When Kinect Star Wars arrived in my mailbox I was terrified. That is not an exaggeration. I braced myself for the absolute worst. Judging from what I saw (and couldn't unsee) at last year's E3 and every subsequent trailer since, I had every right to be. Kinect Star Wars just looked like garbage, honestly. So it makes sense that I approached the final product with a bit of hesitation.
Now you're probably thinking, "holy crap, here comes the part where he's going to turn this review on its head and reveal that Kinect Star Wars isn't so bad." Ha! That's not going to happen. As anticipated, Kinect Star Wars is not a good game. It's a sloppy experience with only a few redeeming quality, of which I'll get to over the course of this write-up.
The main gameplay mode of Kinect Star Wars is "Dark Side Rising," a story-driven experience that places you into the inexperienced shoes of a Padawan in training. The way I look at it, Kinect Star War's story mode is adequate enough to pass as a child's Star Wars power fantasy. I honestly think your Star Wars-loving kids will find a lot to enjoy in this mode. They'll probably feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration being a Padawan learning from master Yoda, for instance. But the value of this mode pretty much ends there.
Adults attempting to get into the game's story mode will find, well, a lack of a good story for starters. Furthermore, a lack of precision with the Kinect sensor, but that's always been one of the peripheral's biggest areas of criticism. It just can't handle precise, finite movement and Kinect Star Wars suffers the same fate as many titles before it. The experience quickly becomes a grating one as you struggle juggling your limited force powers and utilizing your lightsaber in such a way as to make it seem like your not just bushwhacking. But bushwhacking is always what ends up happening. Surprisingly, there's also no option to hold the lightsaber in your left hand and use force powers with your right. Sorry lefties, looks like you're going to be switch-hitting through this experience. [Update: originally I had stated you couldn't play the game left-handed. That has been proven untrue. You just have to hold your hand out to the left during gameplay to switch to left-handed mode.]
Now it's time to talk about the game's dance mode, called "Galactic Dance-Off." Yes, Kinect Star Wars features a dance mode that tries its best to emulate Dance Central, only with stormtroopers, Twi'leks and other galaxy mainstays boogying down. However, comparing this mode to Dance Central is really a disservice to Dance Central. There's practically no refinement found here. For example, at one point I just stopped moving, put my arms by my side and still managed to rack up points. The game just throws them out like they're candy whether you're doing the moves accurately or completely disregarding them. To me that seems, well, broken…
Furthermore, the dance mode does a number on my fond childhood memories of Star Wars. I can stomach my fair share of ridiculous satire when it involves my favorite franchise of all time. However, watching Han Solo shake it with an entourage of imperial troopers in the carbonate chamber while Lobot drops it like it's hot from his DJing booth is a little much.
Don't believe me? Watch for yourself (enjoy me dancing in the upper left. What you can't see are the tears I'm trying desperately to hold back)…
Your childhood has officially been Alderaan-ed.
I tried my absolute hardest to push through this mode to give it a proper shake. I honestly couldn't do it. It just felt wrong on so many levels. This isn't Star Wars in any capacity. It's a gimmick with the face of a recognizable brand and its implementation is subpar at that. Could your children wind up liking it? There's a distinct possibility, but I suggest adults vacate the room as they're at risk of having their childhood cry out in terror and then be suddenly silenced.
The next two game modes available in Kinect Star Wars are essentially just mini challenge modes. There's not a lot of depth to be found in either. In Rancor Rampage, you get to control a Rancor (shock!) and stomp your way through a number of challenge maps, smashing droids, plowing through buildings and throwing stormtroopers hundreds of yards. Duel of the Fates, on the other hand, lets you relive a few lightsaber battles from the game's "Dark Side Rising" mode, as well as fight franchise mainstays like Count Dooku and Darth Vader to live out your fanboy fantasies.
I'll be honest with you, I spent roughy 20 minutes with these modes combined. They're very bare and, as previously stated, offer little in the way of depth to keep you coming back. You're better off spending time in the game's other modes, if you can stomach them, of course.
And that brings me to the one mode that could be considered the saving grace of Kinect Star Wars — podracing. It's not that the podracing mode is good, it's just that it's not insulting. At its best, this mode made me fondly reminisce about the excellent N64 title, Episode I: Racer (and its badass arcade brother). So for that, I thank it. In a lot of respects, I wish LucasArts and developer Terminal Reality just focused on this mode and made a full-on podracing Kinect title, scrapping everything else altogether.
With that said, however, Kinect Star Wars' podracing mode has quite a few issues that hold it back from being something truly memorable. While the fundamental podracing controls work, it's when you start incorporating the repair and weapon gestures that things get a little messy. Not only do they not work 100% of the time, but they also counteract your piloting controls. For example, when you try to swipe a womp rat off your pod, you're forced to slap it away which then sends your pod swerving sharply into a wall. Fun. Furthermore, the courses in the podracing mode are frustratingly linear. If you deviate ever so slightly from the designated path you'll be reset to a earlier checkpoint, slipping a few places back in the process.
As I stated in this review's introduction, Kinect Star Wars is not a fundamentally sound video game experience. All it's got going for it is basically the Star Wars brand, and that even hurts it in the case of the game's atrocious dance mode. The only people I can justifiably recommend this game to are those with kids who love Star Wars. Children don't need precise controls to have a good time. They'll see Yoda, Mace Windu and Watto and lose their shit. And for a lot of parents, that's enough to justify the purchase just to get a little alone time while the kids are busy living out their Star Wars fantasies stuck in front of the television. Adults — even Star Wars-obsessed ones — need not apply.
CraveOnline received 1 advanced copy of Kinect Star Wars for the Xbox 360 from Edelman on behalf of Microsoft. We were held to the embargo date of April 3, 2012, at 12:01am PDT. Before starting our review, we played every game mode available for a number of hours and then cried into a big bowl of Chubby Hubby ice cream. We were not proud of any of it.