Kinect Star Wars was one of the games that was shown at the E3 of 2010 where Kinect was first announced. When the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen the crowd erupted in cheering and applause. This was followed by a brief demo, where a jedi was cutting down storm troopers with his lightsaber, used the force to knock them over and finally to start a battle with Darth Vader. It all ended with the text “Coming 2011”.

This E3 demo looked very good, and the audience loved it. Now, we are almost two years further down the line and after many delays Kinect Star Wars has finally been released. Did this much-anticipated game live up to its first demo announcement? Or did it turn out as an over-hyped big disappointment? I played through the entire game and found out!

Is it a core game?

Before I go anywhere else with this review I need to clear something up right from the bat. Kinect Star Wars is NOT a core game. Forget what everyone has told you about “Kinect Star Wars being one of the very first hardcore Kinect games”, forget about Microsoft and its marketing and forget about all the hardcore hype surrounding this game. Kinect Star Wars is simply not anywhere close to a core game, and if I would judge and rate it like that it would get a very low score.

So what is Kinect Star Wars if it’s not a core game? Well, Kinect Star Wars is really a very cleverly disguised party game. If you play this for the first time you will see it actually has all the elements that any traditional party game has: Kinect Star Wars has two-player co-op where different people can jump in and out the game at any time. The game has many different modes, of which all of them have vastly different gameplay with each having the ability to have a quick play session. Even the campaign mode (more on this later) has this option: Each of the levels are cut up into bite size bits that can all be accessed directly from the menu. This whole game is made to quickly hop in and out of different game elements and to just play with a group of friends! You can also of course play this alone but everything about this just screams that it is in fact a party game! So what are all the different “games” you can play in Kinect Star Wars? Well, read on to find out!

Jedi Destiny, Dark Side Rising

The Jedi Destiny mode of Kinect Star Wars is what is probably known best about this game. You (and a possible co-op partner) play a Jedi in third-person view and have to battle waves of droids and other evil things in order to do….something (the story is not so impressive so I didn’t really take notice). This campaign mode starts off pretty good: a tutorial will show you the basics, and right from this point you’ll immediately notice that the tracking and swinging of the lightsaber is pretty much one-on-one! Move your hand around and your Jedi moves his hand around. Make a sideways slice and your Jedi does so. Make an upwards slice and your Jedi also follows pretty much exactly how you did it! This was pretty cool to find out, because in the demo I played at Gamescom it was really not this accurate yet!

Another thing that you will immediately notice (and that is not so good), is the graphics. They really look pretty bad for a game that comes out in 2012 and can best be compared with games that came out like 5 years ago! There is no HDR lighting, there are no soft shadows, the textures and models look extremely basic and even the animations and very primitive. If you go back and look at the demo of the E3 of 2010…the graphics in that demo look a lot better than the actual game does. It’s a shame that the graphics are so poorly done, because it feels like you are playing a heavily outdated game.

The graphics are awful...

After learning how to swing your lightsaber you’ll get introduced to all of the other controls. You will learn that to move forward you’ll have to step forward and point your arms back, that you can jump and that you can kick opponents. Other than that you can sidestep and use two force powers: Stick out your hand forwards to imitate a force grab (works on enemies and objects) and you can hold your hand back for a bit (to charge it up) and then extent it to do a force push move.

When you get into the real game it all starts off pretty fun too: You’ll attack droids, slash them to pieces, use you force to throw them into each other, kick them off ledges and jump on top of them with a devastating lightsaber ground pound. You’ll also quickly encounter enemies that are a bit more difficult to defeat: you won’t be able to just frantically slash around to kill them, you’ll have to block and time your attacks in order to kill them. These scenes of action are alternated by non-action bits where you’ll have to sidestep and jump to get over obstacles, duck to avoid hazards and use the force at the right time to activate certain stuff.

