Following some development delays, the release of Kinect Star Wars is finally upon us. With Kinect Star Wars we're given the promise of putting ourselves within the Star Wars universe through the use of motion controls. Early write-ups for the game were downright brutal following initial hands-on previews from E3 and ComicCon 2010. The developers listened and the release was then delayed so that the controls could be fine tuned. So how did the final version of the game measure up? Do the motion controls work fluidly? Is destroying cities while acting as a Rancor as fun as it sounds? Will you be ready for the next season of So You Think You Can Dance after busting a move in Dance Mode? Can hardcore gamers enjoy this game along with family friendly Star Wars fans? Let's go through the game mode by mode to find out...
JEDI DESTINY MODE
Of all the modes, this is the one that initially got Star Wars gamers most excited for this motion-controlled GFFA experience. Let's face it, the promise of playing as a Jedi, while moving like a Jedi, is awesome. We first got a taste of this when The Force Unleashed was released for the Wii a few years back. While there was some promise there, it didn't quite live up to lightsaber-wielding expectations. The game was great fun, but that had more to do with the story than the Wiimote gameplay.
In Kinect Star Wars you start as an apprentice and work through some training during your trip to, and when you arrive on, Kashyyyk. The training is step-by-step and quickly preps you for what is to come. That's a good thing because those pesky Trandoshans ultimately cut your training a bit short due to their Wookiee-hunting proclivities. And from there, the game takes off!
I don't want to spoil the fun of the story so we'll focus more on the mechanics, the diverse gameplay within the mode, and the story mode length.
I was a little worried that the motion controls were going to feel awkward as I'm not one to play a lot of motion-controlled games. I was pleasantly surprised (a theme that permeated my first evening with the game) that the Jedi controls felt quite natural. It's a little odd not being able to move anywhere you'd like. This is an "on the rails" game so your path is predetermined to a large extent. That being said, once you get to areas of action, a simple step forward will allow your Jedi to run up to an enemy for close combat. Jumping will make your Jedi jump over obstacles or, if you're in the middle of combat, will let your Jedi flip over opponents to attack from a different angle. Unlike in A New Hope, lightsaber wielding is done with either your right or left hand only. No two-handed power shots! Your non-lightsaber hand is used for Force abilities. The key here, especially if you are playing co-op, is to raise your dominant hand when the game prompts you to raise your hand to join in the fun. Whatever hand you raise will determine what hand holds the lightsaber. Jedi Mode is fun, but it's a little less fun if you are right-handed and your Jedi is left-handed.
As for complaints regarding the game being on-the-rails: Once you get into the game, you quickly realize that this was the only way to do it. There is simply too much going on between deflecting shots, dueling, jumping, using The Force, and so forth. The ability to at least dash around certain areas helped keep the on-the-rails portion of the game from feeling claustrophobic. Once the action starts, it doesn't really stop, so you quickly forget about the "rails" and simply melt into the gameplay fun.
I just spoke about the Jedi controls, but the best aspect of the Jedi Destiny Mode is the sheer diversity of the gameplay. This is not a simple hack-and-slash game. At one point you're speeding through the Kashyyyk forest on a speeder bike with Yoda. At another point you're fighting your way through a platoon of battle droids. At other times, the fight narrows down to one-on-one dueling where you have to read the body language of your opponent in order to deflect attacks. At another point you are manning a gun turret beneath an Outrider-style ship with a very familiar pilot who's frustrated with the hyperdrive. The diversity of the gameplay keeps you interested and makes you constantly curious as to what will come next.
Worried you won't be able to keep up with the motion controls, especially when things quickly shift from lightsaber fighting to another form of combat? Have no fear as Obi-Wan is here to help. An Obi-Wan holoimage pops up from time to time in order to coach you on the controls. At times he'll pop up when you already know what you're doing. While you may want to yell at him to get out of the way during those times, kindly remember that Kenobi is a hero who deserves your respect. He's only trying to help for crying out loud!
This was by far my favorite mode of the game. The action was non-stop, I loved anticipating what might be coming next, I enjoyed running into familiar characters, and I also enjoyed meeting the new ones. There is just one glaring problem with the mode. It's just not long enough. (Stop snickering.) I could have played this mode for days and found myself a bit let down once it was over. I wasn't let down by the story. I could care less if it's canon or if it's just for the game. Either way, it was fun. I wasn't let down by the motion controls even though I had a sore muscle or two the following day. I simply wanted more! The Jedi Destiny story mode may have been truncated in order to let the developers also focus a lot of their time on the other Kinect Star Wars modes. I understand that, but I stand by my desire for there to have been a couple more hours of game time.
