Kung-Fu Live – Review

Kung-Fu Live has finally hustled its way to PSN, ending months of personal anticipation that included a preview at E3 2010, a demo at PAX 2010, and countless lame karate puns.

Within minutes of firing up Kung-Fu Live, I’d realized that the the length of this review process would be contingent greatly upon my personal cardiovascular health. That is a first. I’m pretty sure the last time I wondered if I was going to have a heart attack in-game was out of frustration — I’d wager it was in a Water Temple somewhere. In fact, I have a feeling this will be the most honest and accurate review I’ve ever written, as it’s the only one I’ve literally banged out during breathers while waiting to play another round.

Listen to the man, he knows what he’s talking about.

The game has two modes: Quick Play/Multiplayer and Story. Quick Play features a number of themed fights, from taking on an onslaught of Inklings to battling out three rounds against chosen opponents. The options are fairly easy to navigate, with adjustable difficulty settings as well as selectable characters and levels.

Multiplayer consists of one live fighting opponent and up to four controlled by DualShock. This is where you find out if your body beats out your best buddy’s thumbs. I’m proud to say that mine did. Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode will not be a major factor in the game’s replay value, as playing it is simply too disappointing when compared to what might have been.

In Story Mode, we lesser ninjas will fare a little better: the storyline allows for brief respites in between chapters, usually just long enough to forget the raging heart attack that loomed but minutes before. Stylistically, this is where the game really shines. There exists no better theme for a kung fu game than a comic book, and developer Virtual Air Guitar Company has presented it in a way that conveys more action than would a typical still image. As the chapters are propelled panel by panel, various aspects of the imagery cross into two and a half dimensional layers, punching up the visual and turning what would be a drab, overdone style of presentation into a live illustration. Adding to the fun, the game guides you through a series of poses that insert you into the panels as the chapters progress, so you are not only the star of the action, you’re the star of the pages as well.

While we’re on the subject, I don’t know what worked out my abs more: the game itself, or laughing at myself in those comic book poses. With this game going for a mere $14.99, those poses alone were almost worth the price of admission. The key is to be as overdramatic with your stances as possible. You’ll enjoy it much more if you ditch the embarrassment and just go for it full-throttle, relishing each pose and expression. It was in this way that I learned I make pretty much the best death blow face ever. Sadly, there is no way to upload the screen capture, an update they should consider for any future iterations.

The moves are only as good as you are, but putting together a string of combos provides a sense of accomplishment when your sweet karate moves fail you. You’ll most often be punching and kicking. The special attacks — when you manage to do them properly — are a surprising but satisfying addition as well, without which the game would not be complete. Frankly, the level backgrounds are nothing to sneeze at either, and the guttural sound effects from your opponents and appropriate Eastern music complete the theme.

In earlier previews, fellow Tanooki writer Jason and I were enthralled with the prospect of using outfits and weapons in-battle, an option that would undoubtedly turn this game from a simple novelty title into a full-fledged hit. I decided to test this new function with items of my own.

First, the outfit: that of a lazy video games blogger who constantly lounges in athletic wear. Check. The weapon: a dowel, intended for tying tomatoes but now re-appropriated for my kung fu ass-kicking. I was ready to rock and roll.

A humiliating defeat if ever there was one.

Here’s where I realized the game’s space problems. At only five foot one, I wasn’t having an issue with running into walls or other obstacles while laying my smack down, but as soon as a weapon was involved, it was all over. While I had to abandon the dowel for other reasons other than space — it was too thin to register on camera — I soon realized my pathetic hope to use a baseball bat instead was seriously misguided. If I actually owned a baseball bat, there would now be huge gaping holes through my apartment walls. I had previously optimized my living room for camera-based games thanks to Kinect, but even that was not adequate. The game recommends a healthy amount of space on either side of your playing area, but the amount of space they suggest may not be enough. This is especially true if you want to do as I ultimately did and bring an umbrella into the mix. (Yes, an umbrella. I made those inklings taste my rainbow polka-dotted pain.)

In terms of syncing up Kung-Fu Live to the optimal settings, you may have a few difficulties. It’s not easy to get the lighting right, and if you’re unable to move your PlayStation Eye forward or backward, the on-screen proportions may be difficult to adjust. Undoubtedly, the visuals were still fun and relatively good despite the budget price, and I would encourage you to not get frustrated with the lengthy sync process and occasionally missing body parts. You may also get frustrated with what you perceive as your hits “not landing” as you play. Don’t be. The hits will stop sucking as soon as you do.

Ultimately, the game has its imperfections, but is too fun to dismiss. I can’t think of any others that combine an intense physical workout with such a whimsical premise, a premise that undoubtedly will drive sales regardless of the current motion control/fitness craze. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it as irresistible as it is charming. Kung-Fu Live utilizes the PlayStation Eye and now available in the PlayStation Store for $14.99.

The Tanooki Rating – 8.5

These opinions are those of a single reviewer, and may not reflects the opinions of other writers from The Tanooki nor the site as a whole.

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About the Author: Holly Green

  • marocel

    That was a great review! I was a bit skeptical about this game, but it's nice to see it has turned out well.

  • jedbeetle

    I love this game. This is a great review. it's nice to see that some reviewers have not lost touch with their inner child.
    A couple notes for game-play:

    I use a fluorescent orange plastic bat with a large head (like a club) to GREAT effect in the game. At first, I tried a staff, but that was dangerous to my environment. I'm curious what it would be like to use a chain weapon – a ball on a rope say, or fire spinning poi, or a make-shift morning star.

    The game has the hardest time with a shifting background. If the camera moves, if a painting falls off your wall, if a person or animal moves into place, or if the lighting in your room changes (sun sets, say) then you will need to restart the game in order to keep playing.