Hands on preview: Star Wars Kinect
Recently I had a chance to sit down, or rather stand up and flail my arms around with a hands on demo of the upcoming Star Wars Kinect title. The demo consisted of three game modes: Pod Racing, Jedi Adventures and Rancor Rampage. The former two modes were available for up to two players with the latter being a single player experience. So is the force with this apparent collection of Star Wars themed mini-games, or much work does this game require? Somewhere in-between, it is.
Canning the poor attempts to make jokes out of Star Wars lingo and into the heart of it, Star Wars Kinect appears to be a collection of a couple different types of mini games rather than any one extended story line. While it is somewhat disappointing to see that this is the case, the various highs and lows of each mini-game did give the impression that this may be the best course for them to go.
Navigating the menu was a pretty standard Kinect experience. Hand to the right to make the menu rotate to the right, to the left to rotate left, etc. One minor change was that rather than simply holding your hand out and waiting for a circle to fill to make a selection, you actually had to pull back your hand and then push forward. In a minor way this mimicked a “force push” while at the same time making sure you didn’t activate anything by accident. Being that it was a demo there appeared to still be some bugs though, and about half the time you were as likely to move to another selection, as you were to properly select your game.
As stated before, the demo offered three game types, each lasting a couple of minutes. Rancor Rampage was the only option that didn’t have multiplayer and put the player in the shoes (or rather broken chains) of Jabba’s Rancor. The demo starts with the open door of Jabba’s palace, only rather than trying to shut Jedi out the various inhabitants are fleeing for their lives as a giant, angry and no longer chained Rancor makes its’ way out of the palace and heads for Mos Eisley. This is where you take over, with a simple mission; destroy as much of the spaceport as you can. You can maneuver by turning slightly to your left or right, and walking is done by actually walking in place (raise your left foot and you will take a step forward with your left foot in the game). Swing your arms around to knock around buildings and various futile attempts to slow you down, make a throwing motion when you have snagged a storm trooper to toss him (or move your hand to your mouth for a snack). You can also jump (jump in place) and do a running attack by sort of leaning forward and moving your arms like you are trying to quickly dig a hole. The more damage you do the longer you go as ultimately Rancor Rampage is all about getting points.
Rancor Rampage is certainly fun, but there is definitely a question of just how much life this game has. If Mos Eisley is the only location you can destroy than the answer is not much at all, but there is certainly something to be said for the experience. The controls are fairly responsive and it was interesting to play a Kinect game where walking in place actually facilitated walking on screen. Certainly Rancor Rampage won’t sell Star Wars Kinect on its’ own though.
Next up was Pod Racing. Playable with one or two players, it really didn’t change the experience. Immediately upon starting, it brought memories of the Nintendo 64 Pod Racing game, partly because it was set in the same course from The Phantom Menace. The controls in Pod Racing were far less clear and defined than they were in Rancor Rampage, and to be blunt, most of the game it was unclear exactly how much of an affect moving around was really having. The game does have an “assist” option that helps you control your movements that made it hard to tell what exactly was the assist and what exactly was me. Of course this option could be turned off, but if the rest of the experience was any indication, it’d only be a sure fire way to guarantee last place. Ultimately, Pod Racing just had you standing there for several minutes with your arms forward like a zombie. There was little to indicate whether Pod Racing would have a full series of races or if it was just this one race, either way it was forgettable.
Lastly was Jedi Adventures. Finally, a chance to really act like a Jedi in a video game! Available as a two-player experience, and best when done so, you play as a pair of Jedi sent to Bespin (Cloud City) for some form of rescue attempt. Along the way you will slice droids with your light saber (by swinging your right arm around like you actually have a light saber), as well as force push and toss druids out of your way. There is little movement in the game; put your right foot forward and lean in to sort of glide in whatever direction you were facing and jump to jump over an enemy is about it. That said, the light saber was fairly responsive and the force push worked incredibly well (you extend your arm forward like you were really doing a force push). Picking up droids and throwing them was a little hit-or-miss as the game seemed to have trouble recognizing that you were picking them up.
One particularly enjoyable part of the game was towards the end, when you face two droids carrying whatever those batons are called that lets them actually fight Jedi’s. To beat them you must jump over them and attack them from behind, but this also led to a moment of genuine teamwork when playing the game. Once one of the droids had been destroyed, I distracted the other with a frontal assault while my partner attacked it from behind; effectively beating the droids in no time flat. It may seem rather insignificant, but it added so much to the experience to have actually worked together with someone else to beat the droids, especially since up to that point it had been more or less a free-for-all. It was fun, but it would certainly get a bit old very quickly if there was nothing else to it.
Star Wars Kinect is still obviously in a demo state, and there is no way to know just how much the game will change between now and release. That said, the demo is a mixed bag of hits and misses. Certainly it does play into the obvious desire of everyone, ever, to be a Jedi, and there is just something incredibly satisfying about pushing your left hand forward and seeing a stupid battle droid go flying. Almost equally satisfying was rampaging through a spaceport as a Rancor. At the same time, what all three demo’s lacked was any substance; it was just another set of Kinect mini-games, only now with a Star Wars theme. Let’s hope the final product can be just a little cleverer.