Jedi Destiny Mode visually looks best when you are playing single player. You get the full panoramic view of your surroundings and can enjoy the attention to detail within the various environments. However, cooperative mode is a lot more fun! There's just something about jumping around the room while laughing with a friend or family member that makes the game infinitely more enjoyable.
The prospect of a new podracing experience had me reminiscing about the Nintendo 64 podracing game. I loved that game! This, however, is one heck of an improvement. The podracing story mode includes a number of familiar characters, though it is set a number of years after The Phantom Menace. Through cut scenes, you start on Tatooine and learn that times have been tough for our favorite Toydarian, Watto. Not only was it fun seeing him, but it was even more fun hearing Andrew Secombe reprising the role. It was also nice to hear Greg Proops reprising his announcer role. He's funny as always. You ultimately end up joining Watto's new racing team and then it's literally off to the races.
The initial tutorial is helpful and is worth the 15 minutes or so that it takes to complete. The hand controls for turning, breaking, and boosting ahead are pretty straightforward. The tutorial will help you with repairing your podracer during the race and will also show you how to make the podracer jump.
At the end of the day, this is simply a fast-paced GFFA racing game. The initial Tatooine level offers up some familiar surprises and doesn't follow the same path Ben Quadinaros never got to take in Episode I. However, in Kinect Star Wars, Quadinaros is a stud! One can only wonder if Kyle Newman had the ear of the developers.
This was the toughest of the modes for me to master but that challenge never took away from the fun. Incidentally, it was also the most tiring to some extent. You wouldn't necessarily think it, but holding your arms out in front of you for a long race can get a little distracting at times. There were points during the races that I wished I had a chair upon which to sit while using two walking canes as my steering devices. I'm not a particularly out-of-shape individual so this must purely boil down to my own laziness. Sore arms aside, this is a fantastic mode for anyone who jointly likes racing and Star Wars games.
It should be noted that story mode is not your only podracing option. You can hop into a quick race instead if you so choose.
This was every bit as much fun as it looked in the previews. The concept is basic. You are an angry Rancor and you need to express that anger by destroying, well, everything. Once again you start on Tatooine in your first rampage experience before expanding your rage throughout the galaxy with a variety of Rancor types. Various Rancors have their own specialized abilities. Some may seem familiar from other games (such as TFU) while others may be all-new.
This mode allows you to move more freely throughout your limited environment and does not feel on-the-rails at all. You stomp your feet to walk. You swing your arms to destroy. You jump and swing your arms downward to send a shock wave of brutality. And you pick up terrified bystanders and ever-so-delicately place them in your mouth for a mid-rampage snack. Awesome! Almost all of the various environments can be manipulated and destroyed as you pick and choose your favorite methods of destruction.
As you progress through your rampage, trying to ramp up your destructive point score, a variety of goals will pop up. They can range from telling you to destroy a building in a certain way to instructing you that it's time to jump on some civilians. While you're doing this, authorities are being alerted to your rampage through numbered alerts. The higher the number, the more resistance you will face. As you're battered with enemy fire, be prepared to munch on a human or two in order to replenish your life gauge.
Much like Jedi Destiny mode, Rancor Rampage works great if you're playing solo or if you are playing with a friend. The major difference is that you are competing with your partner for a higher score as opposed to it being purely cooperative. This is the mode I've played the most, with the exception of Jedi Destiny. It's a little repetitive but destroying stuff is fun. Yes, it boils down to that basic concept for me. The varying environments and types of Rancors help keep repetition from turning into monotony.
Ah, dance mode. The mode that made non-Star Wars fan gamers (and some SW fans) turn up their noses and proclaim that this was the sign of the game's ultimate doom. Look, I personally have no interest in a dancing mode. On the other hand, I won't vilify a game for having a mode that doesn't necessarily interest me. I love playing Mario Kart with my kids. We hardly ever play the Battle Mode as the races are much more fun to us. That doesn't make me like that game any less either.
That all being said, I had a review to write so I made my friend Kevin try out the mode with me. Sadly, I didn't take video of our dancing, but I'm sure it would have been hilarious. We were atrocious and our hands kept accidentally touching while we were busting a move or two. We also laughed the entire time.
I've never played a dancing game before but can best equate it to playing Guitar Hero, except by mimicking dance moves as opposed to guitar fret positions. The songs are modern and the mode is as lighthearted as you'd expect. That, and Slave Leia makes a pretty fierce competitor.