It’s all fun till you start noticing something: All the different scenes are extremely short and after each scene there is a cutscene. The scenes itself are entirely on rails (during fighting you auto target without being able to switch) and the non-fighting scenes are really just quick-time-event scenes! Just that instead of pressing a button at the right time you’ll have to execute a gesture at the right time to avoid death! From here on it all gets a bit too repetitive:

Fight -> Cutscene -> Fight -> Cutscene -> Quick Time Event -> Cutscene -> Fight -> Cutscene -> Etc…

It just keeps going on like this and the non-cutscene bits are so short that you are idling more than actually doing something! It actually get pretty boring after a while and the story is not nearly entertaining enough to actually enjoy the cutscenes.

Endless waves of droids have to be slain

Fortunately this endless cycle is sometimes broken up by some vehicular combat in which you get to play for a little bit longer before having to see a cutscene again. I was actually very surprised at the space bits of the game. In these scenes you’ll man a turret gun or a fighter and have to shoot down enemies and incoming missiles. Not only is this a very welcome diversion from the otherwise boring cycle, but the controls are actually pretty amazing. In order to move the gun (your crosshair) around you make fists of your hands and hold them to your chest. Moving them around now moves around the crosshair. The amazing thing is, is that this is very responsive and accurate. The tiniest movement is picked up and flawlessly translated into in-game movement. Never in a Kinect game have I seen something as accurate as this and I think it actually works better like this than with a controller! The space sequences are on rails but the space environments you are flying through are spectacular. During these scenes it also isn’t so apparent that the graphics engine of the game is pretty out-dated.

The Space Battles are just so much better than the rest of Jedi Destiny!

I played through the entire story mode and found that while playing I was getting more and more annoyed by the insane amount of cutscenes and boring droid fighting bits. There are only 7 or so different enemies + three bosses that are defeated in the same way as in the “Duels of Fate” mode (more on that later). However, the space bits are a lot better and are far more enjoyable. Playing the game in co-op also makes it a lot better, but still, after a while the apparent flaws will start to annoy you. The concept of this mode is good, but the repetition and crazy amount of cutscenes just totally kill the experience.

Podracing

Podracing was one of the centerpieces of Star Wars Episode One, a big portion of the movie was devoted to the insanely fast and dangerous races done in ridiculous vehicles (a small pod propelled by two or more massive jet engines). This podracing became a hit and a video game was made that was entirely devoted to the high adrenaline races. Star Wars Episode I: Racer came out for PC, N64 and Dreamcast and was so popular it even outsold genre competitors like F-Zero and Wipeout. Now this exciting podracing makes a reappearance in Kinect Star Wars, and let me tell you, it’s much more than just a mini-game!

In Kinect Star Wars podracing you step into the skin of one of six characters and race against classic Episode I opponents such as Sabulba and Ben Quadinaros. There are 6 different tracks to race on, each with their distinctive environment and stuff going on around the track. Races are all extremely fast paced and are filled with obstacles, shortcuts and of course: aggressive opponents.

Controlling your podracer is actually quite easy and uses a control scheme that is far more accurate than the “hold your hands like you are holding a steering wheel” that so many other Kinect racing games use. With Kinect Star Wars you accelerate by sticking both arms forward and you brake by pulling them back. Steering is done by pulling only one arm back: Pull back your right arm to go right and your left arm to go left. It’s simple but it works amazingly, especially because these controls are all analog, this means you can pull back your arm a little bit to make a small turn or pull back all the way to make a sharp turn. This allows for very fine and accurate movements and gives you great control over the podracer. One problem that you will undoubtedly encounter with these controls is that fact that your arms and shoulders will simply run out of strength. It took me quite some effort to keep my arms in front of me for the duration of a race and after two races I just didn’t have the strength anymore to keep them up. Still, I expect to get stronger the longer I play it and it’s still quite okay for short bursts of play.

