Originally created some four years ago for the PC by Media Molecule’s Mark Healey (while he was still of Lionhead), Tarsier Studios now brings Rag Doll Kung Fu to the PS3. The drunk fighting spirit is alive and well in this welcome iteration, with some good control shaking and jerking to boot. Less methodical and far more haphazard than its PC ancestor, there is a definite charm to tossing yourself headlong into the environments and enemies as you work out the hidden nuance of your flailing attacks.
The puppet mastery required to successfully Kung Fu your way to victory is part of the game’s draw, though much more simplified from its original click and drag PC formula, and the pared down control scheme matches the simple mission of fight, fight, fight: Jump with Z, punch with Square, kick with Triangle and block with O. Left analog steers your limbs – and for the very LittleBigPlanet touch hold both triggers and move the left and right sticks to strike poses. Also like LBP, R1 allows you to grab onto things like ledges, or pick up items (like noodles for health and pots for throwing). All sorts of vessels rain down from the heavens; crates contain weapons like nunchucks, while vases hold items like statues that restore Chi or the aforementioned noodle boxes. If you have spent time with LittleBigPlanet, Fists of Plastic may well feel like a Kung Fu level.
In addition to some solid punching, kicking and presumably flailing you can make use of some very special powers with the Dualshock 3 motion controls. Essential to these moves is Chi, which is tracked below your health and contains up to five glowing orbs which you rack up by landing hits on enemies. Chi is powerful stuff and can restore your health by turning the controller upside down, prompting your character to levitate. This carries obvious risks so do not attempt when enemies are very near, they are not beneath sucker punching you while you meditate your way to better health. A quick shake of the controller creates a ball of lightening which you can hurl in their direction, however, simply by aiming with the left stick. Holding punch and jerking the controller allows you to zip across the screen and straight through anything in your way in a move called Firefly (also a handy trick to avoid falling to your doom). A ground-clearing slam attack is triggered by holding block and jerking the controller up and then down. In all, the SIXAXIS controls flesh out an otherwise mash-heavy control scheme, and work very well.
Game play is divided into the single player challenge mode and the multi-player modes. Since the game’s focus as a beat ’em up should naturally lie in the multi-player, it is mind boggling that there is no online multi-player to be had. The available local multi-player features eight environments and four different game types. Up to four players can battle in a match with AI filling in as needed. King of the Hill and Deathmatch are pretty straightforward, Dodgeball has you throwing an explosive at opponents and Capture the Fish requires a bit of explanation: You must, while fighting enemies, seize a slippery, flopping fish and get into a basket without being hit by an enemy and having the fish knocked out of your hands (tip: throwing the fish is the intended option, but a good clear leap over your enemies will land you squarely in the basket, with the fish). Of the four, striking poses LBP-style in King of the Hill earns you points and makes it an easy favorite.
Challenges effectively train you in each of the moves and skills of Rag Doll Kung Fu. The Acrobatics challenge grants points for consecutive leaps between platforms as though on a crazy jungle gym, with a multiplier reset each time you miss and hit the ground. Sharpshooter features falling barrels which you must hit with shuriken for points, and another challenge focuses on the Firefly move and asks you to smash targets while remaining airborne. In each respective challenge you strive to achieve enough points to earn a medal, either bronze, silver or gold. Earning a bronze unlocks the next challenge, and as it is an easy enough medal to earn you will progress through the challenges quickly with minimal effort. Earning a silver or gold medal unlocks clothing and limbs that you can use to customize your character.
As the multi-player is local only the eight challenges could do with a little bulking up. They were fun to play through, and it is great to replay for a higher score, but with such a tempting hook Fists of Plastic needs a more substantial offering – of either single or multi-player. If you have three brothers, roomies or similarly available gaming pals you can have a lot of fun beating the crap out of each other. Otherwise, you will finish the challenges in one sitting and tire of multi-player with AI. On the upside of online there are leader boards, and you can record any and all challenges and matches to the hard drive, or upload them to YouTube.
The plastic makeover that gives Fists of Plastic its name is visible in the shiny puppets, morphing them into something more akin to G.I. Joe action figures. The environments are similarly playful, well-rendered and altogether endearing. They convey the sense of being in a toy-like space, and (without conjuring up images of Lego games) the levels did remind me of playing within Lego sets I built as a kid. Furthermore, the game has great music, rounding out a successful aesthetic package.
It is gimmicky, to be sure, but Fists of Plastic is entertaining and at $10 is a fair price for well done kitsch. Moreover, the simplified control scheme means that in spite of the drunk monkey fighting everyone fights more or less like the same drunk monkey. With the omission of online multi-player the two game modes don’t quite add up to a whole, and it is fair to say the game lacks staying power. What the title has in spades, however, is undeniable accessibility, and in the end that is the wave Fists of Plastic is riding: charming accessibility.