Again, I refer to the fact that my friend and I (both 32-year-old males) laughed our way through the mode. The laughing was not to mock the mode but was to mock ourselves. If this mode helps get little girls into a Star Wars video game, great! If this mode ends up being nice for a family to jump in and play together, that's great as well. I will not be venturing to this mode much on my own in the future. However, if my 3- and 6-year-old boys think the mode is fun, then I'll play it as much as they'd like.
Bottom line to all those who loudly complained at the mode's inclusion before ever testing the game: Dance Mode is fun if you're in the right mindset. Otherwise, just move along to the other action-packed modes.
DUELS OF FATE MODE
This mode is just what it sounds like. You duel! Duels pop up in Jedi Destiny from time to time, so this is essentially just a more concentrated version of what you get in the game during boss battles. Duels are handled in 3 stages. First you deflect your opponent's attack in a series of moves. Once you've made your defense, you clash lightsabers with your opponent and try to drive them back. From there, you're on the offensive until the process repeats.
Duels are my least favorite part of Jedi Destiny Mode. It's fun but I much preferred hacking and slashing the enemy to segmented dueling. However, once you get the hang of the process (especially defense) you tend to fall into a rhythm, but that rhythm is pretty repetitive. If nothing else Duels of Fate Mode is a nice way to practice your dueling for use in the story mode. Of course, it's also a nice way to fight Vader. To each their own!
HOW DOES IT SOUND? HOW DOES IT LOOK?
People have had wide ranging opinions on Star Wars video games throughout the years but I think we can all agree that the sound is typically top notch. From familiar sound effects to the soundtrack that still gets stuck in our heads, you feel right at home within the GFFA environment. Included in the sound category should be the voice acting. In Kinect Star Wars, we are in good hands with a number of actors from The Clone Wars. Upon first playing the game, my friend Kevin noted over and over again that the voice acting was much better than the typical games he plays. He's a hardcore gamer who pretty much plays everything so I considered that to be a nice compliment.
Visually the game was a bit more uneven. There are times when the cut-scene graphics look incredible and times when they look painted on a background. Yoda typically looks really good while Mace looks rushed. For the most part, the game looks fantastic. I particularly liked the Rancor Rampage cut-scenes. The fact that it does look rather stunning a lot of the time makes the sub-par visuals really stick out.
SO CAN A HARDCORE GAMER ENJOY SOME FAMILY FRIENDLY STAR WARS FUN?
I've mentioned that when I first played the game, I got my hetero-life-mate Kevin to help me out. He truly is the definition of a "hardcore gamer" who can be quite critical of games simply based on the sheer number of them that he's played. He absolutely loved the game. He admitted after the fact that his expectations weren't exactly high after all he's heard leading up to the release. Those low expectations led to pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise as we moved through the various game modes.
This is an interactive game. While playing alone looks fantastic on a wider screen, playing with a friend or family member is what this game is all about. I'm not totally convinced that Kevin's reaction would have been the same if he had played Kinect Star Wars alone. I think he would have enjoyed it, but I don't know if he would have raved about it.
My 5 year old son was grounded when I first received the game so he couldn't take part in the first round of gameplay. (Man did it suck having to ground him the day the game arrived. I hate being a grown up!) Now that he's played the game with Dad, he most certainly echos Uncle Kevin's praise. Of course, he was ready for a nap after an hour of playing (my son, not Kevin). Younglings tend to be a little spastic with motion controls, but it's really funny to watch.
So, a hardcore gamer and a lovable 5-year-old both loved Kinect Star Wars. Conclusion? Yes, this game can be for anyone and everyone. Don't expect Mortal Combat-style kill moves and don't expect expletives. Don't expect the gritty story line of The Force Unleashed. This is family fun that all can enjoy. Just make sure to turn up the volume for the best possible atmosphere. Always turn up the volume!
Ignore those on the interweb who would seek to cloud your mind with anti-dancing hate in order to proclaim that such a mode makes Kinect Star Wars garbage. Ignore those on the interweb who would tell you that the story mode can't be fun if your character can't wander freely. This is a very enjoyable family game. I can't say that enough. The motion controls worked surprisingly well and I simply had fun with Kinect Star Wars from beginning to end.
That being said, for all the fun that the various modes offer, the fact remains that for the $49.99 price, I wish there was more game time for the story mode. That's the main event here and I can't help but want more. Time will tell whether this game will be a novelty from which we move on or an experience that my family and I revisit often. For now, I'm having fun and think a grade of 7 out of 10 is appropriate.
Thank you to the folks at Microsoft for allowing us the opportunity to review Kinect Star Wars.
Thanks as well to TFN's Eric Geller for aiding in the editing and visual portions of this review.