The races are a total blast to play. Flying at high-speed through the different environments while having perfect control over your podracer is just a lot of fun. There are three different difficulty settings but already from the medium difficulty races get pretty challenging. You opponents will bash you around, shoot you and use turbos to get ahead of you. Fortunately you have the same bag of tricks and you can use certain ‘gadgets’ to gain an advantage. You can equip two different gadget and have a selection of both defensive and offensive items. You can for example have a flying droid that shoots lasers at your opponent, or a gadget that provides you with shields. You also have a turbo (executed by braking and immediately accelerating to full speed again) which gives you a huge speed bonus and makes the action even faster! There is however one element of the game that doesn’t really appeal to me: During the race a series of environmental related events can happen that will hamper your podracer and have to be dealt with by performing certain gestures. Your sight can be hampered by water for example and you have to wave your arms in front of you to “wipe it off”. These annoyances take the speed out of the game and can totally mess up your steering as you have to move your arms around.

Podracing is super fast, and super fun!

You can play Podracing either in Career mode or in quickplay. In career you start off with a severely downgraded podracer and as you win races your podracer gets upgraded and you unlock new gadgets to equip your pod with. You’ll have to finish each race in third, second or first place in order to go to the next race and at the more difficult settings this is quite a challenge. If you are playing with friends, quickplay is the way to go. Here you each select a podracer, a track and some race specific options and you can are off to play this for ages! If you are playing with younger ones there are also quite a few assists you can use to make the game easier: You can have braking and/or steering assists, you can have a ‘ideal driving line’ or you can even make the overall gameplay slower.

Podracing is probably the best ‘mini-game’ out of the whole Kinect Star Wars bundle: It is fun, it is accessible, the controls are great, in two player mode it’s really competitive and this mode just has a ton of re-playability. If you’ve ever played the old Star Wars Episode I: Racer and liked it, than you should get Kinect Star Wars just for this mode, it is that great!

Galactic Dance Off

When the news surfaced that Kinect Star Wars would contain a ‘dancing part’ the gaming community responded in uproar. Reactions were far from positive and people didn’t understand what dancing had to do with a hardcore game. Now that we know the Kinect Star Wars is not a core game at all but rather a party game and mini-game collection, it actually makes sense to have a separate dancing game included. Dance Central and Just Dance are among the best-selling games that are out for Kinect, and the dance genre makes for an excellent party game!

For anyone that has ever played Dance Central 2 the Kinect Star Wars Galactic Dance off will look and feel very familiar. This Star Wars themed dance game’s gameplay is pretty much a clone of Dance Central 2, and to be honest, this is a good thing! The game features 15 different songs that are playable at three different difficulty levels. The songs are all Star Wars takes on existing songs and the accompanying dance moves range from simple to complex. You can play this alone, or with friends or family in two player battle mode. Unlike in Dance Central 2 there is no “break it down” mode where you can practice moves, so it’s pretty much jumping in the deep and just seeing how well you do.

The songs that you can pick have a wide variety of musical styles and there must be something for anyone’s taste. Some of the songs are locked at the beginning and of each song only the easiest difficulty is available. Finish a song on easy and the next difficulty opens up. Each time you finish a song you’ll also rewarded by up to five stars. Collecting these stars will open up new songs and new dancers. In the end you’ll be able to dance with iconic Star Wars character such as the Storm Trooper or the Imperial Gunner.

Galactic Dance Off is a fantastic mode and if you liked any of the Dance Central or Just Dance games you’ll love this too, regardless of the Star Wars theme. The fact that, just like with Dance Central 2, you can play this together makes it a cracker at parties and I even got some of my “I’m never, ever gonna dance because I suck at it” friend to rock out to Star Wars themed songs. Even though this Dance mini-game got a ton of skepticism it is one of my favorite parts of Kinect Star Wars!

Rancor Rampage

In Ranco Rampage you crawl in the skin of a massive Rancor beast and use your strength to wreak havoc in one of the four locations. As a Rancor you can charge forward to knock over enemies and buildings, jump and land with a crushing blow, perform ground pounds, pick up enemies and throw or eat them and just fling around your massive arms to destroy anything they hit. The controls work very well, and controlling the Rancor is easy and intuitive.

