If you're planning to hate on Kinect Star Wars, you won't find yourself short of ammunition. You can say that it's nothing more than another bunch of Kinect mini-games, that it's heavy on the prequel trilogy at the expense of the original films, and that it doesn't exactly deliver the richest or deepest Star Wars adventure. If you wanted a next-gen Dark Forces with Kinect lightsaber and force power controls, it's not for you.
If, however, you're simply looking for a game that's happy to explore and even poke fun at the Star Wars universe, and that makes the most of Kinect, then step right up. If you can take your gaming and your Star Wars without getting too serious, you, your family and any Star Wars-crazy friends will have a great time.
The game is divided up into several different elements, or 'destinies' as the game likes to call them. The biggest is Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising, a prequel-era adventure game that takes a young Padawan from the Wookie homeworld to the heart of the republic. It runs on rails, and combines light-sabre battling against separatist droids with a spot of platforming, some speeder-bike racing and the Kinect equivalent of quick-time event sequences. It's a bit episodic, a bit limiting and a bit Dragon's Lair at times, but it's also quite good fun in small doses. The major issue is a reliance on combat, which transforms the so-called elegance of the lightsaber into an unholy arm-waving melee for the most part, and gets a little boring once you've faced down six or seven groups of attack droids or mercenaries in a row.
Next up is Pod-racing. Interestingly, this is trickier than you might imagine, with a control scheme that has you moving your hands as if you were pulling the leashes that hold your pod engines to your craft, and a whole series of secondary moves to learn for jumping, launching offensive droids and repair droids, and even wiping steam and dust from your goggles. There's a background story linking events together, and the galactic circuit takes you all the way from Mos Eisley through to Bespin and Corruscant.
Here Kinect Star Wars does a fine job of capturing the epic feel of the sequence in Episode One, and there's plenty of action on the track, with a full-scale battle going on while you race through the jungles of Felucia, or wamprats clinging to your craft as you blast through the canyons of Tatooine. The biggest faults are in that the other racers have a nasty job of bunching, making it easy to go from the front to the back of the field when things go wrong, and that you can go out of bounds a bit too easily, resetting you on the track and losing your places, but while these cause frustration, they don't totally spoil the experience.
Galactic Dance-Off does pretty much what it says on the tin, with alien dancers joining Star Wars favourites to dance their way through a selection of altered dance hits. The venues include Jabba's Palace and the Bespin carbonite facility, and all the songs have been changed so that they have a Star Wars theme. It's all very silly, but the actual dancing is rock-solid, with easy-to-grasp moves and accurate monitoring of your movements. And who can resist a game where Lando Calrissian steps up to show Han Solo how it should be done?
Duels of Fate is a minor disappointment. An expansion of the duelling segments of Jedi Destiny, the actual fighting is a little too step-by-step, where what we really want to see is fast-paced parrying and attacks. It gets more exciting as the pace steps up and you unlock characters like Darth Vader and Count Dooku, but this is arguably the weakest element of the game.
The highlight? Say hello to Rancor Rampage, which sees everyone's favourite giant Star Wars monster laying waste to cities across the galaxy. You earn points for such wholesome activities as mass destruction, picking up people and droids and throwing or eating them, and swatting sky-troopers and tie-fighters out of the sky. The fact that you move your Rancor by walking on the spot, grabbing and swatting in real life makes it as much fun to watch someone else playing as it is to play (especially if you're playing with kids), and there's something weirdly therapeutic about the whole experience. With more cities and a little more variety, this could almost have been a download game on its own.
Two things really hold all these elements together. First, the developers - and there are several involved - have aced the whole Star Wars atmosphere. From the way it's all linked up with R2D2 and C3-PO taking you through records in the Jedi library to the music, the effects and the dialogue, Kinect Star Wars feels like a celebration of all things Star Wars. The graphics are closer to the cartoon look of The Clone Wars than the cinematic look of The Force Unleashed games, but they make it a bright, fun, family-friendly game. After all, there's only so much Rancor carnage you want the kids to see (though we should note that this is a PEGI 12 rated game).
Second, this is one of the few Kinect games where controls aren't really an issue. We had some odd problems getting the dash forward move in Jedi Destiny to work, but otherwise everything seems accurate and responsive, albeit with a smidgeon of that old Kinect lag. The Pod-racing section is one of the few Kinect racing games that doesn't feel like it's been nerfed to hell and back. On the medium and hard difficulty levels, it's actually quite a challenge.
Taken in the spirit in which it's intended, Kinect Star Wars is a sometimes dumb but always fun celebration of Star Wars, with a good variety of activities and some hugely appealing elements. If you get offended by the sight of Han Solo dancing, stay away, but if you're happy with some simple Star Wars themed fun, then it's well worth getting hold of.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios