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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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Players control the Force with their left hands in Kinect Star Wars. (LucasArts)
Players control the Force with their left hands in Kinect Star Wars. (LucasArts)

Review: Kinect Star Wars is a game only a kid could love Add to ...

Podracing is perhaps the most full-featured of the bunch. It lets players take on the role of a slave-turned-pilot who works through a full season of races on tracks scattered throughout the galaxy, earning new abilities along the way.

Driving controls share a similarity with a horse's reins: Pull back with your left or right hand to steer, yank back with both to brake. I found it to be both intuitive and surprisingly precise.

Unfortunately, LucasArts has gummed up this simple interface with a bunch of unnecessary nonsense.

We must frequently throw our arms left and right to bang into opponents pods to protect ourselves and shove them aside. This often results in a loss of speed and a decrease in race position, regardless of whether your effort was successful. Special abilities – drones that repair our pods and attack our enemies – are equally aggravating. They're activated by raising your left or right hand. If you don’t do it just right, the camera will interpret the movement as a steering or breaking command, sending you careening out of control. And some races have obstacles that we must leap over. This requires a jump, keeping us from being able to play seated.

I ended up playing through most of my racing career on the easiest difficulty setting, which largely automates steering and braking – a bummer, since these are the most entertaining facets of the game. But it was necessary so that I could slam into opponents and activate abilities without worrying that I’d go flying off the track.

I hoped to take out my frustrations with some of the other modes in Rancor Rampage, a game in which players take on the role of a three-story tall beast running amok through populated areas. Its King Kong-style chaos has its moments. We get to smash buildings, throw droids, gobble people, and earn points in the process. I especially enjoyed slamming my hands down in anger like a petulant child and watching buildings collapse and fleeing civilians get knocked over. And an unexpected bonus comes in the stories behind the destruction. One about a pet rancor overcome with sadness and rage when his master, a little girl with a stuffed animal, is forced to give him up, actually made me laugh aloud.

Alas, a combination of problematic controls – I had a devil of a time grabbing things – and clumsy movement (turns out rancors turn with a speed similar to that of a luxury ocean liner) make Rancor Rampage more a cause of rage than an outlet for it. I want to smash some battle droids just thinking about it.

Strangely, the mode I’ve found most entertaining is the one I was most dubious about before playing: Galactic Dance-Off.

Essentially a simplified Dance Central, players simply mimic the moves of characters like Princess Leia and Lando Calrissean. Better performances results in more stars, and more stars serve to unlock more challenging dances, more themed levels (including dance floors on Coruscant and the Death Star), and more songs.

This mode’s charm comes in its geeky wit. Seeing Lobot as a DJ in Bespin’s carbonite cargo prep bay is a giggly treat. Plus, the moves we perform are given clever names from Star Wars lore, like the Kessel Run, which involves running in slow motion on one foot.

The songs, meanwhile, are Earthly ditties rewritten with Star Wars-themed lyrics. I might despise Jason Derulo’s “Ridin’ Solo,” but give it the ol' Weird Al treatment, transforming it into “I’m Han Solo” – a song about what it's like to be the Millennium Falcon's dashing pilot – and it becomes downright delightful. I suspect only the most curmudgeonly Star Wars fan will refuse to shake a leg if they give it a chance.

Curiously, the dancing mode is my daughter’s least favourite activity in Kinect Star Wars. She’s hooked instead on the Jedi campaign, which seems to do a fine job of living up to her dream of being a real Jedi who can lift ships with her mind and run a lightsaber through robot armour like a knife through butter.

Would that I could see the game from her bright-eyed perspective. I want to live out some childhood fantasies, too. Sometimes being an adult stinks.

Kinect Star Wars

Platform: Xbox 360

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: LucasArts

ESRB: Teen

Release: April 3, 2012

Score: 5/10

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