The force is not strong with the latest Star Wars offering

Last updated 14:29 08/05/2012
Kinect Star Wars
USE THE FORCE: Kinect Star Wars offers the chance to take on sci-fi's ultimate bad guy, Darth Vader.

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REVIEW: Kinect Star Wars. Microsoft Games. $89.

As a gen-X kid growing up in the 1980s, it was almost impossible not to be profoundly affected by the Star Wars saga.

In addition to three spectacular cinematic masterpieces that seemed specifically designed to capture the imaginations of an entire generation of youngsters, the ensuing tidal wave of merchandise ensured that every Christmas and birthday present wish list would be dominated by tie-in toys for years after the original trilogy had run its course.

Those early summers spent engaged in mock lightsaber battles and attempting to "use the force" to push unwanted vegetables off dinner plates left a lasting impression that still resonates.

Despite the deeply disappointing prequels and the spectre of Jar Jar Binks looming large over the franchise, it remains a pop culture phenomenon that has maintained an almost constant presence in the world of video games.

Kinect Star Wars is the latest in a long line of games that have attempted to cash in on the most lucrative science fiction series of all time, the difference with this version being the inclusion of Microsoft's much maligned motion sensing controller.

Released to huge fanfare in 2010, the Kinect is the Xbox's attempt to muscle in on the casual gaming market once dominated by the Nintendo Wii. Whereas the Wii required players to wave a chunky remote around, the Kinect goes one step further and uses the human body as the controller – recognising individual limb and head movements in attempt to create a new level of gaming immersion.Well, that's the theory anyway. In practice, most Kinect games have been a mish-mash of unresponsive interfaces and dumbed-down gameplay. With the exception of the excellent but embarrassing Dance Central games and the brilliantly basic Fruit Ninja, the vast majority of Kinect titles have been big on flailing limbs but sadly lacking in immersive experiences.

Hopes were high that Kinect Star Wars would be the game that showed what the Kinect was capable of after two years of mediocrity, and early footage promised plenty – could this be the game that allowed players to unleash their inner Jedi, finally fulfilling the fantasies of millions of 80s kids and their children?

The game's main attraction is the "Jedi Destiny" mode. Putting you in the shoes of a young padawan, you receive training from master Yoda and soon find yourself scything down enemies with lightsaber attacks and using the force to lift massive objects with the wave of a hand. Along the way you'll engage in speederbike chases, dodge flying obstacles and make your way to the Death Star for a showdown with the ultimate bad guy, Darth Vader.

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Although the story mode is incredibly well presented, the hit-and-miss Kinect controls are responsible for an ever-present delay between your movements and the corresponding on-screen action.

The developers have acknowledged this and the game will often compensate for the lag by pushing you back on track or slowing down the action while you get back into position. Needless to say, this detracts from the overall experience and leaves you longing for an old-fashioned button-based controller.

Another point where the game falls down is in its choice of voice actors to flesh out the familiar faces from the films. Yoda is more reminiscent of Marge Simpson with a throat infection, while simply employing a vaguely camp-sounding Englishman to play C-3PO is never going to pass muster with fans who've seen the movies countless times.

Also available are a range of mini-games tenuously connected to the Star Wars universe. Of these, the pod racing is the most fun, with less of the lag that plagues the rest of the game. Special mention must also go to the so-bad-it's-good intergalactic dance-off, where modern pop hits are given cringe-inducing Star Wars twists (think Princess Leia channelling Gwen Stefani). You can almost feel the anguish from sci-fi geeks around the world as their heroes are reduced to backing up a breakdancing Boba Fett.

In its defence, Kinect Star Wars is clearly targeted at a younger audience than the jaded 30-somethings who grew up with the series. If I were 8 years old again, I probably would have loved it. Unfortunately, a lack of depth and another disappointing outing for the clunky Kinect leaves the game feeling closer to the Phantom Menace than the Empire Strikes Back.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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