Kinect Star Wars dancing

Can You See Me Now?

The infuriating intermittence of Kinect Star Wars.

By Scott Jones • April 12, 2012

In Kinect Star Wars’ opening moments, a perturbed C-3PO repeatedly asks, “Are you there? Hello? Anyone!” This is the game’s way of pestering players to step into range of the Kinect, the Xbox 360’s sometimes-it-works camera peripheral. Once Kinect has detected the player and C-3PO has been satisfied—“There you are,” he says, “I almost blew a circuit looking for you!”—this union of suspect technology and a critically excoriated film franchise is officially underway.

The Star Wars/Kinect idea sure sounded like a can’t-miss proposition for both parties. On one side, there’s Kinect, a half-cooked bit of tech still looking to deliver on its early promise. On the other side, there’s Star Wars, a wayward institution in need of a return to its primal lightsaber-swinging roots. But it’s obvious from the outset that this isn’t going to end well. When the Kinect’s cameras work, which is typically around 60 percent of the time, the Star Wars narrative falters. When the Star Wars narrative shines, as it does during brief moments in the “Jedi Destiny” mode, the Kinect suddenly goes on the fritz. Indeed, playing Kinect Star Wars is like having dinner with a doomed couple: Back and forth these two go, failing one another at crucial turns, then rushing to blame the other for the resulting mess.

Kinect Star Wars podrace

Of the five play modes, three are shallow mini-games. “Rancor Rampage” lets you roam about as an oversized, lizard-skinned golem, leveling buildings and stomping Stormtroopers. “Podracing” challenges you to clumsily steer a podracer from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace using arm and body movements. The Dance Central-like “Galactic Dance-Off” teaches you to perform dance moves like the “Trash Compactor” for Jabba The Hutt’s pleasure. Depending on how you feel about the sight of Han Solo dancing like an In Living Color Fly Girl to a song titled “I’m Han Solo,” these moments either come off as playful bits of motion-centric gaming or outright heresy.

The two modes “Jedi Destiny” and “Duels of Fate” represent the heart of the game. Both intend to deliver the Star Wars fan’s ultimate dream: to walk a mile in Luke Skywalker’s shoes. It tells the story of a mute Jedi-in-training who must learn the ways of The Force. An always-present blue-tinted hologram mimes the appropriate “Force” movements. For example, in the initial moments of “Jedi Destiny,” when the hologram holds out his tiny blue hand palm-first, the player must mimic the motion. Doing so causes a lightsaber to fly off a table, zip through the air, and settle neatly in the palm of your avatar. 

Kinect Star Wars duel

This lightsaber-to-hand moment is very satisfying; it’s akin to discovering the last piece to a puzzle that you gave up on decades ago. It’s too bad the game doesn’t feature more moments like this. The ensuing lightsaber battles, which should be thrilling, are dull and predictable; in the game’s worst moments, they are outright broken. Enemies telegraph their swings from miles away, allowing ample time for blocks and counterattacks. Whenever emotion comes into play, as it inevitably does during a 35-years-in-the-making showdown with Darth Vader, the frantic motions of an overexcited player almost always fail to register, as if the Kinect is suffering from a sudden bout of blindness.

Faulting Star Wars for inflicting more silliness on a universe that fans once held sacred is as pointless as faulting the proverbial bear for crapping in the woods. If blame is going to be assigned here, the bulk of it should be heaped on the Kinect. The technology doesn’t work, but that’s not even the core issue. The core issue is that, since their very inception, video games have been the mirage that players have had to believe in. That’s the contract between players and games: They give us the pixels, and we do our damnedest to believe. Kinect bastardizes that notion, and turns the player into the mirage. The contract with the Kinect is this: We’ll stand here making these gestures, and hopefully the Kinect will see what we’re doing. Sometimes, to answer C-3PO’s question, we’re there—sometimes, what we’re doing has relevance and meaning. But other times, like a puff of smoke, we’re not.

Kinect Star Wars
Developer: Terminal Reality
Publisher: LucasArts
Platform: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: T

Share this with your friends and enemies

Write a scintillating comment

647 Responses to “Can You See Me Now?”

  1. Raging Bear says:

    Do not want!

