Everybody loves a good kung fu fight. There’s no denying that it isn’t mesmerizing to watch or take part in. Dreamworks Films have done a great job of marrying the defensive fighting style with hilarity in their popular Kung Fu Panda film series, which follows an overweight panda through his journey to become an ultimate kung fu master. To accompany this week’s theatrical release of the series’ first sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, video game publisher THQ has released four different video game iterations, based on the popular fiction.
Arguably the most interesting of the four is the XBOX 360 version, which features full motion control using its Kinect camera peripheral. This means that you can perfect your fighting stance, blocks and attacks using great physical form. No controller required. It’s a great idea in principle, but there are some very prevalent shortcomings and issues that mar the experience and its interesting design choices. Enter the dojo as we explore the ins and outs of the fighting style known as Kung Fu Panda 2 for Kinect.
Taking place after the events of the movie, the game’s under developed storyline sees our hero Po recruited to fight alongside the Furious Five once again, in order to defeat a new threat that is set to destroy kung fu and its animal masters. Enemies take the form of menacing wolves, gorillas and komodo dragons, each of which know more than they should about the Furious Five’s perfected fighting style. As you make your way through the game’s story mode, you’ll come across these foes many times, forced to engage them in one on one fights that resembled a turn-based structure. One combatant attacks while his opponent defends, then the roles are reversed after a certain amount of blocked attacks or when a time limit ends.
It is important that you make sure to take advantage of all of the time you have to properly string together different types of punches, kicks and jumps, in order to deal the greatest amount of damage possible within each attack opportunity. If you fail to break your opponent’s block after a few hits, it will be his turn to deal dastardly amounts of damage onto your virtual realization of Po, taking away limited hit points in the process. Though, depending on your skill as a kung fu master, you may be able to block most of his oncoming attacks. That is if the game’s Kinect controls feel like working, which is something they occasionally tend not to do. To say that the game’s motion sensing mechanics are fair weather and inconsistent would be a bit of an understatement.
During certain intervals in the campaign, Po appears on-screen to teach players different attacks, blocks and evasive tactics. These tutorial sections show you the correct motions to perform each move, though the sensor sometimes fails to register your movements properly, making it tough to play the game with the precision that is required.
An example being that, in order to block attacks, which can come from either side or a combination of both, which is shown by an indicator placed at the top of the screen, your arms must be placed upward and outward in a strong-armed muscle man pose. It sounds easy enough, but the game’s motion sensing abilities will often fail to register that at least one of your hands, even if they’re in the correct raised position.
This makes it difficult to defeat some of the game’s tougher adversaries such as the Wolf Master, because their battles require precise evasion and blocking techniques to go along with well-timed attack combinations. Having to restart the same battle over and over again can be quite frustrating, especially considering the fact that the game makes you fight through several minions before you can take on the one who defeated you. Often, this can mean an extra five minutes or more of menial and repetitive battles, which almost always follow the same structure as they did the first time.
When the game works well, it can be enjoyable, despite its basic design and repetitive conflict. Stringing together attack and block combinations can be quite fun, once you get into the groove, but the control issues really mar the experience. You’re essentially following Po as he walks through different environments, coming across flanking enemies in the woods, hills or even in town. Once this inaugural meeting occurs, a fight erupts, pitting you into physical combat with up to several foes. Though the game allows for your choice of fighting stance (power, lightning or flow), each one ultimately feels the same due to a lack of move variety.
The only time when your moves really vary is when it comes time to finish an enemy off with one of three special attacks, which are dependent on the form you choose at this point. When the Kinect sensor confirms the position your arms are in, it will automatically use that form’s finisher to cap off an enemy’s life force, which unnecessarily takes players out of the experience for a short period of time.
Additional special finishing moves are available at certain times when a combat meter is full, allowing you to verbally call for one of the Furious Five kung fu masters to automatically finish off your foe, using their unique abilities. The implemented Kinect microphone does a good job of following your command most of the time, though there were a couple noticeable hiccups where it took more than one shout to get it to register.
The majority of the game’s length and content is included within its story mode, but its few shining moments come from elsewhere, in its free play challenge mode. Within this mode are close to twenty different challenges which score you based on performance, awarding medals, with gold being the creme de la creme. These mini-games include skill practice sessions, combat arenas, rickshaw races and noodle serving – each one featuring a set time limit and potential clues that are dependent on the difficulty you choose.
The best of these is definitely the noodle serving mini-game, which is set-up like the popular Flash game, Cake Mania. You have to choose the right noodle concoction for each customer, cook it, and then throw it to their table. If you fail, you will lose points and valuable amounts of time, while happy customers will occasionally sit around for a second helping. It’s fast-paced, frenetic and relatively fun, though very limited in its scope.
The other mini-games are enjoyable, except for the rickshaw events, because those events tend to bring out the worst in the game’s motion control capabilities. You’re moving from right to left and back again in order to avoid obstacles, while blocking baskets thrown by your opponent. The side to side movement sensing works well, but it fails to register a lot of blocks while you’re moving, leading to many game over screens and inherent frustration.
It’s unfortunate because these mixtures of racing and combat had the chance to be a lot of fun, but poor design prevents them from achieving their potential. There are only a limited number of each, so you won’t have to play through too many of the mini-games you dislike in order to earn achievements. Though, on that end, it should be said that there’s a severe lack of noodle cooking events too, which is disappointing.
Like its celluloid parent, Kung Fu Panda 2 for Kinect features impressive presentation. The game is colourful, vibrant and rather pretty at times, though there are moments (especially during battles) where the game’s resolution drops and begins to look outdated. It does a great job of representing its source material through its art design, character models and visual aesthetics.
During combat, it’s easy to tell if your block has been registered because Po’s arms will lift up to represent what the camera thinks you’re doing. This means that you can try to fix your stance before an enemy attack comes in though, a lot of times, you don’t have enough time to do so before you’re clobbered. Overall though, the animation work is pretty well-done, with Po’s animations looking the best by a long shot.
Our giant hero panda’s voice over work is extremely well-done and sounds exactly like actor Jack Black, though the other voice actors are no slouch either. Combat sound effects found within each battle can become generic and boring, but there is some nice music to be found on the game’s original soundtrack. Through its audio, the game feels like an extension of its celluloid source, which will help children identify with the characters they love. If you’re looking for an extension of one of your child’s favourite films, this game does deliver that in spades. The world is alive with tons of audio and fully voiced dialogue, with some nice humour. Though it must be said that it suffers from the same one-liner repetition that a lot of games have had in the past.
Video games based on childrens’ movies and other licensed properties have had a bad rep over the years, and this game unfortunately does little to change that in any positive manner. It’s disappointing considering the fact that the first Kung Fu Panda game was a lot of fun to play and ended up being one of the most impressive licensed games in recent memory.
Those who are looking for a good workout or a game that will keep their kids active while they virtually entertain themselves will get some fun out of this disc, but the frustration that ensues from poorly tracked movement controls will rain on their parade quite often. Kung Fu Panda 2 for Kinect is an interesting experiment with some creative design choices that ultimately feel undercooked and poorly implemented. This kung fu style has some promising potential, but its technique needs quite a bit of work. It needs some more time in the training dojo.