For some, this was a low point in Star Wars history: the cultural touchstone which meant so much to many, which Microsoft and Terminal Reality had turned into a reductive and derisive cash-in. Being part of a beloved franchise though meant that Kinect Star Wars, now ten years old, would have to face much more scrutiny than other titles. With the benefit of hindsight is the game really as terrible as it made out to be, or did the naysayers miss something?
Star Wars may make prolific entries into the video game medium, but not always with quality results. Though there are some standout titles (Battlefront, Rogue Squadron, The Force Unleashed) yet most entries have been straightforward and standard genre games that don’t feel unique to the series, managing to sell on the strength of the brand. Despite which, with every new game there are additional hopes that it will finally live up to the feeling of the films, so already there were expectations for Kinect Star Wars, even though there may have been little precedent for it, when it was finally released in April 2012.
The same goes for the format of the game. Just two years into its life, Microsoft’s hopes for the Kinect to replace traditional controllers had not come to fruition, nor would they, and the peripheral was reduced to being a child-friendly motion controller. A direction that gave rise to many youth-oriented titles, Kinect Star Wars being one of them, evidenced by the child participants on the cover. This should have been an immediate indication that this game would not be tonally on par with more serious titles, it’s a younger and sillier affair than those trying to add to or move on the franchise.
That it is intended for younger players and has unreasonably high expectations does not give the game a free pass through all its shortcomings, of which there are a good few. Yet look closely enough and there are some things that Kinect Star Wars gets right in its attempt to give fans young and old a more immersive Star Wars experience.
The main story mode of Kinect Star Wars, Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising, has players take control of one of a group of young Jedi on their first mission, chaperoned by master Mavra Zane. This mode essentially works, if not for some recognition issues that make certain actions hard to do properly. At least with one exceptional function: force push. The simple action of holding up a hand sends the nearest enemy flying and, unlike in any other Star Wars game, this power is instant, accurate and has the feeling of coming from the player rather than the character. It may be a small part of the game, but it’s by far one of the most effective.
That feeling however only lasts as long as it takes to complete story mode, which isn’t very long. Kinect Star Wars has more to offer beyond a story mode, tapping into many more familiar aspects of the extended Star Wars universe. It seemed inevitable that Podracing was going to feature, being easy enough to program and something players of any age can get to grips with.
Though the feeling of blasting high-speed across some much-loved landscapes is not quite the same as using the force, as above, its simple and straightforward controls coupled with its presentation and sound design is what make it an enjoyable experience. Yet the mode is hampered by some steep difficulty curves: enable too many assists and winning a race becomes easy, too few and commands become less responsive, leading to more frustrations as it becomes harder just to stay in the race.
In addition there are Jedi Battles, a slow and often frustrating series of lightsaber duels with a rostrum of familiar foes. Rancor Rampage sees you causing havoc as the eponymous monster, but the convoluted controls and frequent recognition issues make this mode far less fun that it could and should have been.
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about Kinect Star Wars without mention of the dancing elephant in the room: its Galactic Dance-Off mode. It is easily the most bizarre addition to the game and one of the most surreal official Star Wars incarnations, leaving player to bust out moves, Just Dance-style, against familiar characters to themed versions of well-known pop and disco hits.
You can understand why this instantly became a meme and why for many it’s the biggest strike against Kinect Star Wars – yet, with the pure lunacy of its inclusion coupled with some good dance moves and best use of the Kinect, it could be argued that it’s the most fun in the whole game. Those who can accept not taking Star Wars seriously and are ready to let go of sense for a moment, will be the ones playing this with the biggest smiles on their faces.
Alas, Kinect Star Wars’ fate seemed sealed even before it hit the shelves: the bad word that gathered around the game pre-release was followed by mediocre reviews and reactions. Despite that, it managed to sell well, becoming the first Kinect game to top the UK sales chart. There’s also a poignancy to Kinect Star Wars as, with Disney’s takeover of the company shortly after the release, it was the last game to be published by LucasArts as an independent company.
Kinect Star Wars is certainly an odd game but while it may be too irreverent for die-hards and too simplistic for serious players, it is possible to have some fun with it if approached with the right frame of mind. With ten years now having passed since the 2012 release, and a lot happening with Star Wars since, it could even be argued to no longer be the worst entry in the franchise.
Let us know what your memories of the game were. The comments are below.