You can play Rancor Rampage in two different ways: There is the challenge mode where you get limited time to perform challenges (like eat 2 people, or jump on top of 4 droids) and when the time runs out you’ll earn XP based on your performance. XP makes you go level up and with that you unlock new locations, upgrades or even a new Rancor. The other mode is called “Fury Mode” and let’s you wreak havoc without a time limit but until you die.

Rancor Rampage is definitely fun to play but it has nowhere near the replayability that Galactic Dance Off or Podracing has. Rancor mode is fun to hop in when playing with friends and to play it for a bit, but it’s isn’t something that you would do for more than half an hour. I do think that this will be an excellent game for kids that have to let of some steam or frustration, because the feeling of being so powerful is rewarding and a lot of fun.

Duels of Fate

Duels of Fate is the last mode in Star Wars Kinect and is in fact exactly the same as the boss fights in the Jedi Destiny mode. In Duel of Fate you pick one of five opponents (three are locked in the beginning) and engage them one on one in a three round duel. In these duels your opponent attacks first (by either slicing from the left, right, below or up) and you have to successfully counter this move by either blocking it (hold your lightsaber in the right position), dodging it (step left, right or jump) or parry it (block it exactly at the last possible moment). After you’ve successfully countered enough enemies you’ll go in a clash (lightsaber to lightsaber) and if you successfully get out of that (either by kicking and swinging forward) you’ll get a chance to take some swings at your opponent. According to how well you did during the ‘countering phase’ you’ll get multipliers to you damage or time that you can hit your opponent. After that time runs out the whole thing starts from the beginning again. Check out the video below to see how this plays out.

Now this mode is alright to play the first few times, but gets extremely repetitive after a few times. It does get quite challenging after a while because in order to unlock new opponents you have to defeat your previous opponent in a very short time. You’ll only be able to do this if you pretty much perfectly dodge everything and do everything as fast as possible. I personally got bored with this move very quickly though and although it’s a nice little extra it’s not something I would keep going back to.

Conclusion

Star Wars Kinect is a mix of different games and therefore hard to give an overall conclusion on. This game should also not be judged as a hardcore or just core game because it is clearly made as a party game for all different audiences. Star Wars Kinect does pack a lot of content, and with an action game, a racing game, a dancing game and a few other mini-games it is one of the most diverse Kinect games till date. If you look at the individual content the Jedi Destiny mode is probably the worst of the whole bunch. This mode suffers from repetition, bad graphics, an overload of cutscenes and annoying quick-time events. The space battle are however very and do not suffer from any of the previously mentioned flaws. The controls and tracking with Kinect are also surprisingly accurate and the one-on-one lightsaber action is very cool from a technical perspective.

If you buy Star Wars Kinect you’ll probably not do it for the Jedi Destiny mode, the Podracing and Galactic Dance Off modes are where the real fun begins. The Podracing is excitingly fast and has super accurate controls. The game is a blast in multiplayer and has plenty of options to make it accessible for all audiences. The Galactic Dance Off mode is a copy of Dance Central 2 and has all the gameplay elements that made that game great. There are 15 songs in total and the variety of songs will make sure there is something for everyone.

Than there are the Rancor Rampage and Duels of Fate modes which can be considered as true mini-games (the other games are not so mini). They are fun but do not provide any lasting content. They are good for if you have a party and just want to have some fun with friends, but if you are playing solo you won’t be going back to these modes.

All in all Kinect Star Wars gives me mixed feelings. Some games are excellent (Podracing, Dancing) while others are a bit shallow (Rancor and Duels) and one is just way too repetitive and annoying (Jedi Destiny). Rating this game is therefore also very difficult. I took the liberty of individually rating every game and just taking a rounded average of this, giving this a final mark of a 7/10. But if you ask me the question if you should buy this, then the answer is a definite yes, just for the Podracing and Galactic Dance Off this is a must buy!


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Kinect Star Wars
Scoring policy: What do these game review scores actually mean?