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The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Star Wars Kinect for Xbox

Posted by steve on May - 7 - 2012 with 2 Comments

Star Wars Kinect

The Force is Strong with This One

Years of suffering through movie tie-in games have gotten me weary of the genre. I’m happy to say that Star Wars Kinect breaks the mold and delivers a game that, despite its flaws, moves the Kinect forward as an active gaming system.

Rating by steve: 4.0 stars
*****

I’ll admit, after playing every movie tie-in game from Ghostbusters on the Apple II to Kung Fu Panda on the Kinect, I’ve grown a bit weary of them. Game publishers seem to know that they can produce a sub-par gaming experience, but as long as it contains characters and loose tie-ins to popular movies, they’ll still sell a bundle.

So I’ll admit my expectations for Star Wars Kinect were very low. Perhaps that’s the best way to approach this game. If you go in expecting precise light saber control, graphics on par with the movies, or even a decent storyline, you’ll likely be disappointed. On the other hand, if you want a game where you can build up a really, really good sweat and be moderately entertained in the process, you are going to want to add this one to your collection of Xbox Fitness games.

The game has several playing modes. The main mode is the story mode called “Jedi Destiny”. The storyline takes place somewhere between the first and second movie. The story begins with the familiar Star Wars scrolling introduction and music. You’re a young padawan being trained to be a Jedi due to the increase in the power of the dark side. You start by flying to the Wookie planet, where you meet Yoda, who leads you through the training. You actually meet a lot of familiar Star Wars characters, from Chewbacca to C3P0 and R2D2 to Mace Windu. Voice acting is passable but not great.

The training, of course, is mostly your getting acclimated to using the Kinect for gameplay. You get to start with controlling your light saber. Being able to foist a “real” light saber is of course one of the most anticipated features of any motion control Star Wars game, but in the case of Kinect Star Wars it’s unfortunately one of the most disappointing. You never really feel in control of the light saber–for example, regardless of how you move your hands and arms the light saber will just make a “slashing” motion. Eventually you just learn that you have to flail your arms wildly to use the light saber (whether to deflect lasers shot toward you or to slash opponents in hand-to-hand combat). You do have some rudimentary control over high and low positioning of your light saber strikes and blocks, but precise one-to-one light saber control is probably something best done on the Playstation Move more so than the Kinect.

Happily, the rest of the game is perfectly suited for the Kinect. On the Wookie world, you go through an obstacle course where you learn to run (actually, just taking a step forward), kick, jump, and crouch, skills which you’ll need throughout the game. A little icon will appear in the game any time you need to do any of these things.

By far the coolest feature of Kinect is when you use “The Force”. You rear back with your left hand and point at an object (or villain) until it glows, and then you push forward to send it flying. This takes getting used to, but once you’ve mastered it you really feel like you can use the force anywhere (after playing the game I even tried using the force to grab my coffee mug from across the table…it didn’t work). The inadequacy of light saber controls is mitigated somewhat by the ability to “force push” your opponents or hurl objects at them while you’re striking them with the light saber.

You eventually learn other combinations; jumping while hurling your light saber down, for example, causes an earth-shattering effect that renders your opponents confused, which is especially handy for the tougher opponents. Here’s an example of what happens when you put it all together:

Something else you get to do is fly a speeder bike through the forest. This too is a blast. You basically hold your arms out in front of you and steer by tilting your body left and right. You accelerate by leaning forward and brake by pulling back. You shoot enemies just by putting them within your sights (the gun will go off automatically, so there’s no buttons to push).

Later in the game you’ll engage in space combat, where you man a gun turret a la Luke in the original Star Wars. Again, this is just a matter of leaning your body to control the gun scope.

