Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda

What we liked:

+ Inredibly fun combat
+ Great level design
+ Slick and clean visuals
+ Fun for all ages

What we didn't like:

- Runs a bit on the short side
- Core gamers will not find much of a challenge

DEVELOPER: Luxoflux   |   PUBLISHER: Activision   |   RELEASE: 06/03/2008

See, licensed games don’t have to suck.

We can always tell when it is time for the summer rush of blockbuster movies as we receive a huge chunk of games plastered with cute fuzzy characters, which usually sport the production values of a budget game. Activision has been one of the better companies handling licensed properties with such titles as Bee Movie and the Shrek series, but for the most part they are usually rushed jobs with a sole intention of cashing in on uninformed gamers.

Kung Fu Panda is a large exception to this rule; in fact I would go as far as to say that Luxoflux and Activision have delivered one of the best all around movie tie-in games I have ever played. The action is fun and intuitive, the visuals crisp and clean and the only downside is that the game is barely longer than the feature film. As it stands though fans of Dreamworks’ latest animated film should find more than enough to warrant the price of admission.

Kung Fu Panda is a simple beat ’em up style game that follows the antics of Po the Panda on his quest to becoming a kung-fu master. The game spans 13 levels, most of which are from the movie, and you will bump into a lot of your favorite personalities from the feature film. Po is not the only playable character in the game. As you progress you will take control of various other characters including your master Shifu.

Kick, punch it’s all in the mind.

It is no secret that this game is a simple action title, but what you may find interesting is just how deep the combat can be. While not nearly on the level of say, a Ninja Gaiden, Po has a repertoire of moves that put most games of this type to shame. The best part is that all of them feel intuitive and essential to game play and not simply useless added features thrown in for mere window dressing.

When designers sit down to make a game suitable for all ages I can only imagine that Kung Fu Panda is the result they aim for. The combat is simple enough for anyone to enjoy all while hiding a certain stratum of complexity for the more core audience. Po has two main attack buttons as well as a jump and block. You can also roll around snowball style and take out enemies or spend the coins scattered about the levels to upgrade Po’s abilities and move set. This brings a certain level of incentive for revisiting levels throughout the game (not to mention the Achievements that require you to finish each level to 100% on two difficulties) as well as some much needed replay value. Po also has a Chi meter that disperses when using moves such as the belly flop and rolling ball.

Each level in the game is broken down into sections. It’s true that the majority of your time will be spent performing combos on themed enemies such as apes or crocodiles, while other times you will be forced to perform the quintessential quick time mini-games. There are hints of platforming and adventure here, but they are minor at best. Kung Fu Panda stays true to its name and outside of venturing back into the levels to unlock more points for upgrades the linearity will sever most of the game’s replay value. What is nice is that the game is so enjoyable that kids entirely in love with the movie will not hesitate playing the same level over and over because it does play so well.

The biggest draw for KFP though was the sheer variety found in each level. For instance the first level starts off in all black and white, once the action begins you are thrown into several battles to learn the controls. Once you reach the second level things change as you maneuver your character through a series of death traps as you try to reach the court yard only to be greeted by a quick time boss encounter. A few levels later you are running around a giant room trying to protect a number of treasures from thieving boars. The assortment of objectives in the levels is astounding and it really keeps you going through all thirteen levels just to see what the game throws at you next.

Now we know what happened to Ralph Macchio’s career.

After you are done with the single-player portion of the game there is a small multi-player function to toy around with. This collection of mini-games ranges from mildly entertaining to downright boring. Everything is played locally as there is no online and supports up to four players. The diversity of game types is lacking and overall it feels more like distraction that a full-fledged feature. You can open new game types by collecting hidden coins throughout the game, but for the most part they aren’t worth the effort.

Much like the combat the game’s visuals truly shine. Character models are nearly identical to their theatrical counterparts (at least as good as can be expected, this is certainly not the time to be comparing games to Pixar movies) and the animation is top-notch. Levels are brightly lit playground chock full of a wonderfully mixed color palette. The frame rate is rock solid and enemy variety is better than most big-budget titles. Sound is also top shelf with some of the actors from the movie reprising their roles and some truly funny dialogue. The music is lifted directly from the movie and the sound effects are spot on. Presentation overall is certainly on par with the rest of the game.

Kung Fu Panda is a prime example of how to make a great licensed game. The developers at Luxoflux have gone above and beyond the call of duty to bring this imaginative cast of characters to life. The amount of polish is simply impressive and I even found myself – a jaded game critic – enjoying the game from start to finish. If you have young ones that are a fan of the movie, or are a huge fan yourself this game is definitely for you. Even though the action is brief, there is plenty here to warrant your fifty bucks.

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.

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