jedi in Kinect: Star Wars is frustrating because of its neutered version of the Force. While basic enemies can be grabbed and tossed about (assuming you can actually target a specific foe with the finicky controls), most enemies simply stumble or shake off even the hardest Force push. Canned spots in the campaign provide a moment where you feel like a super-powerful jedi, but most of the time the Force feels all but useless.
Galactic Dance Off turned out to be a refreshing surprise as a mini-game. In it, you are a performer, dancing for your life in front of Jabba the Hutt and his palace entourage. You start with a funny song, I ain't no Hologram Girl, which is a parody of Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl.
"I heard you were doggin' ships, and you didn't think that I would hear it. People hear you bragging like that, get the engine binders fired up."
The hilarious lyrics made me laugh, and it was amusing to see Princess Leia strut in her slave girl outfit. You have to compete against Leia for the most points scored while dancing. As with MTV's Dance Central video game series, you match the moves of the dancers as accurately as you can. You can dance in Jabba's palace, in Bespin (the Cloud City), Coruscant, and on the Death Star. It's cute to see the Star Wars family of characters strut to the music. This is one of those rare intersections where both kids and adults can have a lot of fun. Accuracy helps in this part of the game, but Kinect does a good job recognizing your whole body's movements, so bad controls don't hamper you here.
Despite suffering from many of the same issues that typify Microsoft's motion controlled experience, Kinect Star Wars is actually a very good game. The presentation is superb, and while some game modes are more fleshed out than others, none feel like they've been tacked on or overlooked.
The development team has gone to great lengths to ensure that every game mode feels different to the next, and has overcome any issues with length by adding lots of replayability in terms of high scores, unlockables and alternative game modes. The force really is strong with this one.
It's cliche to roll one's eyes at new Star Wars products and to see them as that: as the droppings of an assembly line. There actually was a wonderful idea here. Anyone who has ever liked Star Wars would have been delighted with a game that let us feel like we were actually using The Force, that let us air-Jedi our way through a battalion of Separatist droids or bounty hunters.
What we get here seldom works well and is barely a pleasure. This game plays badly, except when it's just asking you to dance. In other words, it's only good when it is asking you to laugh with it. Otherwise, it's just a bad joke and a very bad video game.
I leave you with this. On the left, the signature spaceship your heroes fly in Kinect Star Wars. On the right, the Outrider, signature spaceship of Shadows of the Empire, a miserable Nintendo 64 Star Wars that is suddenly less lonely in the category of bad Star Wars side-stories we could have lived happily without.
My copy arrived today. I regret this.