Review: Kinect Star Wars

April 5, 2012

Remember that bit in Return of the Jedi when Princess Leah sings a version of Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle entitled Princess in a Battle? What about the bit when Han Solo busts out his disco moves?

Me neither – but that’s what you get in this ludicrous bastardisation of the Star Wars universe, which is far more Attack of the Clones rather than it is The Empire Strikes Back. If you walk into Kinect Star Wars expecting anything kitsch or deadpan or vaguely original, you’re going to hate it. Really hate it. Despise it. It will make you want to throw yourself into the Sarlacc (before they edited a CGI venus fly trap into it). But approach it as a spin-off cartoon from Attack of the Clones and you can have some fun. Not a huge amount, but some. After all, swinging a Lightsaber around was the reason the Kinect was invented, wasn’t it?

The main game, Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising, sees you take the role of a young trainee Jedi. It largely involves fighting your way through increasingly infuriating cut scenes, which arrive with such regularity that at times it feels like you’re a peripherally involved bystander in someone else’s game. You’re otherwise tasked with smashing your way through wave after wave of clones, mercenaries and droids, which is great to start with but gets both visually and physically exhausting (“sore arms” rather than “cardiovascular workout”). It’s relentless – I longed for the game to take things down a notch and let me do some exploring. But it’s very much on rails, lurching from set-piece to set-piece. There is some respite when you take control of a Star Cruiser gun turret or drive a speeder bike, but these sequences are so interminably dull you’ll soon want to be back on the ground throwing droids around again.

The Kinect reads your Lightsaber swing pretty well and twirling your virtual weapon in a figure of eight, knocking back laser beams, is especially satisfying. Using The Force (controlled with your other hand) can be trickier, with the sensor often struggling to work out what you want to pick up, meaning you end up levitating a rock instead of chucking clones into each other. It also struggles to tell the difference between “kick” and “run”.

Another glaring defect is that the mechanism to pause the game – which you’ll want to do after a couple of non-stop stages of repetitive gameplay – is the same as the command to hold your lightsaber in your other hand. Instead of taking a break you find yourself taking on another swarm of clones, this time with your weaker arm.

The biggest disappointment, though, is the horribly overcomplicated duel mode. Here’s what they should have done: get some Star Wars characters, let you choose two of them, put them in an arena and let you slash away at each other with your lightsaber. Instead you get a running battle in which you take turns to attack and defend. Making contact seems arbitrary and getting the timing right to block is incredibly frustrating (dodging, on the other hand, is too easy). You’ll want to play it all the way through to face off against Count Dooku and Darth Vader, but it’s unlikely you’ll bother a second time.

There are other sub games in the package: a pod-racing tournament, a galactic dance-off and a game in which you control a giant, berserk Rancor. These are fun additions but scant compensation for the lacklustre main game.

To expect Kinect games to be as finely honed as other console titles is unfair – not to mention missing the point. But Kinect Star Wars is clunky and frustrating to the point of being unplayable. I had a bad feeling about this – it turns out I was right.

First published in City A.M.