I’ll be honest–the storyline is very weak, to the point where by the second mission I lost pretty much any interest in what was going on. Something else that annoyed me was that the action seemed forced and gratuitous at times. For example, you’ll spend minutes fighting off hordes of enemies, your droid companion will says something like “well, it looks like we got all of them”, and then a whole new batch of enemies will magically appear. After this happens repeatedly, you start getting annoyed, as if you’re swatting off swarms of mosquitoes rather than having meaningful battles. SPOILER ALERT: the ending of the game is a complete ripoff of several of the movies. Enemies fire on a squadron that gets picked off one by one, with pilots screaming as they pile into ships. Your job is to go inside a giant spaceship and blow it up from inside. Once you do you need to race out as fast as you can through an obstacle course. You see a giant explosion. You hear John Williams’ triumpant march music. You see a giant crowd watching you get knighted as Jedi knights. You hear silly music and a really short fireworks display. You see the ending credits. Ho Hum. Rather than rip off the movies, I must rather would have played a simulation of the actual movie.

Another potential annoyance is common to many Kinect games–if your Kinect is less than 6 feet from you, it may not accurate capture moves like jumps. Very annoying as some enemies require you to jump like a pogo stick to avoid getting killed and having to start over from the beginning of the level and having to endure the inane cut scenes again.

But I have to admit, with the exception of Kung Fu High Impact and “pure exercise games” like The Biggest Loser or Your Shape, I don’t think I got as good a workout with any other game.

Kinect Star Wars also has “mini-games” which offer pleasant diversions.

Podracing lets you race a la young Anakin in The Phantom Menace. It’s a standard Mario Kart-esque racing game where you’re pitted against 11 other racers (up to two players can play on the Kinect, although you’d best have a lot of room so you’re not bumping into each other). There’s no online play, which may not be a bad thing given how much cheating there is for games like this.

Podracing uses similar motions as flying in the story mode. You push your arms forward to accelerate, rear them back to decelerate, tilt from side to side to steer. You can give yourself a boost by thrusting your arms forward, and of course you have to avoid certain obstacles along the way, such as Tuscan Raiders shooting at you. This one was a lot of fun, and again a surprisingly good workout.

Another mini-game is called “Galactic Dance Off”. The premise here is that you’re a dancer for Jabba the Hutt and have to please him in order to avoid a horrific fate (a la in The Empire Strikes Back, complete with Princess Leia look-alike in the skimpy outfit). The gameplay is an almost exact copy of Dance Central; the redeeming factor is that it’s all done with tongue planted firmly in cheek. You have covers of popular songs (such as Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” changed to “Holagram Girl”…get it?) and dance moves are given names like “Chewie Hug” and “Force Push”. Even with the humor and the surprisingly decent gameplay, I admit this one was an eye-roller.

Okay, I’ll admit this one is my favorite. Rancor Rampage lets you play the part of an escaped rancor (the giant beast owned by Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi) as you rampage villages. This one is nothing short of brilliant. You can stomp through the village, pick up (and eat!) villagers and droids, hurl them, jump on houses, reach up and grab fighters trying to shoot you down, and a lot more. Rest assured for the kids’ sake that there are no gruesome graphics or sound effects, but some of the more sensitive may not enjoy the concept of a giant monster eating people.

All in all, this one was very well done, and another great workout to boot working out your arms (you use them to move through the village, swat, pick up and throw people and droids), your quads and calfs (by jumping). I would really love to see this concept developed in a Godzilla or King Kong-type game.

The last of the mini-games is called Light Saber Duel. Here, you just get into one light saber battle after another. It’s another pretty good workout, although as I mentioned before you really need to set your expectations properly. Don’t expect too much precise control over your light saber, but spend some time mastering how to block, how to use the force in your battles, and so on and you should be fine.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Star Wars Kinect. Unlike most other Kinect games, this one seems to have gotten past the “Hey, isn’t the Kinect cool!” type of game play and really uses the Kinect in new and inspired ways. The Kinect is obviously an integral part of the game and with the exception of light sabers seems to add a lot to the game.

Granted, it’s not a perfect game. The story line is weak and even tedious at times, and there is the noticeable lag that most of us have gotten used to with just about any Kinect game. But if you can get over these annoyances the workout value is excellent, so much so that for the first time in a while I’ll be adding this to the list of best Kinect Fitness games.