    (Yeah, so what if you saw it coming?)

  2. AuroraBoreanaz says:

    I have been waiting for a Star Wars game to portray lightsaber combat as more than flailing about at your enemy forever.

    When Dark Forces II:Jedi Knight came out, it promised that multiplayer would allow for frantic block-and-strike battles, but the horrid lag present in low-speed internet connections meant you were usually swinging at an opponent who was already ten feet away. I think maybe TWO times I felt like I had a real duel with someone.

    The Star Wars Trilogy arcade game probably had the most fun and exciting version, at least for the first 2-3 times I played it.  Fighting against Boba Fett and Darth Vader with a force-feedback joystick was pretty fun.

    The Old Republic’s PvP is fairly entertaining, but still never feels like a duel.

    This Kinect Star Wars has looked pretty suspect from the very first video, but once I saw the Youtube clip of “I’m Han Solo” I wanted to scream out in agony as if all of our hopes and dreams were silenced at once.  (Okay, a bit over-dramatic, but seriously…that was REALLY SHITTY.)

    What I really hope to see in a Star Wars game at some point, whether soon or in 10 years (and what I expected from Jedi Knight’s pre-release descriptions): Actual collision detection between your saber and your opponent’s, so you can block a strike based on where the saber is held and not just based on a “block” button.

  3. Binsbein says:

    I’m not sure why people hold out hope for any modern licensed game to be that good. I mean, there are a few exceptions to the rule but for the most part the licensed game is always either overhyped by fans (The Old Republic) or is just visibly awful (Star Wars Kinect).

    • Girard says:

       A nice recurring feature, that would be a nod to this site’s AVClub roots, would be to examine the good movie-based games out there. The Super Star Wars series, X-Wing/TIE Fighter, Blade Runner, Dune II, arguably Goldeneye, and so on.

  4. RidleyFGJ says:

    I saw a video of the Emperor dancing to the deadmau5 song, Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff.

    I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      I still can’t believe this is a thing.

      • Binsbein says:

        It’s almost as if they ran out of ideas given the limitations of a flawed tech? Just spitballing here.

      • Staggering Stew Bum says:

        This plays out exactly how it does in my dreams, even the bits where the word AWESOME flashes over Vaders groin.

        So, is this canon?

        • Girard says:

           I LOVE that in every one of these videos flashes of light and excited adjectives appear over everyone’s groins – how the hell did they decide THAT was the best height for the text to appear?!

      • Jared Snyder says:

        You have to admit that Vader’s got some mad skills.

  5. The_Asinus says:

    In the ET “WOrld of Flops” article over at the AV Club, i made a comment about all movie and super hero games always being disappointing (in my experience anyway). Then I thought that, no Star Wars games have often been really, really good, because they tend to be more about the universe than the movies themselves. Games like Tie Fighter, Force Unleashed, and Dark Force stand out as not just good movie-based games, but damn fine games of their genre (space “simulator,” adventure, fps) and the star wars skin on them is just an added bonus and helps a bit with immersion.

    Yes, it’s incredibly fun to fly a TIE fighter with Darth Vader on a mission to save the Emperor from a coup, but the game and even the mission would work without the Star Wars trappings.

    But this… this is just a horrible cash in. There have been other not-so-great Star Wars games before… but this… the fuck?

    • AuroraBoreanaz says:

      Exactly.  I would also submit as evidence that there have been quite a few fantastic Spider-Man games, including the one based on Raimi’s first film.  Your point is well made though – usually these games expand on the universe created by their licensed property, not just rehash the latest movie plot.

      • The_Asinus says:

        I acquiesce to your or probably anyone’s knowledge of things comic booky. Most of what I know I’ve learned from reading about the comics, talking to my comic nerd friends, or from FOX’s X-Men show in the 90s (and I checked it’s accuracy with comic fans and wikipedia) and I haven’t been particularly drawn to comic book-based games (though frequently disappointed when I’ve rented them).

