Kung Fu Panda Review
The summer is in full swing so we can fully expect that most of the blockbuster movies are going to get horrible-to-mediocre games to coincide with these Hollywood releases. One of the latest of these is Kung Fu Panda, the game adaptation of Dreamworks' latest animated vehicle starring Jack Black, and for an action game, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how fun this new title from Luxoflox and Activision turned out to be.
The game starts off with Po the Panda daydreaming about being the Dragon Warrior, a fabled martial artist in a world that's full of animals as Chinese kung fu specialists. When it turns out that Po really is the Dragon Warrior, he's taken in by Master Shifu and the Furious Five to be trained beyond his low-level skills he's learned while sweeping floors. Po's not voiced by Jack Black like he is in the movie and nor are his cohorts, but the actors they hired are actually pretty good and that signature attitude from Jack is definitely here, even if it is the same watered-down kids' version we get in the movie. The same goes for most of the rest of the game's voice work and presentation, which does maintain the movie's style pretty well.
With instant action and a nice, simple yet fun set of combos to start with, Kung Fu Panda is lighthearted and charming right from the start. Of course, you might have seen the premise in a game before: the first level gives you tons of powers, then takes them all away and forces you to rebuild your power. Metroid has done it a bunch of times, and only just last year Assassin's Creed did it, too. But here, the powers you get in the first level stay with you through the rest of the game, and instead you'll be collecting coins through your kung fu battles to find new attacks and beef up your original ones. There are plenty of unlockables, too, and they're generally easy to do as long as you look for and collect the bonus stuff in each of the game's dozen-plus levels.
The action is mixed up by giving the player control of Master Shifu as wall as the Furious Five at different parts throughout the game, testing your ability to not only fight but to fly and dodge incoming dangers. Po also gets bits of gameplay where he rolls into a ball and can bowl over his enemies - which start out as boars and crocodiles and continue from there - and even go into high speed areas that make it feel more like Sonic than a beat-em-up game. One particularly amusing sequence happens near the beginning of the game as you play as a bird trying to fly around thunderclouds while delivering a warning message to Shifu's academy, taking on vultures that come at you and dodging the clouds at high speed.
The graphics in Kung Fu Panda are bright and crisp with a very similar style that the movie has - this is a good thing, as I've seen way too many movie-licensed games made by people who apparently never got to see the film's script or any scenes from the editing room. Here, that's not the case, as it loosely follows the plot but keeps you moving, fighting, and jumping with the lovable Po as a good driving force for continuing. All that being said, this is still pretty much a kid's game, so don't expect either the violence level of something like Ninja Gaiden II nor the complexity of its fighting system. There are a few things here and there that will pull in adults, too, especially the mini-games, but don't expect a deep beat-em-up out of Kung Fu Panda.
The mini-games are a fun little addition to what could have otherwise been a totally bare-bones experience - this is a Hollywood-licensed game, after all, and expectations are usually pretty low. Up to four players can participate in these games, some of which need to be unlocked in the single player game - yeah, that last part is annoying, and I've never understood why developers keep doing this. Still, these games are fun for a few hours, especially with the kids. And speaking of kids, the ESRB rated Kung Fu Panda as E10+, but if the kung fu "violence" in the PG-rated movie was fine for your children, then this game will almost certainly be acceptable too.
Sure, Kung Fu Panda won't be much to those hardcore gamers who have been dicing people up in the Ninja Gaiden series or wound up finishing Assassin's Creed for the story, but for kids this one's pretty solid. The graphics are great, the satisfying action has a smooth learning curve, and even though the original actors didn't play their roles here, the stand-ins are almost as good. It's sad to say that a game I'm giving a C-level score is a breath of fresh air, but that's just how bad summer-movie games have gotten. This one stands above them, even if it doesn't hold up to the best that game developers can deliver.