While Disney and Pixar still rule the roost when it comes to theatrical animation, Dreamworks has produced some quality films over the years, with a highlight being the Kung Fu Panda series. The story of unlikely hero Po and his adventures as a growing warrior have been big hits, and with the third entry in the franchise set to hit theaters next month, Little Orbit and developer Vicious Cycle have created a new multiplatform tie-in game to help promote it.
However, rather than sticking to the current movie’s plot like past games, Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends serves more as a greatest hits of the franchise’s characters and environments than a story-based romp. It does so by offering a diverse roster of warriors to play as in a 4-player 2D fighting game with a heavy amount of mechanics that originate from the Super Smash Bros. series. And as it turns out, the game is actually pretty fun, managing to deviate from the low-quality stigma that most licensed titles end up suffering from. There are some definite issues with its presentation and amount of content, and it doesn’t best the titles that inspired it, but it’s still something fans of the series will want to check out.
The game lets players choose from 20 fighters and 12 stages, all based on locations from the movies and with unique stage hazards. The roster includes Po, his fellow animal warriors, and mentors Shifu and Oogway, along with the main villains from both existing films and various allies and henchmen. If that’s not enough, take note that several more characters (from Kung Fu Panda 3) will be added as DLC when the movie hits theatres next month.
Players can run and jump freely among the side-scrolling stages and fight with two buttons. One button is uniform among all fighters in that it provides traditional melee attacks that can be changed by pointing the control stick in a specific direction, while the other works the same way, but provides special moves unique to each fighter.
The objective in combat isn’t to deplete health bars for each rival, but to attack them and whittle down an individual percentage for each character, which starts at 100% but can be reduced to 0% over time. The lower a character’s percentage, the further they’ll fly when hit, with the goal being to knock them off the stage or into the sky for a KO.
Showdown of Legendary Legends doesn’t try to hide its Smash Bros. origins at all, as the rest of its controls are identical, with familiar mechanics like dodges, grabs, temporary shields, taunts, and the ability to combine double jumps with the upper special move. Characters also have Final Smash-like moves called Awesome Attacks, which are unique to them and can often deliver KOs if successfully performed, though this game arguably pulls them off better, since they’re earned by building a meter through doling out damage rather than a random power-up.
Those same random power-ups still exist here, with weapons, status enhancers, and health-restoring food periodically spawning on the battlefield. The idea of Smash‘s assist trophies is retained, too, with occasional symbols that summon a non-playable fighter to dish out additional damage coming into play. This last feature feels like a botched effort, though, as it only seems to allow for five or six different allies.
All of the fighters handle relatively well, and their varied moves guarantee that players will pick personal favorites. It’s also a nice touch that many of their Awesome Attacks directly reference some of their trademark moves or actions from the films. Things never feel quite as precise and polished as Smash, though, with the most frustrating problem being how items require more precision to successfully pick up. Players who pick the same character in a match may also experience some frustration, as there’s unfortunately no way to pick different colors or costumes.
Single-player modes are limited to either versus matches against AI characters or the slightly more structured Tournament mode, which pits players against ten rounds of fights with various conditions. Conventional Time and Stock battles are front and center, but there are others, including a variation on the Smash Bros. coin mode that replaces the coins with dumplings, a mode where players attempt to hold onto a crown for the longest amount of time, and a territorial mode where players fight to stay within a highlighted area by themselves.
Unfortunately, Tournament mode feels even more half-baked than similar modes in other modern fighters. When I played it for the first time and selected Po, an introductory cutscene ran, featuring him playing with some action figures. This led me to hope that all of the characters would have some story-based segments as a reward upon starting and completing Tournament mode, but as it turned out, no one has an ending cutscene, and the same intro with Po plays regardless of who you pick.
It doesn’t help that there’s little to incentivize extended play. There are no collectables, unlockable characters or stages, or any extras at all outside of character biographies. It also would have been nice to have had diverse character intros instead of canned poses and random quips at the start of each battle, as well as victory poses instead of a static results screen.
As with most fighters, multiplayer’s where the real appeal comes from, and thankfully this supports both local and online play. The multiple online matches I played never suffered from any lag or connection issues and provided a good, fun challenge, though the inability to do follow-up matches with your existing rivals is absent since the game just tosses you back into its main menu.
Presentation-wise, the environments look decent, while the character models look excellent, though it’s hard to notice their details when the camera zooms out so far to accommodate every on-screen combatant. The soundtrack, while not fantastic, does a great job of incorporating familiar musical cues and sound effects from the films. Also, though every fighter is voiced, checking the credits revealed that Oogway and Mr. Ping were the only ones who had their original voice actors return. Regardless, the guy who voiced Po did a spot-on Jack Black impersonation.
There have been licensed Smash Bros. clones before, but Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends feels the most meticulously identical to the source material out of the ones I’ve played. It doesn’t knock things out of the park the same way its inspiration does, but it’s still a surprisingly fun fighter when all is said and done. Obviously, fans of the films and characters will get the most out of it, but Smash fans should also have a decent time. Kung Fu Panda is a series that feels like a natural fit for a fighting game, and it’s satisfying to see that it actually resulted in a relatively good one.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which was provided to us.
Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends doesn't compare to the series that obviously inspired it, but it's still a rather solid and enjoyable fighter.