        Since the prequels, I have tried to steer clear of anything Star Wars related hoping that Episodes 1- 3 will clear my system like bad acid. Yet, like bad acid, they seem to have forever fucked up my perception. However, I did just throw a DOS machine together and play Tie Fighter and that thing holds up awesomely– and, again, probably because it avoids most of the main story stuff and is itself a well-crafted tale. If the prequels had been a step removed from Obi wan and Anikin and taken a tact more like Tie Fighter or the other games (I don’t know who they’d follow, maybe a team of people who eventually formed the rebellion but who had access to the inner circle of the Republic so there wouldn’t be as much concern with making Anikin poorly relatable?) they might have been hundreds of times more interesting.

        TIE Fighter, and any of the games i’ve played that allow you to be the “bad guys” in the SW universe have done a way better job of humanizing the Empire than Lucas did with millions of dollars of special effects. Early on in TF you shoot at rebels and it feels kind of transgressive, the fun has evil, 45 degree eyebrows. But by the time they shift to infighting within the Empire and then tie that back to the rebels, you actually feel a little betrayed by those bastards. It’s a pretty clever game for how loosely it plays with morality– especially back in, what? 92 or 93? Pretty subtle in how it makes you want to save the Emperor, etc. You don’t choose to “play evil” or try to get Dark Side points, it just makes sense that you’d shoot down those assholes in the X Wings.

      • RidleyFGJ says:

        The Arkham Batman titles have done more than just being really good uses of the license; they’re just flat-out great games, period.

        • The_Asinus says:

          OH yeah! Another good one. Okay, there are quite a few exceptions. I shouldn’t have spake so hastily and broadly for comic book games.


          oh hells yes, those are some of the best licensed games in history 

    • BobbyBrownGoesDown says:

      Perhaps I’m being naively nostalgic, but I had a great fondness for both Rebel Assault games. I do think they fell into the category you describe in that they would have been fun even without the Star Wars skin stretched over them.

      They were also deeply flawed games that were fun anyway, at least to my pre-teen self.

      • The_Asinus says:

        Yeah! I didn’t have console for many generations and I sort of skipped those for PC because they didn’t really fit into the sort of games I liked. But I’ve since played those and they are a good time.

    • caspiancomic says:

       My favourite Space Wars game was the Battlefront one. I played the demo non-stop because you could play as the bad guys and just straight murder ewoks.

    • markiej says:

      I would argue that the two best Star Wars games are:KOTOR for pc/xbox and Lego SW complete saga for this gen consoles.  I’ve heard that Tie Fighter was quite the corker in its day – I tried it but was always pretty horrid at flight combat type games.

      The Kinect thing is unfortunate – it appears that their decision to forgo and internal CPU on the thing to keep the cost/price down was a bust.  Also part of me thinks that it requires lots of special sauce, programming-wise, to make functional.  How else would an intricate game like Dance Central be so accurate and responsive, yet most others are a nightmare.

  6. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    Finally!…. somebody released a Star Wars video game!

  7. caspiancomic says:

    So I’ve personally never really been in on the whole Stars War “thing”, so I can’t really get riled up about another in a long line of cash-ins desecrating the corpse of this supposedly sacrosanct institution (although when those cruddy looking Doctor Who games start hitting shelves I might unleash a bit of disappointed bile). What’s more interesting to me in this story is the whole Kinect angle.

    Extra Credits did a great episode this week about how Kinect sort of fizzled out as a platform for gaming, for a couple of reasons. When I first saw footage of the Wii I was astonished, and thought motion controls were going to be the future of gaming, but now that they’ve been around for a while I can see I was kind of jumping the gun on that prediction. All I use my Wii for these days is playing Sonic Colours with a classic controller and buying 15 to 20 year old games on the Virtual Console. And does Sony even make Move titles anymore? Remember Move? I guess you could say that I originally thought motion controls were going to be for gaming what sound was for film. Turns out it was more like 3D- a pointless and hopefully short lived technical gimmick that not only fails to enhance the experience, it actually detracts from it by being distracting and immersion breaking.

    Still, didn’t the Kinect find some life outside the games industry? I seem to remember a lot of amazing videos of people using the Kinect in the medical field and stuff.

