We've all been there. That moment of clarity as you see a lightsaber effortlessly slice through a stormtrooper for the first time and think, yes, this is it, this is what I've been searching for, my whole reason for being. I want to be a Jedi. As those childhood dreams manifested themselves as swordfights with broom handles and plenty of amateur "zchoom" sounds, or even some ill-advised Jedi cosplay in later life, there was always the hope that one day maybe, just maybe, we'd all be swinging lightsabers for real. Sadly, the world's scientists have been spending their time trying to cure things like "diseases," rather than creating an elegant weapon for a more civilized age, so we just have to make do with the next best thing.
That thing is the motion-controlled minigame collection Kinect Star Wars, but far from being the sabre-swinging Force-fest your childhood self hoped for, in reality it isn't quite up to the task of making you feel like an all-powerful Jedi. That painful realisation hits when you and a friend jump into Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising, a third-person adventure set between the events of Episode One and Episode Two that puts you in the shoes of a young padawan hoping to become a fully fledged knight. It's initially impressive to see the movements of your hand translated to the lightsaber. Broad swipes and sleek slashes are easy to perform and are accompanied by that oh-so-satisfying "zchoom" sound as you take out a group of floating droids that form part of your training.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when you head to the Wookie home planet of Kashyyyk for your first mission. Surrounded by battle droids on the lush, green surface of the planet you swipe furiously at them, hoping to cut them asunder, only to find that the seemingly accurate tracking can't keep up with such quick movements. You can slow down your movements to a gingerly pace--hardly the hallmark of a great Jedi--but actually, any random flailing dispatches your foes; there's no skill required. Neither is there much skill needed to navigate each mission, with the action largely taking place on rails. What freedom you have is limited to battle sections where a quick step forward rushes your character toward an out-of-reach opponent or to the next predetermined goal.
Later levels introduce enemies that kick, punch, and defend themselves with swords, requiring side steps to break past their forward defences. It's all rather sluggish, though, so you never feel like you're taking part in an epic battle so much as going for a leisurely stroll through the jungle. And, as if that weren't disappointing enough, duels against staff-wielding enemies and the Sith--what should have been the most fun part of the game--are incredibly dull. They're very much like a Jedi version of Punch-Out, minus the clever, fast routines. Instead, you wait while your opponent takes a strike from one of four sides, each accompanied by a five-second delay. You hold out your lightsaber to block their attack and eventually break down their defence, letting you finish them off with a bit of random flailing.
Even using the Force has been reduced to a painful activity. Holding out your non-lightsaber hand lets you highlight objects and fling them into enemies, or you can fling the enemies themselves. Iffy item detection means that you don't always highlight the object you want, and it's impossible to know exactly where the object is going no matter what action you use to throw it. It's an incredibly slow process too, and because you can't move your character while using the Force, you're left open to rounds of blaster fire, making it much easier to just ignore the Force altogether and swipe away with your lightsaber.
If you were holding out hope for at least a decent story to propel you through the proceedings, then you're sorely out of luck there too. It's not that it's bad as such; it's just completely forgettable, consisting of a weird amalgamation of events from the original trilogy that have been carelessly shoehorned into the prequels' universe. You battle with droids, duel with the Sith, and make a miraculous--and very familiar--escape from a sarlacc pit. Plus, there are the automated vehicle sections, in which you use a combination of tilts and hand gestures to aim your shots while you pilot speeders through the jungles of Kashyyyk, shoot enemy craft using the guns of the Millennium Falcon, and--in another incredibly familiar mission--blow up the reactor core of a huge starship.
By the end of the lacklustre campaign you're thinking that there's little else the game can do to destroy your childhood dreams. But this is Star Wars we're talking about here, and if the film prequels have taught us anything, it's that nothing in the Star Wars universe is sacred anymore. Yes, Kinect Star Wars has a dance mode, and there is nothing that can prepare you for the sight of Han Solo mid-groove, his hips gyrating like an overexuberant schoolboy on prom night to the sounds of Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" with the word "boogie" replaced with "Wookie."
It's equal parts shock, horror, and hilarity, with things only getting more horrific as Lando Calrissian steps up to perform such classic moves as the shoulder pumping Speeder, the groin-thrusting There Is No Try, and the finger-pointing extravaganza that is The Double Blaster, The songs are even more cringing than the dance moves; most consist of cover versions of pop classics with the lyrics swapped out for something more Star Wars-centric. Be prepared to laugh and cry at such genius as "I'm a princess in a battle, you gotta join the rebel way" to the tune of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle"; "I'm picking up my blaster, put it on my side, I'm jumping in my Falcon, Wookie at my side" to the tune of Jason Derulo's "Ridin' Solo"; and "It's great to be in the empire today" to the tune of everyone's favourite party anthem, "Y.M.C.A" by the Village People.
While your childhood memories may never recover, the dancing game is actually pretty fun. The choreography is suitably silly, and the move detection is great--even with two players. Limbs of the onscreen avatars shine red to show you which moves you're missing, and there's even Dance Central-style moments where you have to strike a pose for bonus points. Those points go towards a star rating that you're given at the end of each level, with higher ratings unlocking higher difficulty levels and songs. It's best not to think about Han Solo's gyrating hips too much and just revel in the silliness of it all, even if you never see the renegade smuggler in quite the same light again.
Get tired of dancing, and you can take to the deserts of Tatooine for a spot of podracing. There are a bunch of tracks to race around, plus a host of different opponents for you to jostle in your clapped-out pod. Even the commentary is in the overexuberant style from Episode One. The way you pilot the pods is pretty cool, if completely impractical. You hold your arms straight out in front of you like you're in the pod, pulling back your left arm to turn left and your right arm to turn right. It works well, but it doesn't take long for all the pushing and pulling motions while holding your arms upright to completely tire you out. It's a good workout, for sure, so kids with boundless supplies of energy will fare much better than a coffee-starved adult.
Speaking of kids, if there's one minigame in Kinect Star Wars that they'll love, then Rancor Rampage is it. You take on the role of a Rancor, which has been set loose on an unsuspecting city. Stomping your feet causes the Rancor to move forward, while flailing your arms causes him to smash through buildings in the city. Crouching down and doing a jogging motion lets him charge through crowds of people like a juggernaut, squashing anyone in his path. You can even pick up inhabitants of the city and throw them around like confetti, with points awarded for distance. It's a lot of crazy fun, even if it's not the deepest of experiences.
What Kinect Star Wars does do is highlight just how difficult it is to create a full-on action experience using the Kinect. It tries hard, but the action is slowed down to a pace that saps the fun out of being a Jedi. Even the novelty of waving a lightsaber around can overcome only so much. And while the other minigames are a fun, if sometimes horrifying, distraction, that's all they are: a distraction. There's nothing lasting, nothing deep enough to make you want to revisit this motion-controlled Star Wars universe. It turns out there is something as clumsy and random as a blaster, and sadly, Kinect Star Wars is it.'