- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fans of the Skywalker saga in need of fully immersing themselves in the combative ways of the Jedi have a new way to interact within the Star Wars universe.

Yes, loyal gaming Padawan have heard that before over the years with the exploits of the Nintendo Wii as they turned their Wiimote into an onscreen lightsaber in such games as The Force Unleashed and The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels.

However, the full Force of a Jedi’s might was never fully realized (often still tethered to a traditional controller), until now in Kinect Star Wars (Microsoft Game Studios and LucasArts, rated Teen, reviewed for Xbox 360, $49.99).

Microsoft’s mega motion-sensing Kinect system delivers the full body-mapping potential, sans any controller, and actually offers a fun experience for the younger, casual Star Wars gamer to become a virtual Guardian of Peace and Justice.

After an introduction by R2-D2 and C-3PO hanging out in the Jedi Archives, players should first pick an action-packed, on-rails (the game directs the course a character travels, kind of like a Disneyland dark ride) campaign mode titled Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising. It’s missions mix about four hours worth of exhausting combat and calorie-burning maneuvers

Up to a pair of players stand in front of the television (have plenty of room to move) and cooperatively arrive at a point in the prequels Star Wars era when the galaxy was entering the full-blown Clone Wars.

The lead player picks from about a dozen Padawan prototyes including the species Bith (like a Cantina band member) and Twi’lek (like the blue-skinned Jedi Master Aayla Secura) while another player can drop in and out (in a split-screen mode) as another armed Padawan to help.

After guidance from multiple mentors including Jedi Master Mavra Zane, Yoda and Mace Windu to learn how to hold and swing a saber (a fisted right hand holds the virtual blade), use some core powers (left hand to unleash a Force push or both hands to mystically lift objects) and practice moving around the virtual environments (make a jump motion to jump, step forward for a dash and sway to the sides to avoid incoming obstacles),

It’s then off to Kashyyyk to fight alongside Chewbacca and his Wookiee buddies holding off Battle Droids, Super Battle Droids and reptilian Trandoshan soldiers (legions of bounty hunter Bossk for the newbies).

Regrettably, the lightsaber moves are still frustratingly laggy (especially during heated boss duels), although unleashing a figure-eight swinging motion to deflect laser blasts (like some of the impressive Anakin vs. Obi Wan moves in Revenge of the Sith) is dead-on exhilarating.

What’s really welcomed is this is a workout across the galaxy with no couch potatoes allowed.

After about 25 minutes, my in-shape 12-year old tester is already sweating and this old man reviewer has arm fatigue. Yet, the team lasted more than an hour due to some energetic moments in the cartoony storytelling.

In fact, returning for a second day of the campaign found the young tester even more enthused by some of the fights and attacks.

Besides Jedi combat, action in the adventure includes: riding a speeder bike (lean body left and right, pull arms back to brake, push arms forward to accelerate) through a forest (like right out of Endor in Return of the Jedi); jumping on Trade Federation tanks to slice through metal; and controlling the gun turrets of a Millennium Falcon style ship.

Players also get a small collection of minigames, but one of them offers a horrifying repurposing of the Star Wars canon stronger than any disturbance in the Force unleashed by the Emperor.

How’s that for a tease? I’ll begin with the more pleasurable challenges.

First, enjoy some pure Podracing on Mos Eisley and beyond with controls requiring a player’s hands gripped forward like riding a bicycle. He speeds around locations in a campaign mode called Destiny, might fly through a Sandcrawler with the greatest of ease and duck bullets from the Sand People while throwing tools at womp rats and vulture droids to knock them off of his engines.

Optional hand motions speed up and slow down the racer and, complete with some training from junk shop owner Watto, it is easily the best of the challenges while equally rewarding ó whether watching and taking part in the events.

Next, take physical control of a Rancor (the beast that almost took down Luke Skywalker in Jabba’s dungeon) as you wipe out towns in locations such as Tatooine and Felucia.

Perform your best knuckle-dragging behemoth impression as you hulk around near your television monitor and watch your drooling avatar respond by crushing Stormtroopers, munching on helpless townsfolk and crunching through buildings.

Also, a Duels of Fate mode lets the fury of the blade fly as a player hones his lightsaber skills in classic matches that lead up to a fight against Darth Vader.

Unfortunately the duels were lumbering and predictable at best (block, block, block, block and attack for a few seconds as an enemy’s health meter shrinks), It is still hampered by the sluggish Kinect response.

Now, finally, Galactic Dance Off is where things fall into the Great Pit of Carkoon. Players pick a character and enter Jabba the Hutt’s den (is that Max Rebo’s band?) or the Death Star or Carbonite freezing facility on Bespin and match flashy moves against classic characters.

Backed by modern songs tweaked with amusing Star Wars-inspired lyrics (“you’re blasting the guards and blowing kisses my way”), hits such as “We No Speak Huttese,” “Empire Today” and “Blasterproof” deliver grooves to perform the Chewie Hug and Jar Jar Rock. It’s quite the “Twilight Zone” episode.

Watching Princess Leia in a bikini shake her bootie won’t disappoint (though the thought of her being a hostage makes it kind of creepy), but it was even odder to challenge a hoofing Han Solo knowing this guy was minutes away from ending up as a metallic Fudgesicle.

Still, children will probably find this an amusing thrill as they dance away and collect points to unlock new locations and characters for their efforts.

So the buzzwords for the Kinect Star Wars experience is moments of motion-sensing purgatory combined with some big giggles for tweens as parents smile at their offspring’s antics. Let’s ignore the teen rating.

Backed by some pretty visuals, legendary characters and a John Williams-style musical score, it’s a package crafted for the nostalgic family yearning for a taste of life in a galaxy far, far away.

Though beware, diehard Jedi devotees, you will still find it unfulfilling and heresy.



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