    • dreadguacamole says:

      It’s kind of hard to gauge, though. As a hardcore gamer, it’s easy to get the impression that motion controls are a dead end, something that opened up gaming to a wide but shallow user base that quickly got tired of it. Those “contract” lines in the next-to-last paragraph nail down the problems I have with current gen move controls beautifully and precisely.
       But I honestly don’t know; maybe I’m just a hater, or these things just aren’t for me? Anyhow, the amount of money the Quinekt and the Wii got (no idea about the Move) pretty much ensure it’s not going away until it’s been milked to death.

       One thing can be said objectively, though – Kinnekt inadequacies aside, this game is a piece of shit. Got it as a rental through the UK version of netflix, and man does it stink. There’s glimmers of potential when, as the review states, you first call the light sabre or do your first block, but other than that it’s almost completely worthless except as a babysitter.

      • AuroraBoreanaz says:

        I think it’s a case of the IDEA of the technology being great, but the execution leaving a lot to be desired.  Sometimes in cases like that, it’s time for the tech to be shelved for a few years and brought back in an improved form.

        Take PC 3D for example:  I got 3D glasses for my PC back around 2002-2003, and played System Shock 2 with them.  AMAZING experience.  But the glasses didn’t work so well with other games (they were LCD-shutter lenses), and stopped working after a bit.  I got another pair a couple years ago, and they didn’t work at all (two-year-old outdated drivers!).

        Now that graphics technology has improved and the glasses are better quality, I’m hoping to get an Nvidia 3D Vision setup again sometime soon.  The downside is that you need a high-refresh rate monitor, which costs 50-100% more than a regular monitor of the same size now.

        • markiej says:

          I’ve always felt that up-close PC gaming was a potential killer app for 3D.  I sometimes wish I had a setup like that – 32″ monitor with 3d – playing some killer FPS.  Would probably be as close to true Virtual Reality as is available.

          Watching some foolish kids move in 3d on a 42″ lcd-tv sounds kind of gimmicky and would get old quickly.  But first-person gaming, in 3d, with field-of-vision filling screen? That’s the shiz.

    • AuroraBoreanaz says:

      I’m still strongly in favor of 3D, and will stay that way even if I’m the last person in the world to support it.

      3D done well is AMAZING.  Shitty post-production 3D done by movie studios to cash in on the extra ticket prices SUCKS because not only is it painful to watch, but it gets more people pissed at the general idea.

      • The_Asinus says:

        I completely agree. I actually don’t understand all of the hatred targeted at it because, like you say, when it’s done well, it’s really good. I don’t see it as a gimmick any more than I see color a gimmick; it adds to the visual aspect of a film which is a very real part of the movie-going experience. If it weren’t we could just get audio books.

        However, all of the shitty post production 3D is going to make people angry at the format. I think that Pixar does 3D right (e.g. Up) and I thought Tron even did it well. It didn’t do a bunch of in your face, LOOK HOW 3D THIS IS, crap, but it did add depth to the virtual world that I thought was subtle and quite nicely done. EDIT: Oh! And Hugo used 3D very well! It was another one where it didn’t constantly draw your attention to it, but it probably would have been considerably different feeling with only two dees.

        3D games are AWESOME, though. Way back when, I had 3D shutter glasses on my PC (back when I had a GForce 3– it bugged me when they re-introduced 3D for Vista only and pretended like it was a new thing. Aaaaanyway, the setup I had worked with any OpenGL game (quake 1,2 and 3) and not only gave a nice “ooooo” factor, but made it way easier to tell the position of rockets and other players in space. Pretty neat stuff. Now with LCDs, it’s more of a pain in the ass to get working, though.

    • markiej says:

      According to my 8 year old – kids love it.  And I think that was always the point.  if only it was a little, um, better.

  8. travinator says:

    Kinect should have a handgliding game like the one in the Kinect Sports, but with a lot more boards, achievements, and not having to go back to the main menu to restart the game every time.  Still…handgliding for the Kinect is a lot of fun (the most in that entire package for sure) and I think there’s a lot to explore there for the Kinect.  
    Also AV Club: Bring back your game grading!!! I don’t always agree with it, but have found it useful.  


    I’m solo, I’m Han Solo! I’m Han Solo, solo!